How nature works. The science of self-organized criticality. (English) Zbl 0894.00007

Berlin: Springer. xiii, 212 p. (1996).
Here is a novel approach to “how nature works” based on the art and science of self-organized systems. As a side benefit, it formalizes an elementary theory of complex systems. As such, it includes aspects of the study of landscape formation, earthquakes, evolution, economic activity in the large (the same relations of forces that caused the Dow Jones average to drop less than a hundred points yesterday could cause the market to drop more than a thousand points tomorrow), and major traffic jams, among other phenomena. Indeed, although not discussed by the author, this approach can be easily adapted to apply to communications systems (say, avalanche effects which could shut down Internet or major military weapons systems) and explanations of metastable states in matter (laser action and metastable operations). More effort is needed to unterstand the limitations of the “self-organized criticality” approach. Otherwise, the approach looks too much like a “theory of everything”! However, producing a beautiful palindromic limerick would be much easier than producing a primitive candidate for a “theory of everything”.
The book presents a broad spectrum of physical topics: chaos is not complexity, self-organized criticality, noise, pendula become critical, life in the sandpile world, Himalayan sandpiles, pulsar glitches and starquakes, dinosaurs and meteors, real economics is more like sand than water, and mass extinctions.
The book is highly recommended to anyone interested in a novel approach to a broad array of physical problems.


00A99 General and miscellaneous specific topics
82-01 Introductory exposition (textbooks, tutorial papers, etc.) pertaining to statistical mechanics
37N99 Applications of dynamical systems