[Humanist] 23.620 complexity

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Wed Feb 3 08:45:46 CET 2010

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 620.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    "John Bonnett" <jbonnett at brocku.ca>                       (22)
        Subject: complexity?

  [2]   From:    Kirk Lowery <empirical.humanist at gmail.com>                (16)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.618 intro to complexity theory?

  [3]   From:    Michael Fox <mrf2131 at columbia.edu>                       (102)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.618 intro to complexity theory?

        Date: Tue, 2 Feb 2010 06:42:57 -0500
        From: "John Bonnett" <jbonnett at brocku.ca>
        Subject: complexity?


Perhaps the best known introduction to complexity theory is Mitchell
Waldrop's Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.
It is a very good read and has been cited in both non-specialist and
scholarly literatures.  A more challenging description can be found in
Alicia Juarrero's Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex

John Bonnett
Assistant Professor / Canada Research Chair in Digital Humanities
Department of History
Brock University
500 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catharines, ON
L2S 3A1
Phone: (905) 688-5550, x5552
Fax: (905) 984-4849
E-mail: jbonnett at brocku.ca


        Date: Tue, 2 Feb 2010 07:26:39 -0500
        From: Kirk Lowery <empirical.humanist at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.618 intro to complexity theory?
        In-Reply-To: <20100202060357.D5B774A707 at woodward.joyent.us>

On Tue, Feb 2, 2010 at 1:03 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> I am looking for an intelligent introduction to complexity theory meant
> for the beginner. And, while you're thinking about that, please let me
> know, if you happen to know, where John von Neumann defines the idea as
> the point at which the structure of an object becomes simpler than a
> description of its properties (that's from Dupuy's The Mechanization of
> Mind, where von Neumann's ideas are discussed.

I know that some deprecate this source, but for computer science topics,
there is no better place to begin, IMO:


It has references and a substantial list of references on the subject. It
has some nice charts and graphics, too.



        Date: Tue, 2 Feb 2010 09:29:31 -0500
        From: Michael Fox <mrf2131 at columbia.edu>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 23.618 intro to complexity theory?
        In-Reply-To: <20100202060357.D5B774A707 at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Professor McCarty,

A very good book on the subject is the Introduction to the Theory of
Computation by Michael Sipser.

I'm not sure where von Neumann says that.  Doesn't it seem slightly flawed,
though?  It seems that a person can never have an idea without also
concretizing it in some way, and therefore, though they don't have to be,
there are always properties to be described.  Pater wrote about this in his
"A Genius of Plato," and in many other places such as his famous
Conclusion.  At the bottom of this email I've attached a passage from the
essay on Plato.

On a side note, related to complexity theory--it seems that there is a
terrible inherent problem with computer science: it was closed the moment it
was opened.  Even the problems of complexity "theory" can be reduced to
Turing machines with very long tapes.  When Turing defined his machine, he
closed computer science.  It was ever a practical tool after that, and
separate and distinct from the sphere of theory.  The tape-head of a Turing
machine has the ability to move between cells along the tape according to an
instruction, or symbol, given on each cell, and while it is scanning one
cell all other cells have no effect on its behavior.  Translated into a
written mathematical model, the machine becomes an object for analysis.  It
operates under certain time and space complexity classes, and it relates to
other Turing machines in decidable and rigorous ways.  It is limited,
however, in that it is an instrument which has only “body” and “shadow,” to
use Shelley’s terms.  The tape holds a stamp of its inherent behavioral
structure, as a body does of a human’s.  The tape-head exists as a limited
means by which we can know that structure, like a shadow on the wall of
Plato’s Cave.  A Turing machine divided up falls into the sources of
Shelley’s serial analogy comparing reason to imagination: “Reason is to
imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as
the shadow to the substance.”  It is powerful abiding there but not as
powerful as it could be if it were to acquire the qualities that make up
Shelley’s targets.  It never can, however.  Colorless, it is ever
unsubstantial.  Valueless, it is sealed away from spirit.  Void of will, it
is blind to agency.  It is strangely removed from the human, and finally
from the larger realm of poetry.

Michael Fox

Passage from the "The Genius of Plato" by Walter Pater:

The lover, who is become a lover of the invisible, but still a lover, and
therefore, literally, a seer, of it, carrying an elaborate cultivation of
the bodily senses, of eye and ear, their natural [140] force and acquired
fineness--gifts akin properly to ta erôtika,+ as he says, to the discipline
of sensuous love--into the world of intellectual abstractions; seeing and
hearing there too, associating for ever all the imagery of things seen with
the conditions of what primarily exists only for the mind, filling that
"hollow land" with delightful colour and form, as if now at last the mind
were veritably dealing with living people there, living people who play upon
us through the affinities, the repulsion and attraction, of persons towards
one another, all the magnetism, as we call it, of actual human friendship or
love:--There, is the formula of Plato's genius, the essential condition of
the specially Platonic temper, of Platonism. And his style, because it
really is Plato's style, conforms to, and in its turn promotes in others,
that mental situation. He breaks as it were visible colour into the very
texture of his work: his vocabulary, the very stuff he manipulates, has its
delightful aesthetic qualities; almost every word, one might say, its
figurative value. And yet no one perhaps has with equal power literally
sounded the unseen depths of thought, and, with what may be truly called
"substantial" word and phrase, given locality there to the mere
adumbrations, the dim hints and surmise, of the speculative mind. For him,
all gifts of sense and intelligence converge in one supreme faculty of
theoretic vision, theôria,+ the imaginative reason.

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