Field of Science

Ideas for future posts

I imagine this will become a regular feature of the blog. The purpose of a post like this is twofold. First, it lets me record all the random ideas I don't want to forget. Second, I'm hoping it may stimulate some pre-discussion of some of these topics. Drop a comment if anything intrigues you!

The finite mind and the infinite universe
The resilience of life and the fragility of humanity
A systems definition of life?
Thermodynamics and the creation of complexity
The possibilities and limitations of complex systems research
Big-picture and little-picture thinking in science
Managing a complex system
Sustainable development in poor countries
Prisoner's Dilemma and its implications
Quantum physics: What does it mean?
My teaching experience in Chicago: specifically, the nature of rules
Good complexity vs. bad complexity
The beer distribution game
Definitions of complexity
Definitions of complex systems
The role of information in complex systems research
Universal behaviors: specifically, universal responses to stress
Chaos, unpredictability, and the butterfly effect
The impossibility of colonizing other planets
Outsourcing and the fall of the Ottoman empire
What can I do? I am only one person!
Cooperation and competition
Youtube, craftster, and the evolution of creativity
Nontraditional forms of collective action
Comparative economic and political systems

Well, that seems pretty good for a starting list. More to follow!


  1. Blogging: how to do it without sucking your soul dry.

    The great thing about this topic is that it's self-refuting: the more you write, the more you lose!

  2. Also, how about the application of category theory to complexity? This is not entirely unexplored territory, although I find the stuff I've read so far to be moving in a different direction than the idea which piqued my interest.

  3. Great list so far. Could I suggest something along the lines of Complexity for Everybody. Most people I work with have very little if any exposure to complexity, yet they are the people who make the decisions that drive many of the seemingly insurmountable problems we face. I see a significant need to translate the science in complexity into an understandable and actionable "package". NECSI does a good job of this but I think there is still a very long way to go.

  4. Q: A systems definition of life?
    A: Local self-propagating/organizing decreases in entropy?

  5. Damn, I just saw a "systems theory" definition for life while rerere...rewatching Mindwalk.. and then deleted it from my DVR so I can't go look it up :/

  6. Ben

    I am dong some thinking today about a single kid in a given high school follow their course schedule through an entire 8-period day. If a camera were to follow the student and at the end of the day the footage was spliced into 7 separate clips (let's say the lunch clip is excluded), then what would we see. Let's say it was one of the students you taught in Chicago or Boston that we followed and your class was one of the seven attended. What would we see if we put these clips side-by-side?

    There is a fear that haunts urban teachers like us as it relates to "classroom management": What if I, the teacher, am the reason my students do not "behave" in such a way that we can get any meaningful work done during classtime?!

    One of the benefits of my sabbatical is the chance to see other classrooms. Last week I saw 6 different classrooms as I chose to follow one group of "blocked" students around from class to class. It was amazing how the students changed (individually and collectively) from class to class. I was left with many complex questions.

    Here's one: Why did the same kid behave like 6 different students in 6 different classes?

    Change in teacher, change in room, change in time of day, change in classmates (not in this scenario), change in mood, change in subject material, ....????

    This seems complex to me.

    What does complexity theory have to offer someone like me who is wondering how to better understand how students/teachers/learning communities make meaning of their surroundings in determining what roles they take on in that social community?

    all good things...

  7. Ooh...I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on the response above mine.

  8. Wow, a lot to respond to here!

    @blake-I may discuss category theory at some point, though my primary focus will be on presenting ideas to a general audience. We can discuss category theory amongst ourselves anytime!

    @jl-That's pretty much my goal here. Especially in my first few posts, I'll be trying to lay out the basic principles of complex systems for laypeople. Unfortunately, that's a difficult task! Any input would be appreciated.

    @metem-Wow, not bad! Did you come up with that one just now?

    @john-Now I have a movie to rent this Friday!

    @` and mundane-One thing that complex systems theory teaches is that our actions very influenced by our environment--more so than we'd usually like to think. For an extreme example of this, see the Stanford prison experiment . 21 volunteers, mostly white and affluent, were put into the roles of prisoners and prison guards. After only a couple days they began to exhibit destructive behavior patterns typical of real-life prisons: riots, abuse, hunger strikes, etc.

    The lesson is that as much as we like to think we are in control of our behavior, we often end up playing out roles that a system assigns us, and even internalizing these roles. As teachers, we have strong influence over the "systems" of our classrooms, and thus we must make sure that the roles created by this system are productive. Of course, this is itself a very complex task, and worthy of much further discussion.

  9. I want to blog more about science education and the election. I think you'd be good at that since you were super math teacher!


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