Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notes from the Chaos Cookbook, Chapter 15

I've skipped ahead to this short chapter in the Chaos Cookbook since I wanted to incorporate some of its ideas into my dissertation proposal. This chapter is entitled "An overview of complexity" and provides a brief and limited definition of what complexity is and several examples to broaden this definition.

Complexity is the study of emergent behavior from systems operating on the verge between stability and chaos. However, chaos is considered a subset of complexity. Complex systems also involve interactions between their individual components. The behavior that emerges from these interactions is often unexpected since the rules of the components don't necessarily predict this behavior.

Examples of complex systems in this book include traffic, autocatalytic systems, sand piles, and economies.

The bunching of cars and subsequent spreading out on highways is an emergent phenomenon that can depend on factors such as driver reaction times, car speeds, and the distances that drivers feel comfortable with when following other cars. I think that the variability in these individual factors leads to the random bunching of cars on the road.

The angle of repose of a sand pile is the angle that the pile makes with the horizontal plane that the pile is on. This angle emerges as the pile grows and may depend on how the pile is formed (dumping, pouring, etc.). Any changes to this angle caused by the addition of more sand leads to small avalanches that "correct" the perturbation so that the angle of repose is maintained. This is known as a self-organized critical state.

Not all sets of system behaviors can give rise to complex behavior.

Economies represent adaptive systems. In these systems, each agent adapts their behavior to the rules of the system to maximize their profits/utility. There is not one best strategy for this; rather, each agent must adapt their strategy according to what the whole system is doing to succeed.