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Understanding Complexity

Narrated by: Scott E. Page
Length: 6 hrs and 4 mins
5 out of 5 stars (7 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Recent years have seen the introduction of concepts from the new and exciting field of complexity science that have captivated the attention of economists, sociologists, engineers, businesspeople, and many others. These include tipping points, the wisdom of crowds, six degrees of separation (or Kevin Bacon), and emergence. 

Interest in these intriguing concepts is widespread because of the utility of this field. Complexity science can shed light on why businesses or economies succeed and fail, how epidemics spread and can be stopped, and what causes ecological systems to rebalance themselves after a disaster. 

In fact, complexity science is a discipline that may well hold the key to unlocking the secrets of some of the most important forces on Earth. But it's also a science that remains largely unknown, even among well-educated people. 

Now you can discover and grasp the fundamentals and applications of this amazing field with Understanding Complexity. Professor Scott E. Page of the University of Michigan - one of the field's most highly regarded teachers, researchers, and real-world practitioners - introduces you to this vibrant and still evolving discipline. In 12 lucid lectures, you learn how complexity science helps us understand the nature and behavior of systems formed of financial markets, corporations, native cultures, governments, and more. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2009 The Great Courses (P)2009 The Teaching Company, LLC

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  • .
  • 06-04-2019

Great Book

I have listened to about 50 Great Courses books, and this is now one of my favorites. There is (apparently) a whole academic dicipline out there about understanding how complex systems work. It's a useful way of framing how the world works.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Donovan Laganiere
  • 01-07-2019

Content falls short of true complexity theory

Let me just start with this: complexity theory is great. Instead of shying away from interdisciplinary science, recklessly embracing specialization with no regard for truth, it aims at a comprehensive picture of all science. It's the big papa. However, that's not what I got from this lecture series (though I only made it through a few of the lectures before becoming too disgruntled to continue). If you're interested in understanding complexity theory in its full, unbridled form, then pick up Sapolsky's "Behave". This will by no means give you a full understanding of how interconnected all of science is, but it's a great start. Certainly better than this. If you're into older stuff and like a real challenge, then Schopenhauer's works are another way to get into complexity theory (though the term wasn't around at the time). I can't say that this is the worst introduction to complexity theory, but you can find better (free) stuff on YouTube to get started. Look up systems theory and start from there (starting with chaos theory is chronologically the way to go, but it's not that digestible off the bat). Sapolsky also has free lectures on there that are great. I don't think this is worth the money. I almost want to give it a worse rating to balance out the over-hyping of other reviews on here, but that seems a bit too brutal.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • wbiro
  • 13-05-2019

Interesting Field

Covered many different areas of application chapter by chapter. Narration was lively. The last chapter summed things up nicely, mentioning Decision Theory, its improvement - Game Theory, and how Complexity Theory deals with non-linear, unpredictable systems.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • KJ
  • 28-07-2019

Dense Fluff...as opposed to lots if fluff..

I usually stick to positive reviews. But I couldn't finish this (I lasted until towards the end into the network chapter). I didn't gain any insight into how to break down complex systems that isn't relatively common sense.

His analogies feel very weakly correlated at times. Also the examples of complex systems and information gained from them are similarly weak to me.

Funny enough he was able to make some complex systems sound more complex and too basic at the same time. Hence dense fluff...

Maybe that was his goal?

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Chuan
  • 20-07-2019

Excellent lecture in understanding complexity

The tipping point concept is very useful to understand. Putting it in the light of complex systems gives us a certain perspective.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Philo
  • 01-06-2019

Big framework, big insights, a breakthrough

About halfway through, insights erupt all across my thinking and framing of events large and small. This is the keystone for my building a new framework vital to grasp what is going on, and to make decisions accordingly. So much of this seemingly incoherent world suddenly makes sense. The whole thing is deftly packaged here. Even my memories are reframed and look quite different now, not to mention my focus in learning. This is the particular passageway I needed at this stage to launch into new realms cognitively, philosophically, strategically. It is a primer, so those familiar with the field may be under-stimulated.

The closing lecture was a bit compressed, as it synthesized the whole work but went into a starburst of brilliance -- pointing maybe too fast in too many directions. But I could follow it, and I am amazed at my new tools for unpacking puzzles at many levels and devising solutions. One huge idea is the balance between exploration and exploitation --consolidating and innovating. The comparisons of more classical decision theory with modeling complexity (two subjects I am intensely focused on right now), and of command-and-control versus diversity of views and experiments, were alone worth the price.

If there is a criticism, it is, a lot is broad, at a 30,000-feet view, somewhat hard to pin down into actual problems and solutions. It seems more about learning a new way to perceive, and at many points does not lend itself to being pinned down to actual problems and solutions. It may be dispiriting to those seeking neat answers, because a big point is, trying to manipulate things, reality is like a big complex swirling amoebic goo, you can just nudge bits of it. Classical decision theory lends itself much more readily mapping choices -- but it suffers from this simplistic surface neatness. However, I did get an appreciation for fuzz and slack, error and play, in rules and situations, directly applicable, for me, to my job, in classroom management.

Earlier I had bought the video version (at much greater cost) but have not needed to resort to it -- the spoken version is quite clear. Huge value here!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Martin
  • 16-04-2019

Makes me want to learn more

Really good explanation of the topic and made me look for more by Scott Page and the subject of Complexity. Easy to listen and understand.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Roxann AA
  • 04-06-2019

Not enough coverage of topic

I wish there were more details and coverage of the scientific theories and history of complexity in this course with some coverage in biology and mathematics of complexity . It was a useful course but the level of technical detail was low.

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  • Diogenes
  • 22-07-2019

Brilliant but too brief

Outstanding! Would just have loved more detail and some worked examples on the maths and the practical applications.

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  • Ifeanyi Odike
  • 12-07-2019

A useful framework for transforming a nation

One of my deep philosophical and sociological dilemma is, can the will of one person, change a nation? And if so, how?

Not in a Helen of Troy kind of way, but more in an emancipation and positive transformation kind of way. What is the science to transforming a country like Nigeria into a highly developed society?

This series of lectures provides the building blocks for shaping and staging such an intervention. As the lectures point out, the best metaphor to describe the thought-process, is how to tame a beast! (Paraphrasing). The lectures do not tell you ‘how’, rather they tell you more about ‘what’ to look out for when dealing with the beast. Think of the lectures as ‘a guide to the nature of beasts’.

Hopefully, you’re not put off by my over use of the beast metaphor. All the same, it is a very good audio listen. Now that I know what to look out for, I will now proceed to figure out how.