Visualising complexity

By Gordon Rugg

Note: This article is a slightly edited and updated reblog of one originally posted on the Search Visualizer blog in 2012.

How can you visualise complexity?

It’s a simple-looking question. It invites the response: “That all depends on what you mean by ‘complexity’ and how you measure it”.

This article is about some things that you might mean by “complexity” and about how you can measure them and visualise them. It’s one of those posts that ended up being longer than expected… The core concepts are simple, but unpacking them into their component parts requires a fair number of diagrams. We’ll be exploring the theme of complexity again in later articles, as well as the theme of practical issues affecting visualizations.

This article focuses mainly on board games, to demonstrate the underlying principles. It then looks at real world activities, and some of the issues involved there.

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The Uncanny Valley, Proust, Segways and the living dead

By Gordon Rugg

I recently visited my old university town after being away for more than twenty years. It was a very unsettling experience; the town I saw was very different from the one I remembered, and those differences stirred up a lot of emotional turmoil.

I had uncomfortable visions of spending years coming to terms with those feelings, and with the deep subconscious issues that would probably be involved, about memories of my past and of days that could never be re-lived. It had all the makings of a great novel, until I mentioned it to Sue Gerrard, who said that more likely it was just a case of the uncanny valley.

She was right.

And that is why I’m now unlikely to write this century’s answer to À la recherche du temps perdu.

So what is the uncanny valley anyway, and why does it mean that the world will have to settle for this blog article instead of a literary masterpiece? The answer takes us through a surprisingly broad range of phenomena that individually look difficult to explain, but which might be explicable together as the effects of some simple cognitive processes.

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Images from Wikipedia; links are at the end of this article.

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How complex should models of education be?

By Gordon Rugg

There’s an old joke in the physical sciences, often attributed to Einstein, that a model should be as simple as possible but no simpler. The converse is that a model should be as complex as necessary, but no more complex.

In this article, I’ll discuss what the most useful level of complexity might be for education theories.

golden gate croppedClarity emerging from the fog: Cropped image from wikimedia

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How complex should education theories be?

By Gordon Rugg

There’s an old joke in the physical sciences, often attributed to Einstein, that a model should be as simple as possible but no simpler.

The converse is that a model should be as complex as necessary, but no more complex.

In this article, I’ll discuss what the most useful level of complexity is for education theories.

golden gate fogv1Clarity emerging from the fog: Cropped image from wikimedia

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Occam’s razor: The weaknesses of simple-looking explanations

By Gordon Rugg

So what is Occam’s razor anyway, and why should anyone care?

The core concept is brief: Other things being equal, we should choose the simplest valid explanation whenever possible.

Amateurs often view this concept as a clean blade of truth, cutting straight to the heart of the matter. It’s widespread in politics, often phrased as “common sense” analysis.

That’s a nice idea, but reality is more complex, and Occam’s razor often causes more problems than it solves. Like the damaged, time-worn razor in the picture below, it’s far from being a flawless blade.

straight razor 4

This article is about why simple-looking explanations often turn out to be complicated in reality, and why apparently complicated explanations often turn out to be simple.

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The Voynich Manuscript: Emergent complexity in hoaxed texts

By Gordon Rugg

This article is a short summary of an article by Laura Aylward and myself, originally published online in 2004. The full version is here:

http://www.scm.keele.ac.uk/staff/g_rugg/voynich/emergent3a.pdf

Our article is about producing meaningless gibberish text using the table and grille method, with a view to producing text similar to that in the Voynich Manuscript. We found a variety of complex side-effects from various ways of using the table and grille method, which would affect the statistical properties of the output.

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