Deep Simplicity : Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life, Paperback Book

Deep Simplicity : Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life Paperback

4 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Simplifying chaos and complexity theory for the perplexed, John Gribbin's Deep Simplicity: Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life brilliantly illuminates the harmony underlying our existence. The world around us can be a complex, confusing place.

Earthquakes happen without warning, stock markets fluctuate, weather forecasters seldom seem to get it right - even other people continue to baffle us.

How do we make sense of it all? In fact, John Gribbin reveals, our seemingly random universe is actually built on simple laws of cause and effect that can explain why, for example, just one vehicle braking can cause a traffic jam; why wild storms result from a slight atmospheric change; even how we evolved from the most basic materials.

Like a zen painting, a fractal image or the pattern on a butterfly's wings, simple elements form the bedrock of a sophisticated whole. 'The master of popular science writing' Sunday Times 'What makes Deep Simplicity different from other books on complexity theory is that Gribbin ... goes back to the fundamentals' Daily Telegraph 'One is left feeling even more - if this is possible - filled with admiration for science and delight at the world it investigates' Financial Times John Gribbin is one of today's greatest writers of popular science and the author of bestselling books, including In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, Stardust, Science: A History and In Search of the Multiverse.

Gribbin trained as an astrophysicist at Cambridge University and is currently Visiting Fellow in Astronomy at the University of Sussex.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Cybernetics & systems theory
  • ISBN: 9780141007229

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Review by

This guy has gone on my "buy all his books" list.A well told, simple, elegant, powerful explanation of a subject which I would imagine seems inherently resistant to such an exposition.How simple things spontaneously generate complicated patterns and how complexity arises without effort nearly everywhere we look.Yes there are graphs and formulae, but don't let this put you off. The subjects range from dripping taps, weather forecasting, extinctions, earthquakes, thermodynamics, the origin of life and fractals.Wonderful stuff.

Review by

So this is some kind of "broad overview" thing of complexity science. The first half of the book was quite dull for me, since it mainly consisted of simplified versions of the maths I've been studying for the past few months. I guess, being a pop science book, it's aimed at people who aren't already studying this stuff, though. The second half, which was more application-y, was a lot more interesting - especially the stuff about earthquakes, and the stuff about animal coat patterns. :)

Review by

This book provides another overview of the development of Chaos Theory and the background to fractals. (See also Introducing Chaos and Introducing Fractal Geometry) It’s slightly extended description compared to these titles allows the role of some additional contributors to the field to be mentioned, but largely it covers the same ground. The scene set, the book then focuses on its chosen area of interest, the role of chaos in the development of life and its evolution. In particular it focuses on what it describes as activity at ‘the edge of chaos’, the point where things begin to get interesting - where outcomes are deterministic, but not predictable. It is in this apparent paradox that the fascination of chaos lies.Though the answer to the question where did life come from still sits a little out of reach of this book and our understanding, the picture created provides an overwhelming case for the presence and importance of chaos not simply in the construction of our world through the shaping of trees or river estuaries for example, but also in the operation of our world. Here we are not simply interested in the ways that trees grow or river estuaries form, but throughout the whole range of processes of how things work from the orbiting of the planets, to the frequencies of electrical interference on telephone lines. Indeed Beniot Mandelbrot, one of chaos theory’s pioneers, developed many of his ideas attempting to solve precisely this problem whilst employed at IBM, He concluded that interference was inevitable the solution was to detect corrupted data and resend. Somewhat startlingly this same pattern of inevitability of unpredictable events can be seen throughout the operation of many of nature’s processes. For example the frequency and severity of earthquakes follows the same fractal pattern, as does the pattern of craters on the moon, and thereby on the Earth. This is leading geologists and seismologists to profoundly rethink their understanding.When we begin to appreciate the universality of these ideas, we realise that they are no less profound for the rest of us. The neatly ordered way in which we perceive cause and effect and attempt to apply this to complex systems has to be rethought. The book explores how the effects of chaos permeate all aspects of the life of the universe, even to explaining, with deference to Rudyard Kipling, how the leopard gets its spots. The consequences of chaos create a new way of seeing and demand a new way of understanding. For me they begin to solve the riddle, felt intuitively, that at the heart of the explanation of all of the complexity we experience, is simplicity, or as the book is titled, deep simplicity.As Einstein said “When the solution is simple, God is answering.”How does this relate to organisational change? Our desire to see business as in some way special, requiring its own rules, its own language and behaviours is perhaps our defence against what we see as the overwhelming complexity of the business world. If however we really want to understand, we must first be prepared to change our understanding, and begin by changing what we believe understanding to be. This book provides a first step in this process.

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