Making Sense of Life

It was found that about 98% of atoms currently in your body will not be there in 1 year. Over the course of 5 years, nearly all atoms will be different.

What that means is that physical matter is there only to support the structure of energy. We are really pure energy.


Replace bridge with human, stones with atoms or cells, and arch with consciousness in this dialog!

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.

“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.

“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”

Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.”

Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”

– Italo Calvino in La citta‘ invisibili (trans. William Weaver)


Several quotes from the book by Joseph V. Tranquillo ‘An Introduction to Complex Systems’:

” It is a long-standing goal of science to search for the simplest rules that will completely explain a particular phenomenon. This is known Occam’s razor, after the Franciscan friar William of Ockham (1287–1347), and sometimes is called the law of parsimony. The idea has a much longer history but essentially advocates starting with the fewest axioms or apriori assumptions. Such simplicity also fits well into the reductionistic tradition and supports the falsifiability of hypothesis development. Occam’s razor is also used as a heuristic to judge two more descriptions of a phenomenon, preferring the simplest. A number of findings from complexity theory in fact give credence to the idea that there exist a small set of discoverable rules.

” The human body develops over the course of a lifetime yet remains remarkably intact. In a series of experiments where atoms were radiolabeled, it was found that about 98% of atoms currently in your body will not be there in 1 year. Over the course of 5 years, nearly all atoms will be different.

” If one were to take a single human and split them up into their basic elements, we could compute how much the raw materials would be worth on the market. We are made of some very basic elements: 65% oxygen, 19% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 3% nitrogen, and so forth. Depending on the source and purity of the elements, estimates are approximately $4.50 per human. This kind of calculation seems to go back to at least the 1920s when Dr. Charles Mayo (one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic) calculated the price to be $0.84. This calculation is far from the value we would place on a human life because a human is much more than the sum of their parts. You are not a well-mixed combination of elements but rather a sophisticated pattern. A similar argument would hold for the raw materials of other objects, such as bridges, medical devices, and smartphones. The elements in many computers would add up to slightly more than $4.50. Patterns, both functional and structural, have value to us because they contain information.

” In 1968 Mel Conway introduced an idea that has come to be known as Conway’s law. His claim was that “organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” In other words, the organizational structure of a system will be reflected in the outputs of that system. For example, if a company makes extremely complex products with many interrelated parts, its internal processes and flows (if it survives) will become similarly complex and interrelated. On the other hand, a simple modular product will likely result in simple streamlined processes. Conway’s law implies that if you want to know about the internal organization of a car company, look at its cars.


An Introduction to Complex Systems
Making Sense of a Changing World
by Joseph V. Tranquillo

  • Studies the tools of complex system theory that include chaos and fractals, game theory, networks, agent-based models and information theory
  • Contains examples, some outside the traditional boundaries of science, to help build a more intuitive feeling for complex systems
  • Outlines principles that can be used to design the next generation of machines and automata

This book explores the interdisciplinary field of complex systems theory. By the end of the book, readers will be able to understand terminology that is used in complex systems and how they are related to one another; see the patterns of complex systems in practical examples; map current topics, in a variety of fields, to complexity theory; and be able to read more advanced literature in the field. The book begins with basic systems concepts and moves on to how these simple rules can lead to complex behavior. The author then introduces non-linear systems, followed by pattern formation, and networks and information flow in systems. Later chapters cover the thermodynamics of complex systems, dynamical patterns that arise in networks, and how game theory can serve as a framework for decision making. The text is interspersed with both philosophical and quantitative arguments, and each chapter ends with questions and prompts that help readers make more connections.

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