003: Complexity and the Arrow of Time by Lineweaver, Davies, and Ruse

by Gerard


003: Lineweaver, Charles H., Paul C. W. Davies, and Michael Ruse, eds. Complexity and the Arrow of Time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 351 pp. ISBN 978-1-107-02725-1.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 000: Computer Science, Knowledge, and General Works
  • 003: Systems

Everywhere you look there exists complexity. Nature, our lives, the universe, the environment, economics, politics, sociology—all of it is incredibly complex. But, can we talk about complexity? Is complexity too complex to discuss? It the risk of sounding like a metaphysical junkie, the answer to that is both simple and complex. Charles Lineweaver, along with Paul Davies and Michael Ruse, bring together some perspectives on the question (and maybe the answers) of complexity in Complexity and the Arrow of Time. Along the way, we get a series of answers from a cosmological, biological, and even a philosophical point of view.

First off, I’m not even going to act like I knew about everything that was going on in this book. I’m lucky if I understood even one-third of the ideas being bandied about, but that small  percentage was still enough to keep me interested. David Wolpert and David Krakauer go little overboard on the equations and theories in their sections, but they try to look at evolution and complexity from a purely mathematical perspective. Eric Chaisson tries to unify complexity across the sciences by defining complexity as a measurement of energy usage; celestial bodies become more complex over time as they burn through energy, biological entities require more energy as complexity increases, and humans through history have required more energy as their technologies have grown increasingly complex. Michael Ruse looks at complexity as described by Darwinian theory and debates whether the analogy of complexity to success to dominance is really true.

All these essays (and quite a few more) helped to create a picture of complexity on many levels. Interestingly enough, there is an underlying urge to simplify complexity. When greeted with the utter chaos of quantum theory and biological systems, there is an impetus to organize, but it always eludes us. This collection is at least a nudge in the right direction when we start talking about complexity at a macroscopic level. A heady but still intriguing read.