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The stock market crashed due to the United States financial director commenting that the international value of the German mark should not be…
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Details summary of the book Simplexity
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Teacher Information 30 September 2009 Chapter Reviews of Simplexity The beginning chapter of Simplexity begins with a very basic analysis of the stock market and an explanation of the crash of 1987. The stock market crashed due to the United States financial director commenting that the international value of the German mark should not be reduced and that he was very displeased with this development. Within two days, the stock market had crashed by falling over 3,000 points and many of the international markets crashed as well. The author of Simplexity, Jeffrey Kluger, used this example to show that there was a simple explanation for these events as well as a very complex explanation, which would come to be the focus of the entire book. Kluger described that the stock market is basically very similar to a school of fish in that the behavior of stock owners is usually influenced from one to another. As one stock owner sells due to his tips, analyses, or gut feelings, many people follow suit because it appears to be the right thing to do. Other scientists, such and Blake LeBaron have a complex formula to describe stock behaviors that is very difficult to understand. This simple exercise emphasizes the difficulty in a single event to understand what is complex and simple. Kluger explains that the Sante Fe Institute is a think-tank designed for scientists to determine what defines simplicity and complexity regarding multiple issues that we take for granted in everyday life.
Chapter 2 begins with the story of Ed Schmitt, who was working at Tower Two of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He watched as the first jet plane collided with Tower One and then recalled the chaos of people frantically cramming the stairwells to evacuate Tower Two. The management staff and Vice President made an announcement for all employees to seek shelter by remaining at their desks and this caused the deaths of thousands of people from Tower Two. Kluger attempts to show the complexity of the situation as people entered a state of chaos and worked to evacuate, even by disobeying the orders of business executives. The architecture, failures of emergency-predicting software, the concept of milling – or standing around to analyze the problem – all contributed to the problems these people faced, and none of them were simple problems. Scientists at the Sante Fe Institute compare the behavior of people during evacuation to that of water as it moves chaotically through a limited area to reach the opening at the end. Psychologists take into consideration the multiple thoughts that people face including choosing between multiple exits, following executive orders, placing a value of personal belongings during emergencies and other behavioral trends during times of chaos.
The social complexities of leadership, societal structure, and public behavioral trends are the main topics in Chapter 3. By using a simple demonstration that the celebrities in the front row of a theater influence and impact the “normal” people behind them into a standing ovation is referred to as the “tail wagging the dog” concept within this chapter. An illustration of human behavior is shown in the opening description of the government and leadership structures within the macaque monkeys. Just as politicians campaign for office and are elected by the people, the macaque leaders must have specific traits to qualify as candidates, show a vigorous campaign of intimidation and companionship, and then earn enough votes to become elected the leader of the macaque groups. Kluger then emphasize what takes place when the leader of the groups is taken away from the pack – a large amount of chaos and disorderly conduct ensues among the members of the macaques because they no longer have the leaders of governmental structure to help provide structure, discipline, and direction. As the chapter continues, examples of poor political societies and events are described. It is never exactly stated, but it can be assumed that the author is trying to make the point that these societies fail because of a lack of political and societal leadership, such as in the examples of the macaques, which is a simple explanation.
Kluger and the Santa Fe Institute examined the complexities and simplicities of the workplace in Chapter 4. They began by analyzing the workings within a customer call center and analyzing all of the complex skills that are involved through taking multiple calls, using emotional intelligence to handle the call and then having the knowledge and computer skills to provide support to a sometimes irate customer. However, economists such as Frederick Taylor have always been looking to find easier, more efficient ways to conduct this type of work. An upside down complexity U is used to showcase the complexity of the blue collar jobs on the left and the white collar jobs on the right. As the U touches in the middle, these jobs are usually less complex and easier to be performed by machines to help cut costs and make matters more efficient. Kluger uses the examples of a truck driver and an airline ticketing agent when examining why machines cannot perform the work of all jobs and replace humans completely. The scientists at SFI argued that there are just some things that cannot be taught to machines and the skills of human flexibility, the eye for detail, and knowledge from previous experience are necessary to perform various job-related tasks. While this is a very complex issue, Kluger continues to use simple summaries to explain the circumstances by stating that machines can replace humans for some things and not replace them for others.
A scientist with SFI came up with a formula to help define why different types of mammals die in providing a way to calculate the rate at which energy is used in these animals. This formula says that for any creature, the amount of energy burned per unit of weight is proportional to that animal’s mass raised to the three-quarters power. The smaller the animal, the most calories are needed to keep it alive and burning energy, and vice versa for large animals. Chapter 5 focuses on this concept that everything will expire and die, but Kluger and the SFI scientists continue to ask the reasons why. The simple answer of course states that eventually the body just stops consuming energy and ceases to function. The complex answer involves many different variables such as health, the strength of the heart, the willingness of people to survive, and so on. Such ideas were also applied to the examples of whole worlds and why they also will cease to exist. The Earth will one day cease to function and will be consumed by the heat of the sun; however, this will not happen for around 5 billion years, so the people living today do not have much to worry about. Kluger states that by understanding that an expiration date does exist, we can make conscious choices to help delay the inevitable end date from coming to us as quickly as it may otherwise.
Chapter 6 is included in this compilation to focus on the complex and simple natures that surround the area of sports. First of all, Kluger mentions that there are many social criteria that are equally associated with sports, such as how closely war can be associated with football. There is much analysis and strategy that takes place in order to out-think the opponent and win the final contest. Part of the complexity of the game derives from the time spent in between the act of playing. During this time coaches and players strategize their next move, call the move and then prepare to execute. This is very evident in football and baseball. On the other hand, Kluger also points out that the business side of professional and collegiate sports have caused another complex element into the issue. Money is spent on recruiting and retaining players based on their level of performance, ability, and the needs of the team. Millions of dollars are spent by the New York Yankees and other ball clubs each year to sign free agents to comprise a winning team for the future season. Commercial and TV timeouts also provide additional time during basketball and football games where strategy can be derived and add to the complexity of the games. Finally after careful analysis, Kluger explains that at the end of the day sports are just games that must be played. This is a very simple understanding of the importance of sports and the purpose for them existing and being played in our society as they imitate important cultural values.
The concept of worrying and being able to predict or calculate risk is the major component associated with Chapter 7. Kluger and the Sante Fe Institute scientists examine this from a primarily human background. They argue that lesser animals do not have the ability to calculate risk or clearly understand the complexities of dangers, so they do not worry about them. Humans, on the other hand, have this ability, largely given to us from the amygdale, which is a portion of the brain just above the brain stem that signals our flight or fright response to any circumstance that makes itself evident. Kluger points out that while many humans worry about such trivial and statistically less apt occurrences such as planes crashing or being stricken by avian flu, we continue to engage in much dangerous habits as smoking, drinking, and not wearing seatbelts, despite the available data against such behaviors. The complexity of why this is becomes a strong focus in the chapter and is never very accurately answered, likely because it is so complex and so baffling that it is difficult to understand why people do not engage in such safe behaviors. Meanwhile, we attempt to protect ourselves from chemicals in the water and bacteria in the air that have less than 1% chance of actually doing us any harm. The media and TV outlets can be attributed to some of this fear, and this fear of possibility, rather than rational probability, is what causes us to worry.
The eighth chapter of Simplexity covers the complex issues associated with how language is learned and developed within the human brain. The author starts by examining cases within the brain of a baby that has been studied by friends of the Sante Fe Institute. These scientists are constantly looking to understand why babies are more apt to learn a language from auditory sources that adults. The simple explanation is that babies have more neurons firing within the brain than do adults. As we continue to grow older, fewer neurons fire and connect with one another within the brain and this provides for memory loss and the inability of the brain to accept new knowledge. Studies have also shown that it is an easier task to learn multiple languages early on in the development stages than for adults to learn them later in life. Languages are comprised of multiple sounds, symbols, and complex rules for use. These rules may not always be clear to a child, but Kluger points out that a baby or young child has the ability to imitate what it sees and hears from the surrounding environments. This is the simple explanation for the learned languages among babies; however, the complexities of the human brain, especially the neurological components of a child’s brain as compared to an adult’s are very difficult and complex to understand.
Chapter 9 covers the growing complexity of the everyday electronics we use and how they have changed very much from the simple machines we used just decades ago. Kluger explains that ultimately new electronics are made to make things easier on people, but with “techies” being the ones that are designing the products for other technology-minded individuals, it makes it difficult for normal people to be able to use them. Instead, instruction manuals greater than 100 pages in length are produced to help explain the processes of using each characteristic of the new machine. Even some customer service lines charge each customer a per-call fee to help them solve the issues of their electronics, making the problems that people have with their electronics a lucrative business. A study in the Netherlands showed that United States consumers are showing a very strong trend of giving up or throwing the hands in the air when trying to figure out how to use electronics. Instead of resolving the problem, over 60% of the time consumers are returning the products to the stores and claiming that they are broken or too difficult to understand. The study also showed that over 90% of the time, there is nothing wrong with the device. Kluger makes an analogy between this trend and that of politicians in government. If the government officials are not doing their jobs or showing the expected results, people begin to become agitated, throw up their hands and replace the officials with individuals that will provide the results – it’s as simple as that. Unfortunately, there are many complexities that make political performance, just like using electronics, very difficult.
Vilfredo Paleto developed what he coined the 80-20 rule in which it stated that 80% of the total wealth of a nation is controlled by just 20% of its population, while the remaining 20% is controlled by the mass 80% of the population. Another very similar rule called the 90-10 rule states that only 10% of the medicinal resources that are available are actually provided to the global health market. This is attributed in Chapter 10 to the 80-20 rule and the distribution of the global wealth. The money in the health industries are spent on medicinal resources that provide treatment to individuals with diseases and that have the money. Poor individuals are not likely to be treated because the health industry is a value-driven business. Kluger begins the chapter by illustrating Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus who took $27 in Bangladesh and loaned it to 42 different people to give them support during a period of drought and famine. He only required that the people perform business tasks, sell their specialized products to make a profit and then repay him the loaned money along with the market-value interest. This was the beginning of an international billion dollar bank that provides loans internationally to individuals, usually around the sums of $20 to $130. Kluger emphasizes that the goal of economists and business professionals is to take the pointed way that Yunus delivered exact loan amounts to these people to ensure that he would receive a return on his payment. He also argues that poverty and sickness are problems that the wealthier population can help resolve by redistributing funds to the remaining 80% of the population to provide support, just as an individual takes change out of their pocket to give to a beggar on the street. This is the simplicity of the argument, but the complex issues that surround people’s natural behavior to save, increase their wealth, and provide self-serving efforts to themselves inhibit this solution and make it very difficult to help solve such social issues in wealth and health.
The final chapter of Simplexity examines the specific nature of the arts and attempts to explain why the arts are not subject to the laws of complexity and simplicity. Kluger uses the example of Byron Janis as he refused to listen to his world-renowned teacher when discussing how a particular piece of music should be played on the piano. Music and the arts are so closely connected with the feelings and expressionistic values of the person that they cannot be properly explained with these processes. Kluger argues that the joy of the arts is not in the creation, it is in the final piece of work that is produced and attempting to interpret the meaning of it all. Music is the only one art that could possibly be subject to these laws insofar as they have rhythmic measures that can be arithmetic-based and follow a particular set of rules. The scientists at Sante Fe Institute only touch on the arts in a very limited amount due to the complex nature and simple nature of their origin. Ultimately, the end of the chapter focuses on a “why would you bother” question regarding the arts. There is such a thing as over analysis and it can reduce the true value of a work of art. Art can include how an athlete performs a specific task or watching the sun set, or looking at the many artworks of Pollock. In the end, sometimes it is better to leave well enough alone and to just accept the beauty of the art instead of trying to categorize it into the laws of complexity and simplicity.
Works Cited
Kluger, Jaffrey. Simplexity: Why Simple Things Become Complex (and How Complex Things Can Be Made Simple), Hyperion, 2008. Print. Read More
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