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Chaos: Making a New Science by James Gleick

Chaos: Making a New Science

by James Gleick

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    The Arrow of Time: A Voyage Through Science to Solve Time's Greatest Mystery by Peter Coveney (Sylak)
    Sylak: I purchased these two books as companion reads. Others may find this a useful pairing too.

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Chaos studied here. The author makes the new way of understanding, well, everything, remarkably transparent. In the sense that I can see it, but still, I don't understand it. (!) This is not like Hofstadter's "strange loops". This is order of an even eerier take. He sort of starts with Lorenz' "butterfly effect" underlying the weather, jumps into the box of broken glass produced by Feigenbaum's nonlinear number calculations drawn from art and Nature, and then falls upon the sword of Mandelbrot's fractals. Birth pangs of a new science. New. Author is an editor/reporter for the New York Times.

The failure to mention Hilbert's "Entscheidungs", posed as building blocks of mathematics, is nothing more than a personal disappointment. I am also keening over the failure to limn the shadowing "strange loops" of Hofstadter and the ramble Bertrand Russell made of Godel, but that probably just dates me. Highest marks for taking on Nature and our Understandings of It, with sympathy, clarity and grace. Filled with snappy, even snarky biographical material. Science, made plummy. ( )
  keylawk | May 15, 2015 |
I always enjoy work by Gleick. I'm glad I finally got around to this particular book, which has been on my "to read" list for many years now. Don't expect too many gritty details, here, though. If that's what you're looking for, pick up [a:Gary William Flake|145268|Gary William Flake|https://www.goodreads.com/assets/nophoto/user/u_50x66-d9f6a4a5badfda0f69e70cc94d962125.png]'s [b:The Computational Beauty of Nature: Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation|3952944|The Computational Beauty of Nature Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation|Gary William Flake|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1267083353s/3952944.jpg|240825]. ( )
  tlockney | Sep 7, 2014 |
Excellent! This book tells the story of how non-linear equations broke into first physics, and then, biology. When I started to read it I could not stopped until I finished it. ( )
  amarcobio | Jun 22, 2014 |
Apparently some say that scientifically, the 20th century will be known for three things: relativity, quantum theory and chaos theory. It didn’t make this book any less revelatory, to me at least, that it was written almost thirty years ago. Gleick’s tour through the discovery of the principles of chaos theory was as exciting to read as if it had happened yesterday. It was an astounding discovery: that even the most basic dynamic system – from water flow to a heartbeat to the orbit of a star - is never simple, no matter how orderly it seems. It is always a complex mixture of order and chaos continually arising from one another - and therefore its predictability has sharp limits. But I was ultimately left with a sense of dismay, thinking about where we are now. I’d thought the main lesson of the discovery was humility: in spite of how far science had come down the millennia, nature was still far ahead – building in redundancy and a functionally incalculable amount of complexity was the best way to make systems that worked beautifully and efficiently, that were both dynamic and durable. And we might spend generations contemplating and respectfully trying to mimic or reciprocate with them. But the anti-reductionist paradigm that found the dance of chaos and order in all systems, biological, physical and chemical, large and small, has not really changed the way science is done very much. We all know about fractals now, and the butterfly effect, but chaos theory’s real world, human scale applications seem to have been mostly in trivial stuff like creating cool computer graphics for movies – or in helping develop more sophisticated oil drilling techniques. Two examples from the book were particularly disheartening: a psychologist talking about how what chaos theory meant to the study of the brain is how wrong-headed drug therapy was for mental disorders – how it could never solve the problem. But since then drugs have been relentlessly promoted for an exploding array of disorders. Another scientist says “we’ve learned that God does play dice, but they are loaded dice… Now, how can we make them work for our own ends?” We are so clever, but still not very wise. ( )
  CSRodgers | May 3, 2014 |
First, a couple of caveats: "Chaos: Making a New Science" was written almost twenty-five years ago, so I don't know how up-to-date it is. Also, sadly enough, I can't say I know too much about any sort of science, so I'm the "general reader" that this book is probably aimed at. Even so, I think that "Chaos" is high-quality science writing and very recommendable. Gleick approaches his subject from a number of angles: he discusses nonlinear equations and mathematical oddities, chance discoveries, computer simulations and real-world applications like turbulence and the rise and fall of animal populations, and his multifaceted approach gives the reader a remarkably complete portrait of what chaos is and how it might change our thinking about a number of well-established scientific imponderables. I'm pretty much a math illiterate and barely managed a B- in pre-calc in senior year, but Gleick's a top-shelf nonfiction writer: he's able to lay out his ideas in a way that makes them comprehensible while also preserving their uncanny beauty. The author basically squares the popular science writing circle by making the head-bendingly complex seem both important and eminently graspable. Chaos is also a new enough science that Gleick can also examine the more human side of chaos research: he seems to have personally interviewed many of this new science's major figures, describes their academic backgrounds and mindsets in detail, and is adept at capturing the excitement they must have felt when making their discoveries and transmitting it to his readers. I'm sure real-deal science students will want to start elsewhere, but I'd wager that this book has provided a good deal of inspiration and reflection among even non-scientists. From the way that scientists in widely differing fields came to ask the same sort of questions about dissimilar phenomena to the very idea that there might be some underlying structure to disorder itself, there's a lot to consider here. I'm looking forward to picking up more titles from this author. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Oct 6, 2013 |
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Adelaar, PattyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140092501, Paperback)

Few writers distinguish themselves by their ability to write about complicated, even obscure topics clearly and engagingly. James Gleick, a former science writer for the New York Times, resides in this exclusive category. In Chaos, he takes on the job of depicting the first years of the study of chaos--the seemingly random patterns that characterize many natural phenomena.

This is not a purely technical book. Instead, it focuses as much on the scientists studying chaos as on the chaos itself. In the pages of Gleick's book, the reader meets dozens of extraordinary and eccentric people. For instance, Mitchell Feigenbaum, who constructed and regulated his life by a 26-hour clock and watched his waking hours come in and out of phase with those of his coworkers at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

As for chaos itself, Gleick does an outstanding job of explaining the thought processes and investigative techniques that researchers bring to bear on chaos problems. Rather than attempt to explain Julia sets, Lorenz attractors, and the Mandelbrot Set with gigantically complicated equations, Chaos relies on sketches, photographs, and Gleick's wonderful descriptive prose.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:46 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

The author describes how scientists studying the growth of complexity in nature are discovering order and pattern in chaos. He explains concepts such as nonlinearity, the Butterfly Effect, universal constants, fractals, and strange attractors, and examines the work of scientists such as Mitchell J. Feigenbaum, Edward Lorenz, and Benoit Mandelbrot.… (more)

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