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Understanding Complexity

Written by: Scott E. Page,The Great Courses
Narrated by: Scott E. Page
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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

What listeners say about Understanding Complexity

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Great introduction to study the complex world!

Complexity is such a fascinating subject ,lot of interconnected topics , there were lot of dopamine hits for me as the narrator was explaining the concepts from diverse topics

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Brilliant and Lucid

Just an amazing course! Prof Page is remarkably clear and explains the most abstruse concepts and illustrations lucidly. One has to listen closely and occasionally track back to understand models better -- but that has to do with the content itself (which is complex). Tracking back just a bit clarifies everything because the explanations are so exact and simply put.

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  • Spencer
  • 24-08-19

Good but basic

I was hoping for both introductory level and intermediate level models and explanations because I have already watched several YouTube series explaining overviews of Complexity Science, complex adaptive systems, network theory, and a nonlinear systems. Theses series were all only 10 to 20 videos with each video only 3 to 20 minutes long but watching those already taught me 80% of what I learned in this Great Courses lecture series.

This would make a great introduction to the science of complexity for someone who has not already been introduced to it but not necessarily for someone who has already been exposed to the many diverse foundational concepts of this field of knowledge.

107 people found this helpful

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  • Cade Campbell
  • 24-09-19

Dancing Landscapes 💃🕺

Listening to Scott E. Page go through each core concept of complexity science, my mind’s eye can’t help but see it everywhere I go. Whether I’m sitting in my behavioral neuroscience class, reading about the sociological history of deviance management, walking down the street and unconsciously analyzing a strangers face, or lying in bed listening to cars and trains whiz by my house, the ideas in this book continue to recapitulate themselves in what some might call a positive feedback loop, a virtuous cycle of new and exciting ideas. I love this subject. I want as much of it as I can get. Discovering complexity science completely changes the way I see and think about the world.

99 people found this helpful

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  • Donovan Laganiere
  • 01-07-19

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.

99 people found this helpful

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  • Empress Karen
  • 26-09-19

Better Than Buying a New Lipstick

Take advantage of this $2.95 daily deal. If you are like me, curious but a bit lazy when it comes to cognitive thinking then this book is for you. For 6 hrs of your time you learn to look beyond your surroundings and drama and get the life lesson you may like me been looking for but had no idea how to get there. I do use the 1.25x speed to get the general knowledge and examples and the bookmark feature to go back and re listen to a how to or ah ha element.
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67 people found this helpful

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  • .
  • 06-04-19

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.

58 people found this helpful

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  • Philo
  • 01-06-19

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!

56 people found this helpful

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  • None
  • 28-07-19

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?

34 people found this helpful

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  • wbiro
  • 13-05-19

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.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Mark Keough
  • 06-09-20

Mind Expander

How have I, an educated professional, business executive, Peace Corps volunteer and product of some of the best schools in America, have failed to hear of complexity theory. An eye opener for me. It is unfortunate that I am retired, and no longer able to put these analytical tools to practical use, but I can look back on a lifetime of problems and opportunities in a completely different light, and I can use them to analyze current events and trends. I think I will read the textual material, maybe listen to some lectures again, and check out his syllabus of the subject. Man, it's hell to get old. So much to learn, so little time. Oh, by the way, the professor's organization and delivery of the material are excellent. He tells you what he will teach you, he teaches, and then reviews what you learned, then poses probative questions leading to the next lecture.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Martin
  • 16-04-19

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.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Ifeanyi Odike
  • 12-07-19

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.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Drashti S.
  • 03-02-20

A new way of seeing the world around you

I loved this series. It gave me a new language and vocabulary for understanding the world around me. The content is the right balance of simple and complex. I wish it lasted for more than 6 hours though.

4 people found this helpful

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  • SteveN
  • 16-05-20

Untangling Complexity

These courses are amazing, Scott Page is a delight to listen too and discusses his expert knowledge in a way that make the subject of complexity easy and enjoyable to listen too. As a result of this lecture I wish to learn more about complexity and how to bring it to bare for the benefit of all.

2 people found this helpful

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  • mrs.d
  • 26-11-19

I loved this

Found it fascinating from beginning to end . The narrator was excellent (or lecturer I should say) and the concepts were easy to understand because of the lucid and lively delivery:)

2 people found this helpful

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  • Diogenes
  • 22-07-19

Brilliant but too brief

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

2 people found this helpful

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  • D. J. Wilkinson
  • 14-07-22

An excellent overview of the subject

If you want to understand complexity, what it is and what it means this is the book for you. I have tried many other books on the subject but this is by far the best. Recommend

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  • Dean P. D'souza
  • 22-05-22

Great introduction to complex adaptive systems

This is the best introduction to complex adaptive systems I have come across. Thoroughly recommend. It explains the basic concepts and links them together very well. It frames my thinking when I delve deeper into the subject.

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  • Nikhil
  • 19-05-22

Good introduction to complex systems.

It's a good listen, since it's not a very long course it's was quick but precise. Good content. I have read about some topics mentioned like probability theory, system models, distribution curves and game theory so it was a nice to connect all the knowledge to try understand complex real world. Some one who has not read the mentioned topics too will gain insight into how real world systems behave e.g. Flight connections, Health and financial markets, which can have knock-on effects of relatively simple events.

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  • Kostas
  • 07-04-22

Very interesting theory

Clearly explained complex systems theory, its application and its impact to every day life. Highly beneficial.

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  • Mike
  • 09-12-21

Enlightening and worth a listen.

I reckon the main takeaway for me from this book is the fact that we are not as smart as we think we are, and a lot of people, animals, creatures and habitats, can pay a high price for this, but maybe a deeper understanding of this can make things better for all.

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  • Nicole Vincent
  • 13-04-22

Best book on complexity (and I teach this topic and use Page’s book with my students who love it)

I set this audiobook to my students when they take my subject on this topic — it is a sensationally helpful intro to complexity. Don’t go for the more recent books as mist of them are poor quality, fluffy and low on actual details, often simply do not make sense, or else often just impenetrably written. By comparison, Scott Page’s intro is superb, it stands the test of time despite having been written a while ago, it is still my #1 choice and urge all of my students to read / hear, and Scott Page covers an amazing breadth of topics in an enjoyable and pedagogically helpful way that will leave you with a sound grasp of what complexity is, how it arises, what it does, why it matters, and how to flourish within our increasingly networked, dynamic, open, and constantly-changing societies.

About other books… So, an increasing number of books on this topic have recently started appearing, but sadly most are either written by people who don’t seem to understand the basics let alone how to apply the ideas to practice. Other books are ok, but they still show signs of the authors missing fundamental points on certain topics. And the remaining small portion of the recently-released books that I’ve either read or browsed fall into the category of unfortunately being written in such impenetrably technical or academic language that they could scare away even the most enthusiastic person; they make this incredibly rich, interesting, important – and really quite straight-forward topic, if it is taught the right way – seem way too difficult to understand by mere mortals. (Which it isn’t, but as with every field or topic, if the way it is taught id unsatisfactory, then it will make it appear to students as if the topic were difficult.)

By comparison, not only does Scott Page have a rare talent for teaching – an ability to convey key ideas with surprisingly simple examples, and then to connect them to each other and show you why they matter and what makes them si interesting as well as useful – but the content of this book is technically superb.

You will also enjoy listening to Page’s discussion of the various topics. I certainly find him very entertaining to listen to, and my students often comment that they too enjoy listening to Scott Page’s book.

Chapter three (on the topic of “dancing landscapes”) is still my personal favorite. It is the most memorable chapter, and also when everything else fails to convey to my students what complexity is, where it arises from, what it does to our world, and why it matters to understand complexity properly, this chapter always does the trick. I love the idea of “dancing landscapes” as a rich metaphor for complexity.

You will finish with an incredibly sound and deep understanding of the topic after listening to this audioboon.

I periodically re-listen to the entire book precisely because I find it so rich and helpful, and I sincerely hope that my review – because it comes from another teacher, who sees what works for her students and what doesn’t – will help you to choose this book over the noise created by all the other poor quality material out there.

At least listen to the free excerpt, see how it lands on your ears, and if it resonates with you then don’t hesitate about purchasing this most-excellent book / audiobook on complexity.

Lastly, thank you, Scott, for writing this book. My students and I love it. Hope you might return to the topic at some stage and bring your new learnings to bear on creating a second edition. Not because there are flaws with this first edition, but because I’m sure you’ve found new things over the years and it would be great if you shared them with readers like you do in this edition.

Dr Nicole Vincent, TD School
University of Technology Sydney
Australia

1 person found this helpful

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  • V Krein
  • 08-11-19

Maybe interesting for a 5th grader

The whole setup is that of a vocabulary training CD from 15 years ago for children of the age of 12. The example are not well chosen and he over simplifies and over complicates most of them too.
Very tiring and boring to listen to.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 22-06-22

Actual details about complexity

So often people use complexity as a buzzword, but really get into the weeds of what they mean by it. This lecture series actually dives into the specifics, it draws lines about what is and isn't complex in a way that is mathematically useful.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-05-22

Fascinating introduction, really enjoyed it

I loved this course. It's not too long, very interesting and easy to understand!!! thank you!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 21-04-22

very good

slow start for the first 20 mins but i think that's a good thing as to ensure all readers are on the same page

the only thing i thing i would change is for the recommended reading to be read aloud at the end of each chapter or even at the end of the book