Understanding Complexity

Course No. 5181
Professor Scott E. Page, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
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Course No. 5181
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Course Overview

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 sociological term used to describe moments when unique or rare phenomena become more commonplace;
  • the wisdom of crowds, the argument that certain types of groups harness information and make decisions in more effective ways than individuals;
  • six degrees of separation, the idea that it takes no more than six steps to find some form of connection between two random individuals; and
  • emergence, the idea that new properties, processes, and structures can emerge unexpectedly from complex systems.

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-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.

What Makes a System Complex?

What defines a system as complex, as opposed to being merely

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Complexity—What Is It? Why Does It Matter?
    Learn what the experts mean when they talk about "complex" systems. Discover why these networks of diverse, connected, and adaptive entities acting in interdependent ways are so powerful, and why understanding them is crucial to so many disciplines. x
  • 2
    Simple, Rugged, and Dancing Landscapes
    Using the concept of a mountainous landscape as both metaphor and mathematical object, you begin to grasp the ways in which concepts like "rugged" or "dancing" landscapes—where adaptation and learning are vital for survival—can be visualized even by nonmathematicians. x
  • 3
    The Interesting In-Between
    You develop your understanding of complexity's key components of interdependence, connectedness, diversity, and adaptation/learning. And you learn—by figuratively dialing the strength of each of these components up or down—why the proper balance between them is essential if a system is to be complex. x
  • 4
    Why Different Is More
    Variance and diversity have very different meanings in the world of complexity theory. Grasping that difference puts you on the way to understanding how complex systems achieve diversity and why diversity enables them to be both innovative and robust, maintaining functionality even when the system is disturbed. x
  • 5
    Explore Exploit—The Fundamental Trade-Off
    Actors in complex systems face a constant tradeoff. Do they exploit the knowledge already learned in past explorations to achieve a solution? Or do they continue to explore, seeking an even better solution? Learn the pros and cons of each, and how the best balance can be achieved. x
  • 6
    Emergence I—Why More Is Different
    One of the most fascinating ideas in complexity theory is that of emergence, the spontaneous creation of order and functionality from the bottom up, with no "central planner" putting them into place. You gain an appreciation of the two kinds of emergence and why each is a source of wonder. x
  • 7
    Emergence II—Network Structure and Function
    Continuing the discussion of emergence, you see how emergence applies to networks and why network theory has become such an active discipline. And you understand how modern complexity theory adds to the study of networks the previously ignored element of space. x
  • 8
    Agent-Based Modeling—The New Tool
    Agent-based modeling—in which computers model complex systems from interdependent agents—may be complexity theory's most promising tool. Its full potential hasn't yet been realized, but this lecture offers a taste of what it can already achieve in disciplines as disparate as fire prevention and disease transmission. x
  • 9
    Feedbacks—Beehives, QWERTY, the Big Sort
    Drill even deeper into the implications of interdependent agents as you focus on the idea of feedbacks—both the positive ones, in which "more creates more," and the negative ones, in which "more creates less." x
  • 10
    The Sand Pile—Self-Organized Criticality
    Complex systems often create large events. Using the example of how a single unscreened passenger in Atlanta delayed flights and passengers across the nation, you are introduced to one of the key concepts that explain how complex systems can be so powerful. x
  • 11
    Complexity versus Uncertainty
    There is a vast difference between thinking of events as "random" and recognizing them as the output of a complex system. Explore three conventional explanations of randomness before turning to a fourth—the interdependent rules-based analysis offered by complexity theory. x
  • 12
    Harnessing Complexity
    Although complex systems can't be controlled, we may well be able, with proper respect, to harness them. Learn why conventional decision theory doesn't work in complex environments and what a proper use of complexity theory might promise us instead. x

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Your professor

Scott E. Page

About Your Professor

Scott E. Page, Ph.D.
University of Michigan
Professor Scott E. Page received a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Michigan and an M.A. in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He then received his M.S. in Business and his Ph.D. in Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He completed his Ph.D. thesis under the guidance of Stan Reiter and Nobel laureate Roger Myerson. He has...
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Understanding Complexity is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 117.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An Excellent Introduction to Complexity I thought this was a good course, but it lacked a lot of the detail I was looking for. If you have any background in systems or statistical modeling you will probably be disappointed in the course. It basically contains a lot of definitions with some interesting examples to outline the concepts of complexity. Dr. Page does a good job presenting the material and forwarding intuitive examples for conceptual learning. Complexity science does tend to come across as the "flavor of the month" approach to understanding variabilty, multi-variable interactions and systems which are unpredictable. The emphasis on intervening variables and interconnectedness is excellent although obvious when understanding complexity. If you are looking for an intuitive introduction to complexity, I would recommend the course. Complexity may be the next best step in providing better understanding of unpredictable systems. However, unpredictability, to some degree, implies lack of understanding of underlying phenomena. My question is: What is next in the journey to improve predictability after complexity science?
Date published: 2012-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding You can watch the DVD several times and get something interesting out of each viewing.
Date published: 2012-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course You can't go wrong in purchasing this course! Dr. Page presents a useful framework for understanding complex systems. He also appears to be extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic in presenting the course material. You will no doubt be enthralled by the subject matter. My only criticism is that the course material can be dense at times and requires constant attention in order to be understood. There may not be much that Dr. Page can do (the subject of complexity theory is, by definition, complex), save for covering slightly less material. Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile course and provides extremely valuable insights into the world around us.
Date published: 2012-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complexity made Understandable I have read Dr. Page's book on complex adaptive systems, and I greatly enjoyed learning about this new perspective on how to think about human behavior and what can happen as a result of it on a macro level. It was a treat to find this course taught by the master himself ! His style of presentation is clear and well-organized, and he used many great examples and visuals to help me gain a firm understanding of this field. Indeed, he has inspired me to keep going, and to explore other sources. If you are unfamiliar with this discipline, I reccommend checking this course out. It will blow you away! Great stuff.
Date published: 2012-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Also for people in the arts! Having started this course in a science I didn't know existed, I'm excited about the ideas. Previous reviewers have said all the specifics I would--except that a few thought this is only for the science-oriented, not for those in the liberal (or plastic) arts. I don't agree! We artists are the pulse of society and are, at our best, interested in almost everything. (New ideas for artwork are coming to mind as I listen and learn about complexity.) This course is real education--continuing, expanding, exciting.
Date published: 2012-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perspective changer! This was an excellent course and I recommend it to all TC students. It essentially states that a system cannot be completely understood by breaking it down into its parts. Hence, consciousness cannot be explained by looking at individual neurons, cultures cannot be expalined by studying individual humans, etc. This course has significant implications. If you are a parent who feels that a specific child raising method can shape your child into the person you desire, think again! (your child is a complex system that grows, changes and adapts due to numerous factors beyond your control). If you believe in political conspiracy theories where a few individuals control and influence whole countries, think again!! And if you think you can figure out the stock market, think again! The basic idea presented is that complex systems adapt, change, and grow in time in unpredictable ways. And if one wants to keep up or understand the system, one must be willing to adapt, change and grow as well. As a parent, this course helps me reject any parenting or teaching method which claims to shape all kids into 'perfect' adults. Of course it does not really offer anything in its place excpet a few non-specific recommendations which are difficult to implement. In any case, I recommned this course to everyone. Complexity has influenced all academic fileds from philosophy to economy and the average TC student cannot affort not to know about it. Thankfully, it is only 12 lectures long and goes by fast.
Date published: 2012-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from New Perspectives on How Things Work Complexity theory is a tough subject to teach in a short video or audio course. Professor Page takes you clearly through definitions and concepts that may be foreign to many listeners. He emphasizes the importance and necessity of the attributes of interdependence, connectedness, diversity, and adaptation to generate complexity. He uses clear examples to illustrate his points. I particularly appreciated his definition and discussion of simple, rugged, and dancing landscapes. Thinking in these terms made me conceptualize a number of issues I face at an academic health center from a new perspective. Throughout the course Professor Page continues to introduce models that illustrate various aspects of complexity theory including the sandpile model and Bridge Players Anonymous. You will need to work through to lecture 10 to hear about those. This course will likely be of most interest to those with some background in mathematics and science. I suspect that those whose interests bend towards art, literature, and music may not find the concepts of complexity theory of much interest. The course guide is a bit on the slim side and could be enhanced with a few illustrative diagrams. After you complete this short 12-lecture course you will likely look at nature, politics, the economy, and even your own workplace, from a new perspective of complexity theory.
Date published: 2012-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from REVEALS AN AMAZING WORLD Professor Scott Page's series on "Understanding Complexity" reveals an amazing dimension of analysis for understanding so many facets of our world - from international relations to macro finance to racial segregation. It has helped me better comprehend that the interdependence of sovereign nations offers both broader international stability and the potential for far greater global chaos. The series offers explanations why my trips to such places as Myanmar, North Korea, Kosovo, and Afghanistan lead me to so many different perspectives than what I glean from media reports. Its explanation for sudden major changes improves my understanding of investment markets, corporate culture, and even civil unrest. Although Professor Page does an outstanding job in simplifying complexity theory, the series can be overwhelmingly difficult for individuals not comfortable with basic mathematics and science.
Date published: 2012-05-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Short But Superb Complexity science is one of the buzzwords in the scientific community today, and it is a testament to the good judgement of the Teaching Company to make such a bold move and add a course that addresses this emerging science. In terms of the content, the course promises and delivers a wealth of insight, and provides fodder for further thought. The basics of complexity are covered and, given the constraints of a 6-hour lecture series for the general public, one is left with a good grasp of complex systems, and the excitement it has generated. This might require multiple listening, but you can only benefit from reviewing the material. (I have done so 3 times already.) The choice of Dr. Page is also judicious, and yes, he is really "one of the field's most highly regarded teachers and researchers." I was assigned to read his book with Miller, "Complex Adaptive Systems", which is among the most important books that address the issue of complexity in social sciences, during a course I took in complex systems. Interdisciplinary fields are a treat for me, and Dr. Page's presentation testifies to the interdisciplinary nature of complexity, since he colors his presentation with numerous profound and insightful examples from various fields of science. I cannot stress enough how Page's constellation of examples kept me in awe and formed a coherent whole. But there are two caveats. First, as other reviewers have mentioned, the course is a little biased towards social (rather than natural) sciences, and that is hardly a surprise, given Page's background. (As a side note, I encourage anyone interested in exploring the mathematical foundations of the subject and it's current status in the natural science community to read Mitchell's lucid exposition in "Complexity: A Guided Tour".) Also, the course was far too short, and left me with a yearning for more. To sum up, I highly recommend this course to anyone with any background. And I humbly ask of the Teaching Company to expand on this, as they have done with other valuable courses.
Date published: 2012-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorites Some courses I'm lucky to take one or two things away from a lecture. This one I felt every single word was carefully thought out and contained insightful information. While I breeze through some courses a few lectures a day, I felt this one was better at one per week to give me time for the framework he was presenting to sink in. Presentation was supurb. The speed of his talking was just fast enough to keep you alert while not stumbling over or mis-accentuating any of the points. Some professors I swear are reading in a Christopher Walken style. Culture as an emergent phenomenon is still rattling through my brain. Explore or exploit? Model what others have explored and explit this lecture series!
Date published: 2012-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good treatment; easily understood. This course is a very competent, short survey of the subject of complexity. Professor Page is easily understood and deals with the subject in enough detail so that an alert student can gain surprising insights. The course suffers somewhat by not devoting any time to the historical origins of the materials in non-linear dynamics, such as one might find in Gleik's excellent book, /Chaos/. The subject is balanced heavily toward economics and away from the mathematic underpinnings and it loses something because of that. Nevertheless, this is an excellent survey and a point of departure for other study.
Date published: 2012-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating from start to finish... This course was a surprise and delight from start to finish. We are led through a set of new ideas and new ways of looking at systems in the world. The clockwork universe is left far behind, and a fascinating look at complex systems is shown to us. From our own bodies, to economics, to computer simulation of systems, there is a great deal of material here. Dr. Page is a fine speaker and makes what might be a new field of study very interesting. At the end of the course it is not obvious that Complexity or Complexity Theory is a new and separate field of study. Rather it might be a new way of looking at systems that are more complicated than we thought before. Whatever Complexity Theory is, it does help us make better sense of a world revealed to not be a simple clockwork mechanism after all.
Date published: 2012-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Superb There's nothing very complex about my ratings of "Understanding Complexity." Of the some 60 courses I've taken from TGC, there has been none more valuable to me than this one! I'm presently involved rather deeply in two or three complex enterprises. Taking this course has given me tremendous insights as well as practical tips in both how better to understand the systems in which these enterprises operate and how to navigate their challenges. We live in a world in which this emerging work of understanding complexity is increasingly important. I'm extremely grateful for Professor Page and his colleagues who are bringing a scientific approach to its study and exploration. It's particularly gratifying that tools based on that science are being created and made available to help people who live and work in the midst of this complexity. Further, and more to the intellectual side, I love these courses offered by TGC that explore the border just beyond what the world has previously considered, "order." The courses on chaos theory and game theory make nice companions in this respect to this course. Finally, as to the professor, I want to register extremely high marks. The work in this course is difficult and fast-paced, but it is extremely well organized and spiced with simple examples to make the more complex material more easily understandable. If you're involved in any of a wide range of disciplines, including business, management, social science, economics, public health, et. al., where these principles of complexity apply, I suspect you, too, will find this course to be excellent.
Date published: 2012-04-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not very Complex First off, I don't understand why this course was only available on DVD. there are few visuals, and each lecture seemed to drag. I found myself wandering during the lectures. Much of the info seems to be common sense, like analyzing traffic jams. Not really worth the couch time. Would be better as audio CD.
Date published: 2012-03-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Intro to Topic I found the beginning 5 lectures hard to get into but the last 6 made the wait worth it as that was more the application of the abstract concepts from the first 5 lectures. I liked his use of examples from several disciplines ranging from natural science (most biology) to economics (like banking). I wish he utilized the visuals more. He did not bother for example to show what a normal curve or longitudinal graphs were, which can make it harder to understand. Yes, he described them, but describing a graph is not enough as a person can form an incorrect version of a graph, hence why visuals should not be estimated. This was the first class I viewed and must say it could have been better, but it provided me what I needed: an intro to the topic.
Date published: 2012-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good presentation Good presentation of an interesting topic. Well organized.
Date published: 2012-02-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from evolution has no dog in this fight This course might have some good qualities and information, but I cannot get past the fact that he pushed the un-theory of evolution like a drug dealer in L.A. It is ridiculous and unacceptable. I have several courses from TTC and they range from history to physics. While some of them may talk about the dead "theory" of evolution, none of them went has far as Mr. Page. Evolution has no idea about, or the ability to quantify the amount of sunflower seeds on a sunflower, nor the reason to do so. After he regurgitated that bit of nonsense I realized he is simply trying to get tenure somewhere or to secure more government grants. Evolution is a dead theory, move on already and create a new theory- or simply leave it out of the discussion because it is not relative. Until science can emphatically declare what the early atmosphere was composed of they can NEVER declare that evolution is true; the two go hand in hand. I am returning this tainted drivel.
Date published: 2012-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Too Tantalizing If you have ever wanted to understand how everything works, take this course. Like philosophy, complexity science is a discipline that uses high level abstraction to describe phenomena as diverse as the death of a beehive and the start of WW1. Unlike philosophy, this course shows you how these abstractions can be built into models and tested against the real world. Professor Page is outstanding...enthusiastic about his subject matter, systematic in his descriptions (as you might expect) and detailed in his examples. My only complaint: I wish there was more. The course was simply too tantalizing.
Date published: 2011-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course If you have an interest in complexity theory this course will be an invaluable introduction. Professor Page has an excellent manner of presentation. He tends to move quickly and cover a large amount of material in a short time so be prepared to concentrate and to return to the material after your first time through. The field of complexity is relatively new and associated most with the Santa Fe Institute with which Professor Page is associated. This Institute involves scholars in a variety of fields seeking to understand complex adaptive systems both as they apply to their discipline and between disciplines. By its nature it has those who would probably never sit down together doing so and comparing and contrasting approaches and theories. To me this is probably as valuable as the idea of complexity theory itself. Professor Page provides a clear overview of the concepts involved. For those not at all familiar with complexity theory this can be a bit overwhelming but I found that he does an excellent job of walking the fine line between being too general and too specific. I found in particular his lecture in which he discusses each element of complexity as a "dial" which he turns from zero to ten (from less to more) helped immeasurably to understand complexity broken into component elements of diversity, connection, interdependence and adaptability. As a result, at least for me, what was a very hazy concept became clear. Prior to watching the DVD I had read several books on complexity as well as surfing the Santa Fe Institute website. Unfortunately, while I had the basic idea I was left more puzzled as to the terms used and their potential application. After watching the DVD I now have a much better understanding and look forward to learning more. I can with enthusiasm recommend this course to anyone wanting an understanding of Complexity theory and its potential.
Date published: 2011-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Bargain at TeachC0 A terrific course. I was afraid the math would be too difficult for me, but it wasn't. It could have been called "Complexity made simple", but there is nothing simplistic about it. Great overview of this extremely important field that relates to almost everything. I don't understand why this is on sale for Ten dollars, but I'm very glad it is. Buy it quick before the price goes up
Date published: 2011-09-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sticks with You I felt that this course gave an excellent intro into the study of complexity. As I continue to pursue my studies in social science, I find that I keep coming back to things I learned in this course. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer.
Date published: 2011-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very engaging course. I was totally captivated in this course and have listened to some of the lectures several times. I was pleasantly surprised by how intrigued I was and Prof. Page does a great job of presenting the content. He does a good job of giving you mental models to hold on to the concepts as he works through the material. I find myself using his models to think about things I experience in my daily world. I recommend this course,
Date published: 2011-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Understanding Complexity I bought this course because I enjoy involving myself in the national dialog on issues that affect daily life in the 21st century. I recognize that it is not possible to talk knowledgeably on any subject, whether it be the climate, evolution, cosmology, or even religion without having at least a cursory understanding of complex behavior. The content is clear enough for a high school senior to follow while being in depth enough to interest an engineer like myself with advanced degrees. Professor Page includes numerous examples in each lecture to show how ubiquitous complexity is and to illustrate his points. As always with Teaching Company courses, I found myself wishing that the course was twice as long ... I didn't want it to end. The pace was just right and Professor Page's delivery was clear. The illustrations were excellent. I found myself wanting to replicate and expand on some of the examples at home for myself (for example the "game of life"). I feel that I met the goals I set for myself with this course, that I would have a better understanding of science, econ, and human behavior as a result. I have recommended this course to several others and will continue to do so. I look forward to the Teaching Company offering an advanced course on this fascinating subject by Professor Page.
Date published: 2011-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Agree, paradigm shifting I didn't buy this course thinking it was another one about chaos theory. But now that I have better insights into complexity theory, I bought the course and highly recommend it. COMPLEXITY EFFECTS ALMOST ALL ASPECTS OF OUR LIVES, yet it is almost never discussed. You will look at the world differently after this course.
Date published: 2011-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Paradigm Shifting This course provides a ‘whirlwind’ tour of the concepts, behavior, and implications of a new type of system dynamics model – a model for diverse, interdependent, connected, adaptive systems – called a ‘complex’ system. So why care?? Because complex systems include economic systems, innovation systems, financial systems, political systems, biological systems, ecosystems, etc. that we are part of, depend on, affect, and influence every day. If we can understand complex system models, we can gain new insights and understanding of the function, behavior, and implications of these real world systems – including major events, critical issues, and effects and risks of potential actions or changes. For example, depending on their characteristics, complex system behavior can include: creating sophisticated patterns and behavior from simple elements, generating or creating inventions and novelty (with no planning or management!), creating adaptive robust systems, creating critical behavior (collapse, bubbles, tipping points), etc. Think of results such as financial bubbles, flash crashes, evolution of innovations, creation of civilization and wealth, sustainability, etc. Professor Page delivers this quick tour with clarity, high energy, enthusiasm, and ‘rapid fire’ ideas, explanations, examples, and applications – he is clearly brilliant and has mastered this subject -- he is very engaging. You must think fast and not get distracted – or use the rewind to capture all that was said and to let the material ‘soak in’. Professor Page does not use quantitative math or equations, but does use mathematical ideas, simple illustrative examples of the math concepts (stability, optimization, rugged and dancing ‘landscapes, networks, etc.). Graphics for the basic concepts are very good. Professor Page cites a variety of application examples -- almost in passing. Some additional time, graphics, and illustrations (e.g. of ‘evolved designs’) for the applications would be helpful. In fact, a second course could be offered on “Applying Complexity”. (For example, see Origins of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker, which explains how complexity applies to economics, innovation, finance, etc.) I rated this course exceptional due to: a) a critical topic to understand today’s world, b) an excellent broad overview of the concepts, behaviors, implications, and examples of ‘complexity’, and c) the clear, rapid, accurate, enthusiastic, engaging delivery. This course may not be for everyone. Some background or exposure to ideas such as dynamic systems, optimization, controls, decision theory, game theory, statistics (randomness), economics, innovation, etc. are helpful to put ‘complexity’ in perspective and grasp why it provides such a new, different, and overarching view of how some things work. However, this is my favorite course of the ten I have watched so far. This course may change how you think about, understand, and react to issues and events -- i.e., some of your paradigms may shift!
Date published: 2011-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Tidy Introduction, an Engaging Presentation Let me begin by acknowledging that it would be impossible for a single course, particularly one that includes only twelve lectures, to comprehensively cover all there is to know about complex systems--which is fine, because this course doesn't attempt to do that. Rather, Professor Page sets about providing viewers with an introduction to the fundamental terminology and concepts upon which the study of complex systems is based. He explains the basics of dancing landscapes, emergence, agent-based modeling, and criticality, among other topics, in a straightforward and intuitive way that encompasses exactly what an introductory course should, both providing the language of the discipline and ideas for basic application, and the necessary understanding for further study. Throughout the course, Professor Page maintains an easy to follow organization to his lectures, as well as a friendly, engaging, and entertaining presentational style that makes it easy to develop a feeling of being engaged in the discussion, despite the format of the course being inherently one-directional. Meanwhile, the visuals are often a helpful supplement to understanding certain processes and models discussed. This is one of three installments from The Great Courses that I have begun viewing (I'm still working my way through the other two), and I can easily say that it has been my favorite so far. I definitely recommend it.
Date published: 2011-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting course For me, lots of new ideas presented in a very understandable manner. Great course!
Date published: 2011-07-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Leaves you wanting more I'm a little bit torn on this particular course. On the one hand, Prof. Page has a casual and relaxed teaching style that I enjoyed very much, but he nevertheless still conveys an almost kid-like enthusiasm towards the material. Furthermore, the material is absolutely fascinating. For example, as someone who works in health, I gained a great deal of insight into how to view pandemics, emergency planning, and the general functioning of a health care system through a totally novel lens. The lectures on agent-based modeling, self-organized criticality, and the final lecture genuinely stood out for me. However, there were times when Prof. Page seemed to jump between analogies when they weren't adequate for the discussion, or without exploring them deeply enough. To use my own analogy, it was something like watching a comedian's bit fall flat, necessitating an improvised change. For a scripted course read off a teleprompter, this was just odd. More importantly, I was left wanting more from this course...more in-depth exploration of modeling, more real-world examples of criticality, and more of the prescriptive discussion material that made up the final lecture. Still, an enjoyable series of lectures that are easy to recommend to those with an interest or curiosity about complexity.
Date published: 2011-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding, but be clear on what Complexity is [DVD] I am embarrassed to say that I was expecting a blend of math and physics. I guess I confused it with Chaos, which it is not. Complexity is most closely related to Economics, the lecturer’s own field. Biology, specifically evolution, is a source of many examples as well. It is about how complex systems can arise out of the interaction of simpler actors. There are several topics and/or books that would be a major hint that you would like this course. I repeatedly noticed similarities to System Dynamics. This was confirmed towards the end of the lecture series. You may have heard of “The Fifth Discipline”. Now, some more books: the Tipping Point (now on my reading list), The Long Tail (I read it as a direct result of this course and loved it), the Black Swan (the presenter seems to critique that book a bit in Complexity), and Micromotives and Macrobehavior (the course confirmed that this book, purchased prior to watching, belongs on my reading list). Why do I list these books? If you haven’t heard of any of them, you might not be sure what you are in for with this course. I thought it was among the best Teaching Company courses that I have seen. However, I was unclear as to the topic until after the first lecture. The same could happen to you. If you truly have an interest in the subject matter, I don’t think you can go wrong. Cautions in other reviews about taking your time are warranted. Key concepts explained in earlier lectures seem obvious, but are subtle and are critical to later lectures. I thought the presentation was masterful. I was a bit skeptical at first, and felt his pace was a little slow, but all of the fundamentals are needed to truly understand the theory he discusses at the end. In short, I was wrong about the pace. Be patient. He makes excellent use of his lecture time. It is a great course, a real standout.
Date published: 2011-05-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! Absolutely Fantastic! More Please! Understanding Complexity is a gem, one of my favorite courses from The Teaching Company. In an increasingly interconnected world, the risk of significant “tipping points” will continue to accelerate, along with the growing risk of collapse. Professor Page stays out of technical quagmires; he uses examples, brief simulations, and analogies instead. The mathematics and computer science employed by people working in the field of complexity theory would certainly be intense, but those details were avoided in this presentation. Most examples used in the course were in the field of biology, sociology, ecosystems, psychology, finance, and international politics, but the best was saved for last, the implications of complexity theory within large organizations. In my experience, Professor Page precisely nailed the implications of groupthink, positive and negative feedback, and the balance between exploration and exploitation, i.e., excess optimization vs. too much R&D. For over 25 years, I’ve worked in a large corporation. When I started working after graduate school, my first supervisor had a degree in astrophysics and a close colleague had multiple degrees in mathematics. Fifteen years later, most of that creative genius had been purged, along with any serious R&D, and the corporation began to focus on global uniformity in process, no matter how poorly the process was matched to specific regions. Simplistic and poorly conceived performance objectives were also introduced, leading to discordant objectives and “battling business units”, a phrase coined by Scott Adams in Dilbert years ago. Multiple missteps, accidents, and hard times have followed, as the corporation became more like GM and less like Google. But you don’t have to work in a large corporation to be blindsided by complexity. All you have to do is own real estate, make investments, or just live in the modern world. The sudden and rapid spread of demonstrations and revolutions in the Middle East, enhanced by satellite and cellular telecommunications, is a perfect example. The course was concise, perhaps a bit short. I would have enjoyed watching graphical simulations progress further, beyond the first few steps. It’s not that concepts were cut short, just that longer running graphical simulations would have been enjoyable to watch, especially with multiple runs, to see how different the outcomes can be, with slight variations in the starting point, or the logic used in the simulation. Understanding Complexity is categorized under “Business & Economics” but it could also be cross listed under “Professional”, “Social Science”, ”Biology”, and possibly even “Math” if the logic behind computer simulations were enhanced. The Teaching Company should consider a sequel to this course, with more coverage on computer programming, statistics, “fat tails”, mathematics, and graphical simulations.
Date published: 2011-05-04
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