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Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity [Anglais] [Relié]

John Gribbin

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Description de l'ouvrage

5 avril 2005
Over the past two decades, no field of scientific inquiry has had a more striking impact across a wide array of disciplines–from biology to physics, computing to meteorology–than that known as chaos and complexity, the study of complex systems. Now astrophysicist John Gribbin draws on his expertise to explore, in prose that communicates not only the wonder but the substance of cutting-edge science, the principles behind chaos and complexity. He reveals the remarkable ways these two revolutionary theories have been applied over the last twenty years to explain all sorts of phenomena–from weather patterns to mass extinctions.

Grounding these paradigm-shifting ideas in their historical context, Gribbin also traces their development from Newton to Darwin to Lorenz, Prigogine, and Lovelock, demonstrating how–far from overturning all that has gone before–chaos and complexity are the triumphant extensions of simple scientific laws. Ultimately, Gribbin illustrates how chaos and complexity permeate the universe on every scale, governing the evolution of life and galaxies alike.

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Chapter One

Order out of Chaos

Before the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the world seemed to be ruled by chaos in a quite different way from the way the term is used by scientists today, but in the same way that most people still apply the word. There was no suggestion that there might be simple, orderly laws underpinning the confusion of the world, and the nearest anyone came to offering a reason for the behavior of wind and weather, the occurrence of famines, or the orbits of the planets was that they resulted from the whim of God, or the gods. Where order was perceived in the Universe, it was attributed to the response of physical objects to a need for harmony and order to be preserved wherever possible—the orbits of the planets and the Sun around the Earth (thought to be at the center of the Universe) were supposed to be circles, because circles were perfect; things fell downwards because the center of the Earth was at the center of everything, the center of symmetry in the Universe, and therefore the most desirable place to be. Even when the philosopher Aristarchus of Samos, who lived in the third century b.c., dared to suggest that the Earth moved around the Sun, he still imagined that it must follow a circular orbit.

These examples highlight an absolutely crucial difference between the science of the Ancients and the science of post-Galilean times. The Ancient Greeks were superb mathematicians, and in particular they were superb geometers, who had a very good understanding of the relationships between stationary things. This geometry had its roots in even earlier cultures, of course, and it is easy to imagine how this first science may have arisen out of the practicalities of life in the developing agricultural societies of prehistory, through the problems associated with building houses and laying out towns, and the need, as society became more complicated, to divide up land into fields. But the Ancients had no understanding at all of how things move, or the laws of motion. You have only to look at how puzzled they were by Zeno’s famous paradoxes, such as the soldier who can never be killed by an arrow. If he runs away, then by the time the arrow reaches the position he was in he has moved; in the time it takes the arrow to cover that extra distance, he can move a little farther; and so on.

In spite of the existence of people like Aristarchus, the Earth-centered Universe remained the established image (what scientists would now call a “model”) even after Nicolaus Copernicus published his model of a Sun-centered Universe (but one still based on circles) in 1543. His book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, had been essentially completed in 1530, and much of its contents were widely discussed before publication, leading Martin Luther to comment in 1539, “This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the Sun to stand still, and not the Earth.” Responding to similar criticisms, Galileo later riposted: “The Bible shows the way to go to Heaven, not the way the heavens go.” It was Galileo’s contemporary Johannes Kepler, using observations painstakingly compiled by Tycho Brahe, who established, for those with open eyes, that not only did the planet Mars move around the Sun, but that it did so in an elliptical orbit, pulling the rug from under the notion that the kind of circular perfection beloved of the Ancient Greeks ruled the cosmos.

Even to people who know little about science, or the history of science, Galileo (who lived from 1564 to 1642) is famous today as the man who turned one of the first telescopes on the heavens, found evidence to support the Sun-centered Copernican model, and had a run-in with the Catholic Church, which led to his conviction for heresy and the suppression of his books in Catholic countries—which (of course) led to them selling like hotcakes everywhere else. But he did much more than this. It was Galileo, more than anyone, who laid down the principles of the scientific method of investigation, which involves comparing theories (or models) with the outcome of experiment and observation, and it was Galileo who first came to grips with motion in a scientific way.

The key to Galileo’s work on motion was a discovery he made while a medical student in Pisa in 1583. During a boring sermon in the cathedral there, he watched a chandelier swinging to and fro, and timed the swing with his pulse. Galileo realized that the time it took for the lamp to complete one swing was the same whether it swung through a wide arc or a shallow one, and later experiments showed that the time taken for a pendulum to swing depends on its length, not on how far it swings. This is the basis of the pendulum clock, but even without going so far as to build a clock (he did design one, later built by his son), Galileo was able to use a pendulum as an accurate timekeeper when he later carried out experiments to study the behavior of balls rolling down a ramp. These experiments provide another insight into both Galileo’s mind and the scientific method. He wanted to study falling objects, to investigate the effect of gravity on motion. But falling balls moved too fast for him to keep track of. So he rolled the balls down an inclined ramp, realizing that this gave him a stretched-out and slowed-down version of the way balls fall under gravity. Through these experiments, Galileo developed the idea of acceleration. The velocity (or speed) of an object tells you how far it moves in a certain amount of time—say, one second. A constant velocity of 9.8 meters per second means that in every second the moving object covers a distance of 9.8 meters. But Galileo found that falling objects (or balls rolling down a ramp) move faster and faster, with the speed increasing each second. Crucially, his experiments showed that the speed increases by the same amount every second. This is uniform acceleration, and a uniform acceleration of 9.8 meters per second per second means that, starting from rest, after one second an object has a velocity of 9.8 meters per second, after two seconds it has a velocity of 19.6 meters per second, after three seconds it has a velocity of 29.4 meters per second, and so on. I have chosen this particular example because 9.8 meters per second per second is, indeed, the acceleration caused by gravity for a falling object at the surface of the Earth; because time comes into the calculation twice, it is called a second order effect, while velocity is a first order effect. And this acceleration due to gravity explains why pendulums behave as they do.

Galileo did something else—something central to the story we tell in this book. He realized that the balls rolling down his inclined planes were being slowed down a little by friction. In fact, what he measured was not a perfectly uniform acceleration. But he took the dramatic and influential leap, astonishing for his time, of extrapolating from his actual observations to work out how his balls would move without the effect of friction, on some idealized, perfectly slippery slope. This kind of extrapolation would be at the heart of the scientific investigation of the world for the next four centuries. When scientists—physicists in particular—tried to describe the world in terms of mathematical laws, they formulated those laws to describe the behavior of mythical objects such as perfectly hard spheres, which bounce off one another without being deformed and roll along surfaces without feeling friction, and so on. But, unlike the Ancient Greek philosophers, they knew that their image of perfection did not represent the real world. Armed with those equations, they could then try to put in extra terms, correction factors, to take account of the imperfections of the real world, allowing, say, for the effect of air resistance on a falling object. Air resistance explains why on Earth a hammer and a feather fall at different rates, while on the airless Moon, as the Apollo astronauts demonstrated, they fall at the same rate.

All of this helped Galileo to cast out of science another aspect of the geometrical perfection that his predecessors had imagined in the real world. Before Galileo, it was thought that when a cannon fired its ball at some angle above the horizontal, the flight of the ball would consist of a straight line as it left the muzzle, then it would follow the arc of a perfect circle for a time, and then it would fall vertically to the ground. Only the imagined perfection of straight lines and circles was involved in the motion. Applying his discovery that gravity produces a constant downward acceleration on the cannonball, and allowing for the initial velocity of the ball out of the muzzle, Galileo showed that the flight of the ball must actually be a single smooth curve, part of a parabola, all the way to its target. The same calculations showed that the maximum range for the cannon (assuming the same charge of gunpowder and weight of shot) would always be achieved when it was fired at an angle of 45 degrees upward from the horizontal. These were practical matters of great importance in the turbulent times Galileo lived in, and this kind of military work helped establish his early reputation. Whatever philosophers and theologians might say about perfection, armies in the field had no time to quibble about the desirability of circular motion; all they wanted to know was which way to point their guns to achieve maximum effect, and Galileo told them.

It was a combination of Kepler’s discovery of elliptical orbits and Galileo’s insights into both acceleration and the scientific method that paved the way for the greatest scientific discovery of the seventeenth century, and perhaps of all time: Isaac Newton’s universal law of gravitation. Newton was born in 1642 and died in 1727. His great work Philosoph...

Revue de presse

“Gribbin takes us through the basics [of chaos theory] with his customary talent for accessibility and clarity. [His] arguments are driven not by impersonal equations but by a sense of wonder at the presence in the universe and in nature of simple, self-organizing harmonies underpinning all structures, whether they are stars or flowers.”
–Sunday Times (London)

“Gribbins breathes life into the core ideas of complexity science, and argues convincingly that the basic laws, even in biology, will ultimately turn out to be simple.”
–Nature magazine

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Before the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the world seemed to be ruled by chaos in a quite different way from the way the term is used by scientists today, but in the same way that most people still apply the word. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index
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Amazon.com: 4.5 étoiles sur 5  20 commentaires
66 internautes sur 69 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 The science of chaos and complexity explained clearly--FINALLY!!! 26 janvier 2006
Par Stephen Pletko - Publié sur Amazon.com

This book, by astrophysicist John Gribbin, gives us insight into the concepts of "chaos" and "complexity." Chaos occurs when a small change in the starting conditions of a process produces a big change in the outcome of that process. A complex system is one that is chaotic, and in which the way the system develops feeds back on itself to change the way it is developing.

Is there an order or a simplicity that underlies chaos and complexity? According to Gribbin, there is. He states, "the great insight is that chaos and complexity follow simple laws-essentially the same simple laws discovered by Isaac Newton more than three hundred years ago." Gribbin goes on to make this startling statement:

"Chaos begets complexity, and complexity begets life."

So what is the theme of this book? Answer: "It is the simplicity that underpins complexity, and thereby makes life possible, that is the theme of this book."

The first three chapters tell us about Chaos. They are titled as follows:

(1) Order (or simplicity) out of chaos
(2) The return of chaos
(3) Chaos out of order

The next chapter introduces another important concept. It's titled:

(4) From chaos to complexity

The next two chapters introduce and discuss the most complex system of all. They're entitled:

(5) Earthquakes, (mass) extinctions, and emergence (of life)
(6) The facts of life

The final chapter looks into the biggest question facing science today: "Is there life beyond Earth, elsewhere in our Solar System, or out in the Universe at large?" The title of this chapter is:

(7) Life beyond

Throughout the book, Gribbin reveals how these revolutionary theories of chaos and complexity have been applied over the last two decades to explain all sorts of different, seemingly unrelated phenomena: from traffic jams and the stock market to weather patterns, the formation of galaxies, and the evolution of life. To make the book even more readable and interesting, all these ideas are put in their proper historical context.

There are over 35 illustrations (in the form of graphs, diagrams, etc.) that I found were helpful in visually describing key concepts.

There is also a short but invaluable glossary that I found to be very beneficial. In fact, it is from here that I obtained the above definitions of chaos and complexity.

Who is this book written for? I would say anybody interested in chaos and complexity. However, because Gribbin includes a wide range of scientific disciplines-from biology to physics and computing, meteorology to cosmology-I would recommend having a general scientific background. As well, knowledge of basic mathematics would help.

Finally, the only problem I had with this book is that each chapter is written as one, long narrative with no breaks. I feel that it would have been beneficial to have each chapter divided into subsections to ease reading.

In conclusion, this is a well-written book on what can be a difficult subject. If you want to learn the principles behind chaos and complexity, then this is the book to read!!

(first published 2004; acknowledgements; list of illustrations; introduction; 7 chapters; main narrative 250 pages; glossary; references; index)

45 internautes sur 48 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Deep thought and simple perspective 28 mai 2005
Par John Fabian - Publié sur Amazon.com
This work takes giant steps with the history of science and cosmology. From the Big Bang to Life, from Copernicus to Lovelock, Professor Gribbin advances the theory of complex order from simple rules.

A reader familiar with complexity theory may feel they have heard all this before. Professor Gribbin however takes a very mathematical approach to the subject and delivers am interesting and readable account of his subject.

I recommend this work to serious lay readers (casual science readers may find the math daunting, although just appreciating the author's enthusiasm will be infectious) and to a general academic audience. The scope is vast but engagingly presented and readable.

Throughout the work Professor Gribbin goes on tangents and then announces that it is out of the scope of the present work. I challenge the good professor to write a new work on just those tangents. I for one will be happy to read it.
24 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Beautiful Piece of Literature 6 juin 2006
Par Mark - Publié sur Amazon.com
I have just finished reading Deep Simplicity and felt the urge to tell anyone who would listen how I felt about the book. Read the other reviewers to find out what the book is about.

There have been very few occasions and very few books that moved me in the way that Deep Simplicity did, for it is a work of art and without doubt a genuinely beautiful piece of literature. What's more, I feel that the beauty inherent in the book is self-similar on many scales, from the lucidly illustrative metaphors, to paragraphs that grab you as they weave delicately expounded threads together, to the overall structure and flow of the book itself. I felt privileged to have read the book.

After I finished I was left with a tremendous sense of appreciation for and recognition with our planet, its biosphere, life, and the Universe at large; even for my fellow man - although our depredations are made strikingly apparent. My final and lasting feeling is one of profound enlightenment; something felt when previously reading Gribbin, but not to this extent.

Thank You John Gribbin, for writing this book; $24.95 in one currency, priceless in another.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Cheo-plexity exposed. 13 octobre 2006
Par Regnal - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
It is a very informative, unique work by Gribbin about fascinating topics of physics, biology, life and Universe. What is more important it presents brand new experiments and many (maybe too many) mathematical models of network interconnections between simple parts and models of self-organized criticalities in the phase transition on the edge of chaos. This sounds like difficult text, and indeed, especially the third chapter (bifurcations and fractals) is not an easy read. Persistent and math inclined learner should try to grasp the sense of Power Law ("1/f noise"). Then after, satisfaction and pleasure of reading will grow, everything will become clear towards the end of the book. As a long time ago trained chemist, I was surprised discovering Lars Onsager's description of the FOURTH law of thermodynamics and that Alan Turing was not only an "iconic computer man" but worked on oscillating chemical reactions called "chemical clocks". These reactions (quote): "seemed to fly in the face of the second law of thermodynamics"! I was quite enlightened how phase transition can be explained as phenomena taking place on the edge of chaos. Last chapter is mostly devoted to James Lovelock and "Gaia Theory" presenting Earth as a self-organizing, entropy reducing system (check his last book "Revenge of Gaia"). Maverick physicist Lee Smolin has formulated the similar hypothesis about Milky Way. The field of chaos and complexity states that simple rules must underline many apparently noisy, complicated aspects of nature - and this is what John Gribbin writes about. Whether chaoplexologists will find any profound new scientific laws only time can tell. For now enjoy and reduce your entropy by absorbing information emanating from this book.
12 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 The Simplicity of Chaos and Complexity 10 avril 2006
Par Dave_42 - Publié sur Amazon.com
Dr. John Gribbin has written a number of books on physics, and his sixth book, "Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity", covers the basics of chaos theory. While I wouldn't call this book simple reading, he does make the subject very accessible for those willing to exercise their minds. Dr. Gribbin does a very good job of explaining the origins of Chaos Theory, and how it applies to natural law from weather to earthquakes to life on Earth and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe. He goes even further in looking at the behavior of man made phenomena such as traffic gridlock and the stock market

The content of this book gets five stars, but I do feel that it could have been organized more effectively. Highly recommended for anyone interested in learning about chaos theory and how it relates to our place in the Universe.
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