An Introduction to Complex Systems

Paul Fieguth

Textbook Reading Questions Page (see also Further Reading page)

Quick links to Chapter  3     4     5     6     7     8     9    10   11   12   

Chapter 3: Systems Theory
Problem 3.10: Reading — Energy Returned on Invested

The problem suggests a discussion on the challenges of net energy evaluation and the challenges associated with ambiguities of where to assert system boundaries, based on "Chapter 3 — Net Energy (EROEI)" in Searching for a Miracle
Download whole book or read online

Chapter 4: Dynamic Systems
Problem 4.8: Reading — Limits to Growth

One of the classic books in the area of dynamic systems is Limits to Growth, a relatively controversial text using systems methods to model and simulate the interaction between human society, capital, pollution etc. The problem asks you to look over "Chapter 3 — Growth in the World System".
ISBN 0-87663-165-0 or
online PDF (43MB)

Chapter 5: Linear Systems
Problem 5.11 Reading

Given that linear systems are characterized by exponentials, it is worth better understanding the properties of the exponential function and the connections to human thinking and behaviour. The reader is requested to read or watch one of
• Chapter 5: Dangerous Exponentials in
The Crash Course
Crash Course Chapter 3: Exponential Growth by Chris Martenson
Arithmetic, Population, and Energy by Albert Bartlett

Chapter 6: Nonlinear Dynamic Systems — Uncoupled
Problem 6.10: Reading — Transitions

The problem asks the reader to select one chapter in Part III of Marten Scheffer’s book, Critical Transitions in Nature and Society, to examine the existence and nearness of catastrophic transitions in a system.
Publisher page or Google Books page

Chapter 7: Nonlinear Dynamic Systems — Coupled
Problem 7.16: Reading — Resilience

The reader is asked to summarize the challenges in attempting to even formulate a definition of system resilience, and itemize the most common resilience definitions currently in use, based on any one of
Scheffer: Critical transitions in nature and society
Deffuant & Gilbert: Viability and Resilience of Complex Systems: Concepts, Methods and Case Studies from Ecology and Society
Gunderson & Holling: Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems
Walker & Salt: Resilience Thinking
Meadows, Randers & Meadows: Limits to Growth, The 30-Year Update

Chapter 8: Spatial Systems
Problem 8.13: Reading Question — Waves

The student is asked to look up the derivation of the wave equation and to offer a succinct summary of the derivation. There are many wave–like phenomena present on the earth, from ripples on the water surface of a pond, shock waves in automobile traffic, to large–scale inertial waves, gravity waves, and Rossby waves, to name a few. No specific book or article was suggested for this question, however the reader should find material very easy to find.
Google search
Rossby Waves, Gravity Waves, Inertial Waves

Problem 8.14: Reading Question — Cellular Automata

A great deal has been written on understanding nature through the lens of cellular automata and related models. The reader is asked to give some illustrations of the types of problems examined via cellular automata. Two recommended texts include
Bak: How Nature Works, particularly Chapter 11
Wolfram: A New Kind of Science, particularly one of Chapters 7 or 8

Chapter 9: Power Laws and Non-Gaussian Systems
Problem 9.11: Reading and Policy — Power Laws I

This problem considers the issue of how to be cautiously aware about power laws, extreme events, and our limited ability to learn from history. For any type of planning, say for floods or droughts, in a true power law there is always a bigger flood and always a longer drought. Even if floods and droughts are not exactly power laws, that they are like power laws means that historically unprecedented, extreme events are certainly more likely than what Gaussian models would suggest.
The reader is asked to pick a specific power-law behaviour, whether economic, social, or natural, that has some connection to or impact on humans, and to then discuss a few political or policy implications, focusing on the significance of the power-law behaviour, and how that power-law leads to problems/challenges/specific policy outcomes.
No particular online links suggested.

Problem 9.12: Reading and Policy — Power Laws II

This problem looks at how to take advantage of power laws, in that Pareto’s law allows us to focus on the relatively few cases that have a disproportionately great effect. The article of interest in this problem is that of “Million Dollar Murray” by Malcolm Gladwell.

Chapter 10: Complex Systems
Problem 10.7: Reading — Self Organized Criticality

The reader is asked to select any one chapter beyond Chapter 3 in Bak: How Nature Works, and to offer a summary of the systems being studied and the manifestation of criticality.

Problem 10.8: Reading — Emergent Behaviour

There are many fascinating social examples where nonlinear dynamics at a fine scale leads to unusual or complex behaviour at a coarse scale (ant colonies, bee hives, human mob psychology, group-think). Select a specific emergent behaviour, whether economic, social, or natural. You may also want to begin your search with keywords such as swarm or emergence.

Chapter 11: Observation and Inference
Problem 11.12: Reading — Data Assimilation

Much has been written on data assimilation, particularly in the context of global climate models. The reader is asked to overview the current state of data assimilation. Possible links to start:
Hakim et al., “Overview of data assimilation methods”
Kalnay, Atmospheric Modelling, Data Assimilation, and Predictability
Wunsch, The Ocean Circulation Inverse Problem
Wunsch, Inverse Methods, Inverse Problems, State Estimation, Data Assimilation, and All That

Chapter 12: Water
Problem 12.1: Reading

The beginning chapter 12 claimed that any of a wide variety of topics, such as energy, minerals, air, food, wealth, refugees, or carbon-dioxide could be examined through the perspective of two or more of the systems-related topics discussed in this text. The reader is asked to select one of these topics, or one of your choice, and describe how the chosen topic relates to two or more complex systems concepts.
No particular online links suggested.