of Complexity PHY 48.01
This course is part of the FOCUS
program on Origins.
Each student in this course will also be taking either HST 105 "Science
in the Twentieth Century" or SOC 101 "Society and Identity: Origins and
Transformations". A fourth course in the program is PHY 047 "Physics and
the Universe", which is taken by half the students in place of this course.
In addition to these classes, all the students in the program take the
same University Writing Course and all students and professors meet once
each week for dinner and discussion of epistemological issues common to
all of the classes. It is expected that students will contribute
insights gained from these courses , as well as personal experiences, to
our discussions of the scientific understanding of the emergence of complexity.
Socolar -- Associate
Professor of Physics
is a good way to reach me.)
Office: Room 046, Physics Building
Office hours: By appointment. I will usually
try to make it between 2:30 and 5:00 on Monday, Thursday, or Friday.
Per Bak: How Nature Works: The Science
of Self-organized Criticality
Philip Ball: The Self-made Tapestry:
Pattern Formation in Nature
Richard Feynman: The Character of
Stuart Kauffman: At Home in the Universe:
The Search for the Laws of Self-organization and Complexity
||Mathematica Notebooks (2)
||Discussion Papers (2)
||Discussion Summaries (2)
Students must abide by the Duke Undergraduate Honor
Classroom participation is an essential part of the
course. Students are expected to help maintain an open, constructive
classroom environment at all times.
Students are welcome to talk with each other about
homework assignments. The only rule is that you must fully understand
any work you hand in and it must be written in your own words.
Special cases involving conflicts between the assignments
for this class and other commitments or coursework will be treated fairly,
but they must be brought to my attention well in advance of the due
Classes will begin promptly at 10:55.
I am always open to discussing topics of concern
or interest outside of class. Please feel free to contact me at any
time about whatever is on your mind.
Our overall goal is to develop insight
into the origins of complex structure in the natural world.
During the first half of the semester we will
focus on physical and chemical processes that produce a variety of familiar
soap films to butterfly wing colorings and sand
dune ripples. Without dealing directly with any mathematical descriptions
of these systems, we will see what types of models account for such
patterns. We will encounter systems in which simple causes generate
complex structures, and others in which complex causes generate simple
structures. Along the way, we will refine our ideas about what constitutes
a complex system and what kinds of questions we can ask about such systems.
We will begin by addressing some basic questions
about the physical world and the mathematical models we use to describe
and understand it. We will talk briefly about randomness and determinism,
energy and entropy, predictability and chaos, and fractals, all concepts
that we will revisit several times over the course of the semester.
The texts for this part of the course will be Feynman's chapters adressing
the relation between mathematics and physics and the ``arrow of time'',
and selected portions of Ball's book describing the current understanding
of processes that lead to interesting natural structures.
In the second half of the course, we will focus
more directly on the question of whether there are general principles that
govern the emergence of complex structure in physical and biological systems.
The emphasis will be on recent approaches to the modeling of biological
evolution and the origin of life, as discussed by Bak and Kauffman.
Their approaches are representative of a new trend in thinking about complex
systems, an approach that tries to understand complexity as an inevitable
emergent phenomenon and finds relevant insights in the behavior of generic,
Types of Homework
Classes are held on Tuesday & Thursday, 10:55-12:10,
Room 234, Physics Building. It is important that we start each class
To make the distribution of papers to classmates
easier, we will use the CourseInfo system. The address for this class
This is a seminar-style course. All students are expected to participate
in class discussion on a regular basis.
The heart of the course is the student-led discussion
classes. Each class period will be divided into two 35-minute sections,
with a short break between them. For each section, a student will
have prepared a 4-6 page paper and distributed it to the class two days
earlier. We will begin the discussion by having one student (selected
on the spot) comment briefly on the paper and then lead a discussion of
The discussion leader's job will be to comment briefly
on the themes identified in the paper as being interesting and important,
then to direct a general discussion. In some cases, the point of
the discussion may be to expand on the paper by providing new examples
and relating the subject to familiar experiences. In others, it may
be to probe our understanding more deeply by suggesting counterarguments
or considering situations where the conclusions drawn from the paper don't
seem to fit. In still others, it may be simply to clarify questions
and points of confusion.
Finally, a student will be designated to write a
short summary of the discussion and distribute it to the class within two
days. These summaries will provide the starting points for exam questions.
Other classroom activities will include lecture/discussions
led by the professor, a guest lecture/discussion by Prof. Nijhout on butterfly
wing patterns, one midterm exam, and small-group presentations.
Last updated on July 11, 2000.
Discussion Papers: Each
student will be required to prepare two papers for class discussion over
the course of the semester. Your paper should cover the reading assigned
for the upcoming class period. Aside from length limits, the precise
form of the paper is up to you. It can be a direct summary of the
reading material, drawing the class's attention to a particularly interesting
or difficult point. It can describe an application of the principles
discussed in the text to a topic of personal interest. It can even
be an articulation of questions you have concerning the reading.
In all cases, though, the paper should be written using precise language
and the logic of your explanations and arguments should be clear to your
Each paper should be 4 to
6 pages long, double-spaced. Papers should be saved in Rich Text
Format (.rft) and uploaded to the appropriate place in the CourseInfo site
for the class. They are due at 8:00pm, two days before the class
period in which it will be up for discussion. All the other students
will be required to read it and be prepared to respond to it in class.
Papers turned in up to 24 hours late will be penalized 25%. Papers
turned in later than that will be penalized 50%.
For each Discussion Paper, one student will be designated to write a summary
of the class discussion and post it to the CourseInfo site. The summary
should be written in complete sentences and paragraphs, not as a list.
It should be 1-2 pages long and include a statement of the main issue addressed
in the paper, a paragraph describing the central conclusion reached during
the discussion, and a paragraph describing one issue that remained unresolved.
Each student will do two summaries
during the semester. Each summary is due at 8:00pm on the day after
the relevant discussion. Late assignments will be penalized 20%/day
unless an extension is granted prior to the due date.
are guided exercises to be carried out on a computer using the Mathematica
program. Mathematica is available on all public cluster computers.
It can also be downloaded from http://www.oit.duke.edu/site/.
(Click on the Software Library button.)
There will be two graded Mathematica
assignments. For each of these, you must create your own notebook
containing your write-up and turn in a hard copy at the beginning of class
on the day it is due. The write-up should include a paragraph describing
your approach to the problem, input cells indicating what you did to obtain
your results, a few figures (either explicitly requested by me or useful
for illustration), and a concluding paragraph summarizing your findings.
Notebooks are due at the beginning
of class on the designated day. Late assignments will be penalized
10%/day unless an extension is granted prior to the due date.
Collaboration on Mathematica Notebooks is encouraged, but every student
is expected to submit an independent solution and understand it.
Group Presentations: At
the end of the term you will be placed in 4-person group that will be charged
with making a 30-minute presentation on a topic selected by the group in
consultation with the professor. The presentations will focus on
an issue raised previously in this course and should include elements drawn
from other Origins courses.
Details of the format for
group presentations will be discussed in November. Assignments are
due at the beginning of the relevant class. Late assignments will
not be accepted.