Notes on Complexity
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Notes on Complexity

In Life and Machines

About the Book

Several years ago, I began to ask why systems break, what makes them brittle, and how we might better build and operate them. This line of inquiry lead me down a deep rabbit hole comprising multiple fields of research, seminars in Sweden and NYC, invited talks at multiple conferences, and many, many PDFs.

This book is the introduction of roughly 3 years of notes on the subjects of complexity, decision making under uncertainty, risk taking, learning from failure, human factors, and system safety. It is an outgrowth of my desire to understand why things fail, and why so many of our efforts to prevent failure also fail. I don’t want to keep making the same mistakes over again, I want to learn from them.

Don’t you?

About the Author

Tanner Lund
Tanner Lund

I study learning, risk, uncertainty, and error in complex domains.

I've put this into practice in my career operating, supporting, and automating large cloud systems like Microsoft Azure and Adobe Experience Cloud. Now I write and teach about it too.

Maybe there's something we can learn from each other?

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
    • How This Book Is Structured
  • We Don’t Know Nothin’
    • Uncertainty and Distributions
    • System Evaluation
    • Compulsive Intervention
    • Fat-Tails and Surprises
    • Risk Strategies and Aversion
    • Metrics and Correlation
    • The Illusion of Stability
  • The Limits of Knowledge
    • Expertise
    • There is no Root Cause
    • Popper State of Mind
    • The Social Limits of Scientific Certainty
  • Second Stories
    • Trying to Learn from Failure
    • The Costa Concordia
    • Implications in Politics and Pop Culture
  • Error
    • Human Error
    • James Reason
    • Jens Rasmussen
    • Responsibility, Accountability, Blame, and Causality
  • Concepts of Complexity
    • Complexity and Ignorance in Social Science
    • Complexity: Learning to Muddle Through
    • Emergence and Scale
    • Happy Accidents — Serendipity
    • Computation Complexity and Emergence
    • Computational Irreducibility
  • Coping With Complexity
    • Concavity vs Convexity
    • The Result is Not The Consequence
    • Picking Pennies In Front of a Steamroller
    • Entropy and Distributions
    • Complex Systems Need Stressors
    • The Harm is in The Dose (Scale?)
    • Preventative Maintenance
    • Pessimism
    • Optimism
    • Can Reducing Fragility or Improving Resilience Have Downsides?
    • Additional Thoughts
  • Modeling and Reasoning
    • Tractability
    • Uncertainty
    • Perils of Linear Analysis
    • Three Types of Errors in Models
    • Some Modeling Approaches
    • Functional Resonance Analysis Method (FRAM)
    • Extreme Value Theory (EVT)
    • Convexity and Fat Tails
    • Extreme Risk Management Statistics
    • The World as an Option
    • Lessons From Disaster Insurance
    • Some Heuristics
    • Thought Experiment — Oasis Dwellers
  • Conclusion
    • Some Parting Heuristics and Aphorisms
    • Join The Discussion
  • Notes

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