Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life

Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life

Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life

Complex Adaptive Systems: An Introduction to Computational Models of Social Life


This book provides the first clear, comprehensive, and accessible account of complex adaptive social systems, by two of the field's leading authorities. Such systems--whether political parties, stock markets, or ant colonies--present some of the most intriguing theoretical and practical challenges confronting the social sciences. Engagingly written, and balancing technical detail with intuitive explanations, Complex Adaptive Systems focuses on the key tools and ideas that have emerged in the field since the mid-1990s, as well as the techniques needed to investigate such systems. It provides a detailed introduction to concepts such as emergence, self-organized criticality, automata, networks, diversity, adaptation, and feedback. It also demonstrates how complex adaptive systems can be explored using methods ranging from mathematics to computational models of adaptive agents.

John Miller and Scott Page show how to combine ideas from economics, political science, biology, physics, and computer science to illuminate topics in organization, adaptation, decentralization, and robustness. They also demonstrate how the usual extremes used in modeling can be fruitfully transcended.


We have to look for routes of power our teachers never
imagined, or were encouraged to avoid.

—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

THE EMERGING TAPESTRY of complex systems research is being formed by localized individual efforts that are becoming subsumed as part of a greater pattern that holds a beauty and coherence that belies the lack of an omniscient designer. As in Navajo weaving, efforts on one area of this tapestry are beginning to meld into one another, leaving only faint “lazy lines” to mark the event. The ideas presented in this book contain various parts of this weaving; some are relatively complete, whereas others are creative investigations that may need to be removed from the warp and started anew. We suspect that, like the Navajo weavers of old, we will also introduce a few errors—though perhaps not intentionally—that will be more than sufficient to maintain our humility.

More than a decade ago, a wonderful coincidence of people, ideas, tools, and scientific entrepreneurship converged at the Santa Fe Institute. Those of us who participated in this event were blessed to partake in a burst of scientific creativity that facilitated a new wave in the sciences of complex systems. At that time, discussions about the central problems and approaches in fields such as biology, chemistry, computer science, economics, and physics made it clear that there was a common set of questions that would require a willingness to transcend the usual disciplinary boundaries if answers were to be forthcoming. Since that time, a growing community of scholars has been actively involved in developing the theory of complex adaptive social systems.

Although research in the area of complex adaptive social systems is still in its formative stages, now is a good time to take stock of these efforts. Along with documenting much of what we have learned over the past decade, we will also be a bit exploratory, both retrospectively trying to figure out why our initial intuitions about the importance of this area were justified and prospectively suggesting where the new frontiers are likely to be found.

During the past decade we have hosted an annual graduate workshop in computational modeling. In these workshops, we collaborated with a diverse set of graduate students who are interested in applying new computational modeling techniques to key problems in the social . . .

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