Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Encouraging continuing emergence ...

PaulGrobstein's picture
Thanks, all, for what was to me a rich and generative semester. See, for example, in part and in reverse order ..., This course is of course, both about emergence and itself emerging (influenced, if not determined, by entities with "goals"). While the experience is still fresh, please take a few minutes, click reply, and give here your thoughts about the current instantiation of the emergence course. What will you carry with you about emergence? What aspect of the course worked well for you? What aspect of the course didn't work well? What things would you add/do differently?

Thanks again for contributions to emergence, my own and that of lots of others.


Kathy Maffei's picture

CA’s were definitely useful theoretical devices, as was Langton’s Ant. I’d say there was just enough philosophy to get a grip on the nuances at hand, but not so much that we got bogged down in semantics. I was impressed with Netlogo’s versatility and its user-friendly interface. It’s a shame that the help files aren’t more helpful with providing syntax. While the plethora of example models were interesting and generally useful, I felt that sorting through them for information was a very round-about, inefficient, and frustrating way to get answers to my specific questions. If there is a similar tool elsewhere with better help documentation, I’d recommend giving it a try. Of course, what’s a class on emergence without evolutionary algorithms? Personally, I enjoy fiddling with them and neural networks. (even without robot babies fetching us beers) It’s obvious this class could have spanned many semesters. I think having students present midterm book reviews and final projects to the class was a great way to bring in some of what couldn’t otherwise fit into one semester. I would probably make the midterm book presentations a bit more instruction-oriented like the final projects. A couple of things that stayed with me in my understanding of emergence: Paul’s comparison points between a brain and a machine and Doug’s explanation of the difference between rational and emergent systems (particularly that paragraph on why "Einstein would make a really lousy neuron"). I thought the blog was a terrific tool for getting conversations going and for sharing thoughts outside the classroom time constraints. Many thanks to Doug & Paul for a really interesting and intellectually stimulating class – and thanks to everyone for some terrific thought-provoking conversations!
julia_ferraioli's picture

I definitely enjoyed all of the material that we covered during this class. The discussions were thought-provoking, even if I couldn't keep up with them sometimes! NetLogo is a cool tool, but I guess that I wish that we had spent more time with python, as using NetLogo seems to be skipping several steps core to programming. But that is coming from a programming perspective. I would, however, have appreciated hardcopies of assignments. There seemed to be confusion amongst students about exactly what the midterm was supposed to be (was it a book report, a commentary, an exploration, etc...) and the same thing happened with the final project. I know that I was sick quite a bit, so I did miss descriptions of assignments, but having it even posted in the blog would have helped a lot. I also just like having something to which I can refer while doing assignments. This is more of a wish than a recommendation, because I realize that it would be next to impossible, but I do wish that we had a textbook. That always helps, even if it's just supplementary. In any case, I had a great time in this class!
Kathy Maffei's picture

I'd like to second the concern about assignment clarification. I, too, was out sick a few days and missed some crucial information (and that may have been the main problem). I had to ask about them after class. After completing them, I found that my understanding of the requirements was different than that of some other students. Of course, one could argue that they were an exercise in emergent theory - how simple instructions lead to diverse, complex, and surprising results! But I have to say that I wasn't completely comfortable with the informality - not because I dislike having a free hand at designing a project, but because I was concerned that I was misunderstanding and not meeting the requirements.
Kathy Maffei's picture

I hadn't meant to keep posting, but I want to clarify: my only discomfort with informality was with the midterm & final project requirements. As long as minimum goals are clear, I'm fine. I enjoyed the freedom to explore. I can't imagine a textbook that would frame this class, and I was pleased with all of the sources provided. And like Leslie, I preferred being able to choose a book for a midterm and learning about the other books from classmates. This class did not feel any less structured to me than any other class.
BhumikaPatel's picture

This course has changed the way I perceive patterns and complex systems. Now I find myself looking at things I would usually look over and try to analyze them in terms of emergence. One thing I will carry with me about emergence is how no matter how complex something might appear, it is most likely a result of some very simple rules. One thing I liked about this course is that it was very informal where no one is constantly telling you what you should be doing for the class. This was also a little disadvantageous at times because it often led to confusions about where we are supposed to be in the class. One improvement for the class that I can think of is having the class be a little more directed. I agree with Julia and Kathy about how the requirements for the midterm and final project were a little confusing. I also agree with Julia about how it may be nice to have a “textbook” for the class so that everyone is on the same page. A lot of the times I felt as if everyone was exploring on their own things and while other people in the class probably liked this, it confused me about where I am supposed to be. Other than that, I am really glad I took this class because it was a uniquely interesting subject and class.
Leslie McTavish's picture

I thoroughly enjoyed this class, particularly because the focus was not to teach facts, but instead to encourage us to think differently about things. I too will start looking at complex systems in a different light.. maybe they are not as complex as we perceive them to be and maybe there is a simple way to achieve something complex. Netlogo was a really interesting tool to work with, being able to watch simple concepts evolve into interesting patterns. I have to agree with Kathy though; the documentation leaves a lot to be desired. I also agree with the others who commented about the structure. There were many times when I wondered where this was all leading to. I think now maybe that was the point. I was expecting a goal and there wasn't supposed to be one per se, just an exercise in thinking. I don't agree about having a text book. One of the things that I liked best was reading a book rather than a text, and hearing the reports by everyone in class. It gave me a sense of a lot of different subjects that people had read about, and I began to see how some of them fit it with what I had read. I never would have had time to read all that. Also the final projects were great. So often you never really get a sense of what other students are thinking. You don't read their papers and so you miss out on some really interesting and thought provoking ideas.
Laura Cyckowski's picture

being a non computer science person, i found our classes/discussions on things like rationality, randomness, determinism, and artificial intelligence to be the most valuable. some general and specific things that stick out most in my mind: bidirectionality, irrational numbers and empirical mathematics, the role of an observer, processes w/out goals, completeness vs. inconsistency. cellular automata were interesting but i feel like we spent quite a bit of time on them while they were not nearly as "interesting" (or emergent) as some of the other models we looked at. on the flip side i wish we would have spent more time on neural networks. but these things just reflect my own interests so i dont know if thats necessarily helpful. i really liked the way the class was set up, the blog and class/discussions versus working in the computer lab. on the topic of textbooks i think it was nice not to have one and instead draw from a variety of resources (readings, the web, the blog, each other, etc.) and was really happy to be able to pursue specific topics that interested me most.