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How best to research a system?

  1. Oct 16, 2014 #1

    I was wondering if this makes sense and would appreciate pointers to relevant topics...

    Basic idea is that if you want to understand a system you need to 'reason' on the level of the system and not on the level of its parts.

    Analogy (borrowed from Tania Lombrozo from here) is that of baking a cake - when you bake a cake you care about 'system properties' like texture, color, smell, shape and so on and not various chemical properties of the underlying materials.

    The problem is that texture, color, etc. are defined in completely different terms from various chemical properties+processes and these terms are very difficult (maybe impossible) to link causally. So, if what interests us is making the best cake does it even make sense to study the 'underlying basics' or should we study what actually interests us?

    A slightly more refined version - when does studying the underlying processes stop yielding any interesting information from a 'systems viewpoint'?

    Or is this all just hopelessly confused?

    Thanks :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 16, 2014 #2

    Andy Resnick

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    Sounds like a convoluted version of 'emergent behavior in complex systems'.
  4. Oct 17, 2014 #3
    I know the term, though from what little I've seen it's often used as a catchphrase to replace 'we don't know why this happens'.

    Are you familiar with sources that give rigorous mathematical definitions, toolkits for exploring emergent behavior or, barring anything concrete, a guide on how to think about emergent behavior? Maybe a course/textbook that you're familiar with and could recommend?

  5. Oct 17, 2014 #4


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    This is the problem when trying to 'reverse engineer' systems. You can end up with two boxes which do the same thing . . . usually.
  6. Oct 17, 2014 #5

    Andy Resnick

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    I don't know your level of preparation, so here's a few:

    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  7. Oct 18, 2014 #6
    Thanks for the links, I'll see what my library has and give it a go...
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