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Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software

by Steven Johnson

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1,688238,282 (3.79)5
Ever wanted a chair that converts into a rowing machine? Sunglasses that serve as a wallet? A car with a sundeck so you can work on your tan on those long road trips? Well, inventor and illustrator Steven Johnson has designed these marvels and many, many more, spurred on by a truly insatiable imagination. His wacky, wonderful concepts could very well change the world -- that is, if someone was ever bold enough to build them. From clothing to dining technology, home furnishings to appliances, and gardening gadgets to survival gear, What the World Needs Now is a sourcebook of revolutionary designs.… (more)
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English (22)  Tagalog (1)  All languages (23)
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
248
  revirier | Dec 13, 2021 |
A good read, but hard to get super excited about it as his thinking/writing on these topics has continued to evolved. I recommend his later books much more. ( )
  szbuhayar | May 24, 2020 |
In the preface, I defined emergence as simply as possible: order arising out of chaos. A more nuanced definition is higher-order complexity arising out of chaos in which novel, coherent structures coalesce through interactions among the diverse entities of a system. Emergence occurs when these interactions disrupt, causing the system to differentiate and ultimately coalesce into something novel.Key elements of this definition are chaos and novelty. Chaos is random interactions among different entities in a given context. Think of people at a cocktail party. Chaos contains no clear patterns or rules of interaction. Make that a cocktail party in which no single culture prevails, so that no one is sure how close to stand to others, whether to make eye contact, or whether to use first or last names. Emergent order arises when a novel, more complex system forms. It often happens in an unexpected, almost magical leap. The cocktail party is actually a surprise party, and everyone knows where to hide and when to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Emergence produces novel systems—coherent interactions among entities following basic principles. In his bestseller Emergence, science writer Steven Johnson puts it this way: “Agents residing on one scale start producing behavior that lies one scale above them: ants create colonies; urbanites create neighborhoods; simple pattern-recognition software learns how to recommend new books.”1 Emergence in human systems has produced new technologies, towns, democracy, and some would say consciousness—the capacity for self-reflection. ( )
  mimelda | Oct 7, 2018 |
It's been quite a while since I read this, and I should probably queue it up for a re-read. But at the time I read it, it opened my mind to a lot of ideas that I was ready for, but hadn't quite known how to put together. It might even seem quaint and dated now, but this book, along with a few others like GEB, really put me on the track of investigations and readings I've been pursuing ever since. It was one of those books that I read and then closely scanned the bibliography to find out what else I should read. Thank you, Mr. Johnson. ( )
  tlockney | Sep 7, 2014 |
I came across this book while browsing the stacks at my local library. Although written in 10 years ago, I found the concepts to be relevant still today. The author covered a wide range of topics from ants to city planning to game theory to music through which he wove the ideas of emergent behavior, negative feedback, distributed intelligence, patterns and rules. It was a fun and worthwhile read about topics that I find fascinating.

Of particular interest was the end of the book about consciousness. I was not familiar with the other minds theory of consciousness which essentially suggests that our ability to consider how a situation appears to another led to our self-awareness. The study with 3 and 4 year olds that drove this point home was particularly interesting as it underscores how the mind develops and becomes self-aware.

As a Web developer, I began to wonder if the Web could become emergent. I came to the conclusion that it's not possible in its current state. It needs more structure and is inherently disorganized due to its architecture. According to Johnson, the key missing ingredient is feedback- no web page knows what other pages are pointing to it without effort. All connections are one-way. I suspect this lack of two-way connections is why Google, and search engines in general, are so dominant. We literally could not effectively use the information on the Web without these tools today. ( )
1 vote wlmckee | Feb 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
This book does not convincingly illustrate the magnitude of change Mr. Johnson attributes to the self-organization principle; he predicts that it will usher in a revolution ''every bit as significant'' as the one unleashed by our harnessing of electricity. But ''Emergence'' does limn some of its burgeoning manifestations. And in doing so, it not only makes stimulating reading but also goads us to appreciate the process whereby the parts often add up to more than the whole.
added by Katya0133 | editNew York Times, Michiko Kakutani
 
Johnson senses that ideas about self-organization and complexity are poised to break out from the world of science into our culture at large, and challenge the primacy of mechanistic and hierarchical models in our thinking about nature, society, and even art.
added by Katya0133 | editAmerican Scholar, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
 
The wide scope of the book may leave some readers wanting greater detail, but it does an excellent job of putting the Web into historical and biological context, with no dot.com diminishment.
added by Katya0133 | editPublishers Weekly
 
A lively snapshot of current trends.
added by Katya0133 | editBooklist, Gilbert Taylor
 
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Most of all, we need to preserve the absolute unpredictability and total improbability of our connected minds. That way we can keep open all the options, as we have in the past.
It would be nice to have better ways of monitoring what we're up to so that we could recognize change while it is occurring. . . . Maybe computers can be used to help in this, although I rather doubt it. You can make simulation models of cities, but what you learn is that they seem to be beyond the reach of intelligent analysis. . . . This is interesting, since a city is the most concentrated aggregation of humans, all exerting whatever influence they can bring to bear. The city seems to have a life of its own. If we cannot understand how this works, we are not likely to get very far with human society at large.
Still, you'd think there would be some way in. Joined together, the great mass of human minds around the earth seems to behave like a coherent, living system. The trouble is that the flow of information is mostly one-way. We are all obsessed by the need to feed information in, as fast as we can, but we lack sensing mechanisms for getting anything much back. I will confess that I have no more sense of what goes on in the mind of mankind than I have for the mind of an ant. Come to think of it, this might be a good place to start.

-- Lewis Thomas, 1973
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for my wife
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Ever wanted a chair that converts into a rowing machine? Sunglasses that serve as a wallet? A car with a sundeck so you can work on your tan on those long road trips? Well, inventor and illustrator Steven Johnson has designed these marvels and many, many more, spurred on by a truly insatiable imagination. His wacky, wonderful concepts could very well change the world -- that is, if someone was ever bold enough to build them. From clothing to dining technology, home furnishings to appliances, and gardening gadgets to survival gear, What the World Needs Now is a sourcebook of revolutionary designs.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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