Synopses & Reviews
Self-organized criticality, the spontaneous development of systems to a critical state, is the first general theory of complex systems with a firm mathematical basis. This theory describes how many seemingly desperate aspects of the world, from stock market crashes to mass extinctions, avalanches to solar flares, all share a set of simple, easily described properties. "...a'must read'...Bak writes with such ease and lucidity, and his ideas are so intriguing...essential reading for those interested in complex systems...it will reward a sufficiently skeptical reader." -NATURE "...presents the theory (self-organized criticality) in a form easily absorbed by the non-mathematically inclined reader." -BOSTON BOOK REVIEW "I picture Bak as a kind of scientific musketeer; flamboyant, touchy, full of swagger and ready to join every fray... His book is written with panache. The style is brisk, the content stimulating. I recommend it as a bracing experience." -NEW SCIENTIST
and acknowledgments Self-organized criticality is a new way of viewing nature. The basic picture is one where nature is perpetually out of balance, but organized in a poised state-the critical state-where anything can happen within well-defined statistical laws. The aim of the science of self-organized criticality is to yield insight into the fundamental question of why nature is complex, not simple, as the laws of physics imply. Self-organized criticality explains some ubiquitous patterns existing in nature that we view as complex. Fractal structure and catastrophic events are among those regularities. Applications range from the study of pulsars and black holes to earthquakes and the evolution of life. One intriguing conse quence of the theory is that catastrophes can occur for no reason whatsoever. Mass extinctions may take place without any external triggering mechanism such as a volcanic eruption or a meteorite hitting the earth (although the the ory of course cannot rule out that this has in fact occurred). xu How Nature Works Since we first proposed the idea in 1987, more than 2, ooo papers have been written on self-organized criticality, making ours the most cited paper in physics during that period. How Nature Works is the first book to deal with the subject. The basic idea is simple, and most of the mathematical models that have been used in the implementation of the theory are not complicated."
This is an acclaimed book intended for the general reader who is interested in science. The author is a physicist who is well-known for his development of the property called self-organized criticality, a property or phenomenon that lies at the heart of large dynamical systems. It can be used to analyse systems that are complicated, and which are part of the new science of complexity. It is a unifying concept that can be used to study phenomena in fields as diverse as economics, astronomy, the earth sciences, and physics. The author discusses his discovery of self-organized criticality; its relation to the world of classical physics; computer simulations and experiments which aid scientists' understanding of the property; and the relation of the subject to popular areas such as fractal geometry and power laws; cellular automata, and a wide range of practical applications.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -205) and index.