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Review - The Collapse of Chaos - Jack Cohen & Ian Stewart

 

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If, like many people you've been fascinated by Gleick's Chaos, here's a chance to go beyond the original introduction of the subject to look at why simplicity so often emerges in a complex world. By combining chaos theory and complexity theory, the authors derive simplicity - and turn everything you might expect upside down.

It's an interesting thought. Why is there so much apparent simplicity in a universe of such complexity.

One of the strengths of this book is the way it leaps around pulling in all sorts of topics in science along the way. Occasionally it also puts the narrative flow at risk, but it's worth the effort of keeping up.

Perhaps the most dangerous conceit is the way that the second half is almost a mirror image of the first. The chapter titles in the second half are the reverse of those in the first (so 'the laws of nature' becomes 'the nature of laws', 'the origins of human understanding' becomes 'the understanding of human origins'. The idea is that the first part takes the traditional scientific viewpoint, the second a 'simplicity' approach that unsettles many of the things we take for granted.

It's fascinating, even when it's not entirely convincing - a great mind-opener.

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Reviewed by Peter Spitz

I have just finished reading this book as a result of your listing and review and agree entirely with your enthusiasm for it.  My only argument would be that you classify it as Maths whereas it is both a brilliant explanation of many aspects of scientific knowledge and a critique of the entire philosophy of science. This was a truly well written and still entertaining book - the sophisticated jokes at the start of each chapter were thought provoking as well as amusing. Admittedly a sometimes challenging read for anyone without a technical bent but vastly rewarding.

Community review by Keith Jeremiah

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Last update 16 April 2011