cover image The Collapse of Chaos: 2discovering Simplicity in a Complex World

The Collapse of Chaos: 2discovering Simplicity in a Complex World

Jack Cohen. Viking Books, $23.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84983-3

One step onto this ontological escalator with British biologist Cohen and British mathematician Stewart ( Does God Play Dice? ) and readers will zoom right to the metaphysical floor, where science displays its most basic assumptions. In the last 10 years, scientific thought has been marked by frequent paradigm shifts--from classical laws to chaos theory and complexity. In the first half of this book, the authors attempt to review the quantum world for general readers, an effort that is frequently undercut by their playful approach, e.g., a conversation about the organization of development between Augusta Ada, Lord Byron's daughter and ``a founding figure in computer science,'' and Wallace Lupert, a fictitious modern biologist. Moving on to examine the basis for a belief in simplicity, they introduce two new concepts: simplexity and complicity. The former refers to the tendency of a simpler order to emerge from complexity, the latter is a kind of interaction between coevolving systems that supports a tendency toward complexity. The authors, hoping to challenge orthodoxy and to stimulate thought, confound rather than clarify. (Apr.)