From: "Chen Yixiong, Eric" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
<<Even for ants, it can be shown that the colony will be most efficient in
finding food if individual ants do not merely follow the paths laid down by
their fellow ants, but regularly deviate and create a path of their own. If
people understandably dislike the analogy between human societies and insect
societies, it is not so much because insect societies are organized in an
intrinsically more totalitarian or collectivistic manner, but because insects
are simply very dumb, characterless creatures compared to individual humans.
Self-organization, spontaneous order, and adaptive behavior impel the
evolution of cities, ant colonies, the Internet, and human brains. So, if one
looks closely, one may discern the Global Brain emerging.
Why cities behave like ant colonies
BY ANJANA AHUJA
A new book sets out a radical theory about urban development
Nobody designs truly great cities. They just spring up. As if by magic, they
develop distinct districts that endure from century to century. Think of the
silk quarter in Florence, or Savile Row in London. A city seems to pulsate
its own rhythm, as if it is a living, breathing organism.
Steven Johnson would argue that, in some senses, it is. He would say that the
superorganism of the city mirrors the superorganism of the ant colony, in
a collection of individually stupid insects somehow becomes a mesmerising,
organised whole. Both are examples of emergence, a phenomenon where the whole
is much greater than the sum of its parts. Another commonly touted example of
emergence is consciousness, which appears to arise spontaneously from the fact
that billions of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain are firing off signals to
In a new book, called Emergence, Johnson, an American author best known for
arguing that computer graphics are as culturally important as books or films,
aims to coax the topic out of science laboratories and into the mainstream.
Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software
by Steven Johnson
Hardcover - 288 pages (September 2001)
Scribner; ISBN: 068486875X
AMAZON - US
AMAZON - UK
An individual ant, like an individual neuron, is just about as dumb as can be.
Connect enough of them together properly, though, and you get spontaneous
intelligence. Web pundit Steven Johnson explains what we know about this
phenomenon with a rare lucidity in Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants,
Brains, Cities, and Software. Starting with the weird behavior of the
semi-colonial organisms we call slime molds, Johnson details the development
increasingly complex and familiar behavior among simple components: cells,
insects, and software developers all find their place in greater schemes.
Most game players, alas, live on something close to day-trader time, at least
when they're in the middle of a game--thinking more about their next move than
their next meal, and usually blissfully oblivious to the ten- or twenty-year
trajectory of software development. No one wants to play with a toy that's
going to be fun after a few decades of tinkering--the toys have to be engaging
now, or kids will find other toys.
Johnson has a knack for explaining complicated and counterintuitive ideas
cleverly without stealing the scene. Though we're far from fully understanding
how complex behavior manifests from simple units and rules, our awareness that
such emergence is possible is guiding research across disciplines. Readers
unfamiliar with the sciences of complexity will find Emergence an excellent
starting point, while those who were chaotic before it was cool will
its updates and wider scope. --Rob Lightner
>From Publishers Weekly
To have the highly touted editor of a highly touted Web culture organ writing
about the innate smartness of interconnectivity seems like a hip, winning
combination unless that journal becomes the latest dot-com casualty. Feed, of
which Johnson was cofounder and editor-in-chief, recently announced it was
shuttering its windows, which should make for a less exuberant launch for his
second bricks-and-mortar title, following 1997's Interface Culture. Yet the
book's premise and execution make it compelling, even without the backstory.
a paradigmatic example here, ants, without leaders or explicit laws, organize
themselves into highly complex colonies that adapt to the environment as a
single entity, altering size and behavior to suit conditions exhibiting a
collective intelligence, or what has come to be called emergence. In the first
two parts of the book, Johnson ranges over historical examples of such smart
interconnectivity, from the silk trade in medieval Florence to the birth of
software industry and to computer programs that produce their own software
offspring, or passively map the Web by "watching" a user pool. Johnson's tone
is light and friendly, and he has a journalistic gift for wrapping up complex
ideas with a deft line: "you don't want one of the neurons in your brain to
suddenly become sentient." In the third section, which bears whiffs of '90s
exuberance, Johnson weighs the impact of Web sites like Napster, eBay and
Slashdot, predicting the creation of a brave, new media world in which
self-organizing clusters of shared interests structure the entertainment
industry. 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. (Sept. 19) Forecast: All
press is good press, so the failure of Feed at least makes a compelling hook
for reviews, which should be extensive. A memoir of the author's Feed years
can't be far behind, but in the meantime this should sell solidly, with a
possible breakout if Johnson's media friends get behind it fully.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Johnson makes sense of the cutting-edge theory of emergence, exploring the
intelligent systems are built from small, unintelligent elements without
control from above. Johnson is a journalist for an online magazine; emergence
is being touted as the coming paradigm for the Internet. Johnson discerns
emergent qualities on the Internet by using analogies from the biological
world, so it is with the world of slime molds and ant colonies that Johnson
repairs to report on people who have teased out rules of emergence.
Entomologist Deborah Gordon tells him about the iterative acts of ants that
produce the meta-behavior of colonies in Arizona (a reprise for readers of her
Ants at Work, 1999). Cities also exhibit emergence, with Johnson reminding us
of what Engels wrote about Manchester and Jane Jacobs about New York in The
Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). From these and other examples,
such as the popular computer game SimCity, the Web site eBay, or a
cyber-community called slashdot.com, Johnson generalizes five rules of
"bottom-up" behavior in self-organizing systems. A lively snapshot of current
trends. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Kurt Andersen, author of Turn of the Century
"Emergence is thoughtful and lucid and charming and staggeringly smart...a
rare, bona fide glimpse of the future."
This book is about the mystery of why the whole is sometimes smarter than the
sum of its parts.
Emergence is what happens when an interconnected system of relatively simple
elements self-organizes to form more intelligent, more adaptive higher-level
behavior. It's a bottom-up model; rather than being engineered by a general or
a master planner, emergence begins at the ground level. Systems that at first
glance seem vastly different -- ant colonies, human brains, cities, immune
systems -- all turn out to follow the rules of emergence. In each of these
systems, agents residing on one scale start producing behavior that lies a
scale above them: ants create colonies, urbanites create neighborhoods.
In the tradition of Being Digital and The Tipping Point, Steven Johnson,
acclaimed as a "cultural critic with a poet's heart" (The Village Voice),
readers on an eye-opening intellectual journey from the discovery of emergence
to its applications. He introduces us to our everyday surroundings, offering
suprising examples of feedback, self-organization, and adaptive learning. How
does a lively neighborhood evolve out of a disconnected association of
shopkeepers, bartenders, and real estate developers? How does a media event
take on a life of its own? How will new software programs create an
World Wide Web?
Drawing upon evolutionary theory, urban studies, neuroscience, and computer
games, Emergence is a guidebook to one of the key components of
twenty-first-century culture. Until recently, Johnson explains, the disparate
philosophers of emergence have worked to interpret the world. But today they
are starting to change it. This book is the riveting story of that change and
what it means for the future. If you've searched for information on the Web,
played a recent video game, or accepted a collect call using voice recognition
software, you've already encountered the new world of artificial emergence.
Provocative, engaging, and sophisticated, Emergence puts you on the front
of a sweeping revolution in science and thought.
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
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