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book list?

Flora Shepherd's picture
Projects: 
I was just looking through the book list on the course site. And I noticed that all of the books appear to have been written by white men. I was just wondering if anyone knew of any books written by women/minority scholars, too. I know the book list is a work in progress, and I'd be happy to see if we can flesh it out a little more. But, if Emergence/Complexity is a male-dominated field, that'd be interesting to know, too. I did a quick amazon search of emergence and didn't find much. Anyone else?

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PaulGrobstein's picture

Is interesting indeed. And I'd hazard a guess about why it might indeed APPEAR to be a white male-dominated field, based on my reflections on my own thinking when I contributed to the original book list. But first, some additions to it:

  • A Feeling for The Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock, by Evelyn Fox Keller
  • Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors, and Machines, by Evelyn Fox Keller
  • The Nature of Economies, by Jane Jacobs
  • Composing a Life, by Catherine Bateson
  • Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, by K. Anthony Appiah
  • Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values, by Yi-Fu Tuan

This is just off the top of my head. So, yes, there are a lot of relevant books by people other than white males. So how come I didn't think of them before? Notice that these titles not only don't for the most part sound "scientific" but don't include words like "complexity" or "emergence". They are in fact very much about "complexity/emergence" but they don't treat it as a noteworthy thing in and of itself, distinct from the circumstances within which the perspective is being employed. So maybe the point is that its only white males (or a subset of them) who think complexity/emergence is "surprising" and hence write about it? For most other people its ... just the way life is?

And a book list is, at any given time, emergent and emerging?

Doug Blank's picture

Thanks, Flora, for pointing out that fact. There is, obviously, a bias here, but not necessarily in DB and PG---two additional while males! I think the study of "emergence" can be seen as a luxury topic. People may see it as non-critical, and do not see it as a field of inquiry that will immediately solve real problems. (I beg to differ). I suspect that the few women and other underrepresented groups are attracted, first, to the major topics, and slowly diffuse into "fringe" areas. I know in Computer Science, when the economy is bad, the numbers of students going into CS drops. But the numbers of women and other underrepresented groups going into CS is hit even harder. So, it may be that there really are fewer books about emergence by non-white males. It may be an emergent effect of many other social issues. But we will be on the look out for realted topics that don't necessaily use the same keywords. Having said that, here are two more old white guys commenting on agency and religion. Dan Dennett has a new book out titled "Breaking the spell". In a NYTimes bookreview, Leon Wieseltier writes: What follows [in the book] is, in brief, Dennett's natural history of religion. It begins with the elementary assertion that "everything that moves needs something like a mind, to keep it out of harm's way and help it find the good things." To this end, there arose in very ancient times the evolutionary adaptation that one researcher has called a "hyperactive agent detection device, or HADD." This cognitive skill taught us, or a very early version of us, that we live in a world of other minds — and taught us too well, because it instilled "the urge to treat things — especially frustrating things — as agents with beliefs and desires." This urge is "deeply rooted in human biology," and it results in a "fantasy-generation process" that left us "finding agency wherever anything puzzles or frightens us." This is very relevant to agency and current discussions here. This book (and others by Dennett) may also be interesting choices for midterm book reports.
Flora Shepherd's picture

I think it is interesting to watch the book list emerge! Thanks Paul and Doug, for responding so quickly! Both of you offer some interesting thoughts behind this. I hope you know that I'm not trying to discredit the values of these books or contributions of the authors; just wondering what else fits in. Thanks for your prompt suggestions, Paul "So how come I didn't think of them before? Notice that these titles not only don't for the most part sound "scientific" but don't include words like "complexity" or "emergence"." The gender/minority difference is interesting for me because I am also a gender and sexuality studies major. It is interesting (and perhaps not surprising) that one's background affects how one approaches the topic of emergence or science in general. I think that Doug's points about emergence being a "luxury topic" are very useful when thinking about how the discipline fits into the greater scientific scheme. "I suspect that the few women and other underrepresented groups are attracted, first, to the major topics, and slowly diffuse into "fringe" areas." I know that this phenomena is very common in physics; via the pipeline between high school and college. Thanks again for your thoughtful suggestions!