Paolo Magrassi

SciAm post #1


Complexity revisited, 1: The motive

May 10, 2008

I take issue with those who talk about complexity without having a mathematical and “hard” scientific background.

Sure, science is not perfect. We cannot predict everything. Some things we can’t even decide (Hilbert, Goedel). We struggle with issues such as non-determinism, chaos, non-linear fenomena, emergent behavior and much more.

The more science advances, the tougher these challenges become. We constantly need more weapons, better methods and tools, richer mathematics, more cross-fertilization between disciplines. Complexity is great. I want more of it.

Yet, we usually do not race in Formula One if all we have is a standard driving license. “Complexity theory” is at the threshold of scientific methodology; therefore, to tackle it seriously, with rigor instead of just passion, one needs to master scientific methods and techniques first. You can’t jump ahead, sorry. You can’t leapfrog everyone else and teach science how to proceed unless you know at least the basics of it.

With your help, this blog will debunk the myths associated with complexity outside of science, and hopefully unveil its hidden beauty.

Edited by paolomagrassi at 05/10/2008 3:13 PM




This is not the way science works.

Often new concepts developed in science catch the imagination of the outside world. I will mention only a few: “quantum uncertainty”, “role of observer”, “teleportation” “theory of everything”, “time travel’, etc.

By asking the general public to stay away from these fields we are back at the situation where science was pursued by high priests in a monastery (or ivory tower).

The problem is generally that scientists that can’t make it in the peer-reviewed journals start publishing (well-selling) books with in them grossly untrue simplifications and wild, unfounded speculations on these new concepts. You can’t blame the public that it buys these books and expects to be able to time travel very soon.

Scientists should try to explain these concepts to the interested outsiders. I will give an example regarding complexity.

A beautiful description of complexity is an article by Philip W. Anderson. (In physics PWA is considered to be a genius.) More Is Different, Science, 177 (1972), pp. 393-396. © 1972 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

PWA quotes at the end of his paper, to illustrate that quantitative differences can become qualitative differences, a discussion between two famous writers that took place in Paris in the 1920’s:
FITZGERALD: The rich are different from us.
HEMINGWAY: Yes, they have more money.

(I hope I am not violating any copyrights here)



May 11, 2008 3:36 PM

I notice you are in Italy.

Here in United States we are faced with new federal K-12 teaching regulations for youth.

Program is called NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND werein 50 states must create new tests to examine youth knowledge — including mathematical and scientific and teachers must take new tests to demonstrate their ability to teach and also gain new credentials in their subject matter.

Easily put: Your talk about rigors and steps of prerequistes of science will send youth running to the local rock concent with idea — to heck with establishment.


And in my opinion after reading Scientific American for 20+ years — this is the best part of the magazine.

Experts simplify things for common people and promote interest in science.

Scientific American is no peer-review journal and seeks to spread science ideas to common people as well as more educated scientists.

If you would like anaylsis in rigors of complexity theory, please show me your credentials, books you have published, articles in peer review journals you have published, associations you are a member of and a vita of you past achedemic history.

Maybe harsh rigors are standard in Italy.

We are trying to attract as many youth and adults into a popular interest in science — even if we have to have a rock concent between science experiments.

Maybe now you can see the difference between American youth and common adult education and the rigers of Italian science.




May 11, 2008 7:46 PM

To “ad_lag”:

1) thanks for pointing me to “More Is Different”, will read ASAP.

2) we agree 100%

3) I do not intend to ask “the general public to stay away from these fields”. I take issue with some economists, some sociologists and some epistemologists who talk about complexity without knowing that they say.



May 12, 2008 7:05 AM


We agree.

I cetainly am not against divulging science.

I dislike SCHOLARS (some economists, some sociologists, some epistemologists) who write about complexity without knowing that the’re talking about. (And rigor does not have a nationality)



May 12, 2008 7:09 AM

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Motto of the month

Leer es una actividad posterior a la de escribir: más resignada, más civil, más intelectual [JL Borges]