Cover: Bigger than Chaos: Understanding Complexity through Probability, from Harvard University PressCover: Bigger than Chaos in PAPERBACK

Bigger than Chaos

Understanding Complexity through Probability

Add to Cart

Product Details


$37.50 • £30.95 • €34.00

ISBN 9780674022591

Publication Date: 09/30/2006


432 pages

5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches

39 line illustrations


Many complex systems—from immensely complicated ecosystems to minute assemblages of molecules—surprise us with their simple behavior. Consider, for instance, the snowflake, in which a great number of water molecules arrange themselves in patterns with six-way symmetry. How is it that molecules moving seemingly at random become organized according to the simple, six-fold rule? How do the comings, goings, meetings, and eatings of individual animals add up to the simple dynamics of ecosystem populations? More generally, how does complex and seemingly capricious microbehavior generate stable, predictable macrobehavior?

In this book, Michael Strevens aims to explain how simplicity can coexist with, indeed be caused by, the tangled interconnections between a complex system’s many parts. At the center of Strevens’s explanation is the notion of probability and, more particularly, probabilistic independence. By examining the foundations of statistical reasoning about complex systems such as gases, ecosystems, and certain social systems, Strevens provides an understanding of how simplicity emerges from complexity. Along the way, he draws lessons concerning the low-level explanation of high-level phenomena and the basis for introducing probabilistic concepts into physical theory.

From Our Blog

Jacket: The Coming Good Society: Why New Realities Demand New Rights, by William F. Schulz and Sushma Raman, from Harvard University Press

Q&A with William F. Schulz and Sushma Raman, authors of The Coming Good Society: Why New Realities Demand New Rights

As times change so must we as a society, and that includes our conception of rights, say William F. Schulz and Sushma Raman, whose new book, The Coming Good Society: Why New Realities Demand New Rights, came out just as Black Lives Matter protesters filled the streets this summer. We spoke with them about the current view—and the future—of human rights. How do you understand the purpose of rights? What function do they serve in a society?