Skip to main content

Simplexity – Alain Berthoz **

I am at a loss after attempting to read this book. The experience was not unlike reading a pseudo-science book, where there are lots of sciency-sounding terms flung about with dramatic disregard for the science behind them. But this isn’t a pseudo-science book. There’s plenty of real science in there from a professor of physiology. I don’t know whether it’s the fact it’s a translation from the French or what – but this book was almost unreadable.
To take a simple point – what is the book about? What does this irritating compound word ‘simplexity’ mean? Although the word is used throughout, I never found a satisfactory definition. Alain Berthoz gives us plenty of examples of biological processes he considers to be ‘simplex’ but the examples of themselves don’t define the term. I’m lucky. I have a press release. So I know, according to that, that simplexity means
‘the set of solutions that living organisms find that enable them to deal with information and situations, while taking into account past experiences and anticipating future ones. Such solutions are new ways of addressing problems so that actions may be taken more quickly, more elegantly, and more efficiently.’
That’s okay, then. But I really haven’t a clue what this book was saying. It was impossible to get much from it. The subtitle is ‘simplifying principles for a complex world’ which makes it sound really practical and useful. Sorry. Baffled. I need some complicity.
(Please note this is a different book to the remarkably similarly titled Simplexity: the simple rules of a complex world by Jeffrey Kluger.)

Hardback 

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Bits to Bitcoin - Mark Stuart Day ***

When I saw the title of this book, I got all excited - at last we were going to get an explanation of bitcoin for the rest of us, who struggle to understand what the heck it really involves. There certainly is an explanation of bitcoin, but it comes in chapter 26 - in practice, the book contains far more. Almost every popular computer science title I've read has effectively been history of computer science - this is one of the first examples I've ever come across that is actually trying to make the 'science' part of computer science accessible to the general reader.

I don't mean by this that it's an equivalent of Programming for Dummies. Instead, Bits to Bitcoin takes the reader through the concepts lying behind programming. If we think of programming as engineering, this is the physics that the engineering depends on. This is a really interesting proposition. Many years ago, I was a professional programmer, but I never studied computer science, so I was only fa…

Through Two Doors at Once - Anil Ananthaswamy *****

It's sometimes hard to imagine that there's anything new to say about the basics of quantum physics, yet Anil Ananthaswamy manages this in a twofold manner (appropriately, given the title). Through Two Doors at Once does so by using the double slit experiment as a constant reference point throughout the book, and by bringing in a number of the more modern variants on the experiment which rarely feature in popular accounts of quantum theory.

Strictly, the book should probably be called 'Through Two Doors at Once and Spooky Action at a Distance plus Things That Have a Similar Effect', as it uses both the double slit experiment and the EPR entanglement thought experiment, plus modern experiments which don't, for example, involve slits but rather beam splitters that are their logical equivalent - but I have to admit, that would be a clumsy title.

Ananthaswamy gives us a good overview of the development of quantum physics - sometimes quite summary - but by making repea…

By the Pricking of Her Thumb (SF) - Adam Roberts *****

Sometimes a sequel betters the original - think Terminator 2 - and Adam Roberts has done this with his follow-up to The Real-Town Murders. (It's sensible to read the first book before this: while it's not essential, there are plenty of references you will miss otherwise.)

Ostensibly this is a murder mystery, or, as Roberts tells us, a combination of a howdunnit and a whodunnit-to, as the central character Alma is called on to work out how someone found with a needle stuck through her thumb was killed and which of a group of four super-rich individuals is dead when all claim to still be alive - though one of the group who hires Alma is convinced that the death has occurred. 

However, this is anything but a conventional murder mystery - far more so than the strange crimes suggest. Alma and her partner Marguerite (the latter still trapped by an engineered polyvalent illness that requires treatment every 4 hours and 4 minutes) don't do a lot of detecting. In fact Marguerite hard…