Everyday Chaos: The Mathematics of Unpredictability, from the Weather to the Stock Market

Brian Clegg. MIT, $29.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-262-53969-2
Science writer Clegg (What Do You Think You Are?) delivers a typically intriguing guide to the mathematical study of chaos and its real-world applications. Clegg discusses concepts important to the field, such as feedback and emergence, where “new abilities emerge spontaneously from [a] complex system,” as occurs when non-living molecules combine to create living organisms. He offers plenty of examples from everyday life, including time-keeping, weather forecasts, and traffic patterns, and in science, such as the study of “superorganism” species like army ants and wasps whose colonies behave as collective entities. Along the way, Clegg dispels several popular misconceptions, such as the “butterfly effect” of an insect’s wing triggering a hurricane (the mathematician who first described this hypothetical scenario then emphatically answered “no” to the possibility of it occurring) and the truism “that no two snowflakes are alike” (many simple snowflake shapes are identical; what’s remarkable are the vast number of possible shapes that can occur). He also includes a timely section on vaccination data, explaining how inoculation programs can, counterintuitively, lead to temporary increases in reported infections, because introducing a “sudden, strong change” into a system can make it chaotic. This mind-bending intellectual ride will appeal to readers of Eugenia Cheng and Alberto Cairo. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/30/2020
Release date: 10/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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