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how nature works: the science of self-organized criticality [Format Kindle]

Per Bak
5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)

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Reason, Steven Postrel

. . . In print, at least, what might seem arrogant comes across as a kind of innocent, childlike enthusiasm, a lack of concern for anything but the sheer joy of figuring things out. His ruthless simplifications of geology, evolution, and neurology pay off because, as Bak notes, his models describe behavior that is common across these domains. This universality means that trampling across others' turf is not only acceptable, but almost mandatory, if the underlying principles are to be exposed. Finally, for the most part, Bak wants the reader to grasp the basic logic of his arguments; only rarely does he try to persuade with flights of poetic language or brute intellectual authority.

Présentation de l'éditeur

Many seemingly disparate aspects of the world, from the formation of the landscape to the process of evolution to the action of nervous systems to the behavior of the economy, all share a set of simple, easily described properties. These properties are all so similar, Per Bak writes, that they make us wonder if they are all manifestations of a single principle. Can there be a Newton's law, an f=ma, of complex behavior? In How Nature Works Bak argues that self-organized criticality, the spontaneous development of systems to a critical state, is the key to such a principle. While many theories have been proposed to describe individual complex systems, self-organized criticality is the first general theory of complex systems with a firm mathematical basis. How Nature Works, written by the discoverer of self-organized criticality, describes for general readers a concept of increasing importance. Few books offer such a compelling glimpse into the science of the future as this one.

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Commentaires client les plus utiles
5.0 étoiles sur 5 very nice ! 5 mars 2014
Par mcaruel
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Various problems are shown revealing the generality of self organized criticality.
One the bad side I I regret the fact that the "plates" are not referenced in the table of content
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Amazon.com: 3.3 étoiles sur 5  27 commentaires
49 internautes sur 50 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Simply in a Class by Itself 30 mai 2000
Par Bruce Gregory - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I couldn't let the previous reviewer's comments stand without comment. I can't believe the reviewer read the same book that I did. Bak's treatment is detailed, clear, and balanced. When he is enthusiastic he let's you know exactly why, leaving you free to make up your own mind. The fact that most of the studies he describes were published in Physical Review Letters might tell you something about their quality. The book provides wonderful examples of the role of models in science, much better than any I've come across in rather extensive search for materials for a course on the Nature of Science I help teach. I'm reading the book for the third time (not because it is difficult to read, but simply because it repays rereading) and I admire it more with each reading. If you want to understand models that display Self Organized Criticality, this book is without question the place to go.
38 internautes sur 40 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Great book but... 21 février 2001
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
This is both a wonderful book and an awful one with two interleaved narratives. I've read the book cover to cover and some of the key chapters several times over. I've also replicated some of the key simulation results on a personal computer. Much to the credit of Per Bak's clear explanations designed to simplify he eminently succeeds at his task of making his point: complexity in nature can be simple to understand. Bak points out the existence of power laws in self-organized critical systems occurring in nature and he gives the reader the ability to model them using simple numerical methods. We could call them "back of the envelope calculations" if the were analytic. All of this he manages to do without the need for the reader ever to go to the published literature. In the process of doing that, he does not completely strip off the plausibility of the models. In some sense it is quite a tour de force.
So what could be awful about such a wonderful book? It would be a great world if those who make significant advances in science were magnanimous. While one narrative in Per Bak's book is all about self-organized criticality, the "other" narrative comes out all but too self-serving. Per Bak relishes in his moment in the limelight of science as he uses every bit of it as a platform to offer judgmental and patronizing opinions about every other field of science (including his own physics) and many colleagues he's worked with or benefited from the insight of... When convenient, reductionism is good but when not convenient, reductionism is vile. Big Science is mindless, except perhaps for this or perhaps for that... A lot of this "other narrative" really sounds like small talk around the departmental coffee pot with a few smirks and some wry smiles. Perhaps the editor might have suggested it all stayed there. If all this was really meant to be tongue in cheek or said with a kind smile, consider rewriting the prose.
The "real reality" about science is that it benefits from advances on all fronts, both the microscopic and the macroscopic. Both the linear and the non-linear. It is men and women who do science, not machines, and unfortunately they sometimes bring in hubris with an inch gained here or there. Go ahead and buy the book (it's reasonably priced...), enjoy the first narrative and try to disregard the second, if you can.
36 internautes sur 38 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Applied Self Organized Critically 16 décembre 2001
Par Atheen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Per Bak's book How Nature Works is about the theory of self organizing criticality and its applicability to a variety of questions and problems in several sciences. It is an interesting and quick read for the most part. I have read other books on self organized criticality that were far less understandable and more limited in their scope of applicability.
Although there were portions of Bak's work that were a little belabored-I found my interest in sand piles began to sag after the initial discussion, for instance-much of the rest of the book was enlightening. The discussion in Chapter 1 of the contrast between the clarity and simplicity of the laws of physics and the complexity and unpredictability of nature was particularly interesting as was the discussion of the difference between chaos and complexity. His explanation in Chapter 2 of the theory of self organized criticality and the history of its development is far clearer than I found Stuart Kauffman's to be. It might make a better starting place for anyone wishing to understand the theory a little better before going on to Kauffman's and other books on the subject.
Essentially the theme of the book involves the self organization of much of the universe, from stars and volcanoes to traffic jams and economics, into critical states sustained as stable systems until they evolve through cascade events or what Bak calls avalanches (after his sand pile paradigm) or catastrophes. Bak explains that the system maintains itself along a critical line, above which chaos rules and nothing can be predicted and below which nothing happens so there is nothing to predict!
Chapter 5 which deals with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions interested me in particular because of my own study of geology. Here Bak suggests that geophysicists' attempts at prediction of events is a lost cause. He believes it to be based upon the mistaken human habit of looking at random events for patterns and periodicity where none exists. While the history of a given event can be studied in some detail after the fact, the information derived is useless in predicting the future. In Bak's opinion, the variables involved are so legion and are interrelated in so convoluted a way as to be impossible to monitor before the fact.
In chapters 7, 8, and 9 the author attempts to model Darwin's gradual evolution, Gould's punctuated equilibrium, and the Santa Fe Institute's fitness landscape to see which fits the facts better. In general Darwin's theories are vindicated---no real surprise there---while punctuated equilibrium is also found to have it's place in a complete theory of evolution. Chapter 11 contained a section on the unavoidability of catastrophes and fluctuations---and by their extension, one supposes, biological evolution-which casts light on the boom and bust character of economics among other things. This chapter extends the use of the theory of SOC to human activities as well as to human evolution.
The author's style is very chatty, which makes it readable and personable. By filling in the human details of the discoverers, he makes the book more personal. In all, though I found myself occasionally losing the thread of the author's theme, I nevertheless found the content of each chapter well worth.
19 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Student response: SOC it to me! 12 janvier 2000
Par Joshua E S Socolar - Publié sur Amazon.com
I used this book (along with Stu Kauffman's "At Home in the Universe, Feynman's "The Character of Physical Law", and Cohen & Stewart's "Collapse of Chaos") for a freshman seminar at Duke University on "Emergence of Complexity". My students really enjoyed Bak's book. It gave them a whole new perspective on the nature of physical and biological systems and on the nature of scientific models. Most importantly, their short essays on various parts of the book showed that Bak's enthusiasm for his subject was contagious. Students appreciated Bak's creative use of simple models to introduce new ways of thinking about a wide range of phenomena.
15 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Intuitive & makes you think of universal laws 8 février 2005
Par N N Taleb - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
This book is a great attempt at finding some universality based on systems in a "critical" state, with departures from such state taking place in a manner that follows power laws. The sandpile is a great baby model for that.

Some people are critical of Bak's approach, some even suggesting that we may not get power laws in these "sandpile" effects, but something less scalable in the tails. The point is :so what? The man has vision.

I looked at the reviews of this book. Clearly a few narrow-minded scientists do not seem to like it (many did not like Per Bak's ego). But the book is remarkably intuitive and the presentation is so clear that he takes you by the hand. It is even entertaining. If you are looking to find flaws in his argument his pedagogy allows it (it is immediately obvious to us who dabble with simulations of these processes that you need an infinite sandpile to get a pure power law).

Another problem. I have been ordering the book on Amazon for ages. Copernicus books does not respond to emails. I got my copy at the NYU library. Bak passed away 2 years ago and nobody seems to be pushing for his interest and that of us his readers (for used books to sell for 99 implies some demand). This convinces me NEVER to publish with Springer.
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