Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Emergent Systems as Networks

Edge.org strives "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

A few months ago, a professor of Harvard asked a good question: What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?

A symposium was organized and 164 thinkers contributed suggestions such as:

- Path dependence: This refers to the notion that often “something that seems normal or inevitable today began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the eclipse of the justification for that choice.”

-The Einstellung Effect, "the idea that we often try to solve problems by using solutions that worked in the past instead of looking at each situation on its own terms."

-The Focusing Illusion, which holds that “nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it.”

- The Fundamental Attribution Error: "Don’t try to explain by character traits behavior that is better explained by context."

-Finally a number of thinkers argued that public life would be vastly improved if people relied more on the concept of emergence.

-"Emergent systems are bottom-up and top-down simultaneously. They have to be studied differently, as wholes and as nested networks of relationships. We still try to address problems like poverty and Islamic extremism by trying to tease out individual causes. We might make more headway if we thought emergently."

These concepts encourage one to think about how they could help sort through some of the difficult personal and social issues we often face.

Image: Edge.org sponsors an annual book such as:
- What is your dangerous idea? 2007
- What are you optimistic about? 2008
- What have you changed your mind about? 2009.