BIDS 288: Chaos and Complexity

      Spring 1995

      Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays 10:40--11:50

      Napier 201

      Instructors:  David Eck (Mathematics and Computer Science)
                    Scott McKinney (Economics)

About the Course

The title of the course is "Chaos and Complexity." There is a traditional view (although it's something of a caricature, really) of the world as a rather predictable place, operating according to "laws" that are best exemplified by the mathematical equations used in physics. To know those laws is to know the world.

In the last decade or so, this view has been chalenged by the ideas of chaos and complexity. (These terms are used here in a technical sense.) Chaos theory showed that in many cases, even when you know the exact mathematical laws that govern a system, the behavior of that system can still be fundamentally unpredictable. The newer complexity theory shows how unpredictably complex behavior can result from the interaction of many simple, well-understood components. Complexity of this sort can be modeled on a computer, but it also exhibited by the economic and biological systems that will be the main focus of the course.

As the central text, we will be using Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, by Mitchell Waldrop. We will also read some individual articles and all or part of the following books: Wonderful Life, by Steven Jay Gould; Geography and Trade, by Paul Krugman; and Cities and the Wealth of Nations, by Jane Jacobs.

Papers and Assignments

The writing assignments for this course will include three short (2 to 4 page) papers and one longer (7 to 10 page) paper. The short papers will be due on April 12, April 27 and May 17. The long paper will be due at the end of the term at the scheduled final exam period, Sunday June 4 at 7:00 PM. All papers will be read and graded by both instructors.

There will also be other short assignments and projects throughout the term. For papers turned in late, 1/3 letter grade will be deducted per day.


There will be weekly quizzes based on readings and class discussion. The two lowest quiz grades will be dropped. A missed quiz will count as one of the dropped grades.


Short papers will each count for 1/9 of the final grade for the course. The long term paper will count for 2/9 of the grade. Other assignments will contribute another 1/9. The average quiz grade, computed after dropping the two lowest quiz grades, will count for 2/9 of the final course grade. The last 1/9 of the grade will be based on class participation, including attendance.

Office Hours

Scott McKinney's office is Trinity 209, phone extension 3432. His office hours are: Monday 2:30--4:00; Wednesday 1:30--3:00; and Friday 8:15--9:15. His e-mail address is: MCKINNEY

David Eck's office is Lansing 301, phone extension 3398. His office hours are: Monday, 12:00--1:00; Wednesday, 3:00--4:00; and Friday 9:30--10:30. His e-mail address is: ECK

First Reading Assignments

For the first week of classes, the readings are Jacobs, Chapter 1 for Wednesday and Waldrop, Chapter 1 for Friday. For the second week, the readings are Gould, Chapter 1 for Monday; Krugman, Chapter 1 for Wednesday; and an article by Brian Arthur (to be handed out in class) for Friday.