My life has added complexity

At the tail end of last year I signed up for six MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) at various institutions and today I enrolled and started the first one – Introduction to Complexity at the Santa Fe Institute.

I hadn’t appreciated how cutting edge the Institute is when I signed up – I just thought the course sounded interesting and that it might stretch my blonde brain cells to their limit.

Over the next 11 weeks I’ll be learning about the tools used by scientists to understand complex systems. It’ll cover dynamics, chaos, fractals, information theory, self-organization, agent-based modelling, and networks. By the end of it I should understand how these fit together and how complexity arises and evolves in nature, society, and technology.


Apparently I don’t need a science or maths background – all I need is an interest in the field and be up for a hands-on approach.


I’ve done the first few lectures and installed Netlogo on the PC at home. This is a programmable modelling environment and is what much of the homework will involve.

I’ll let you know how I get on as the course progresses but I had to admit defeat with MiniMe’s algebra homework and phone my Dad for help so I hope complexity doesn’t get any more complex that first year maths πŸ˜‰

Today I learned:

  • complex systems have simple components
  • the interaction among components is non-linear
  • complex systems have no central control – they are de-centralised with self-organisation
  • complex systems have emergent behaviours
  • quite a lot, really

Today’s recipe

Mum’s shepherd’s pie


This is really cottage pie as no shepherd’s were harmed in the making of it but we always called it shepherd’s pie when I was growing up and it’s stuck.


oil for frying

1 onion sliced

1 carrot, diced

500g mince

500mls gravy (I cheat with granules)

a dollop of brown sauce (got to be HP)

approx. 6 potatoes, peeled and cubed

a knob of butter

a dash of milk or cream

more butter

1 tin of beans

Method: Heat the oil and fry the onion and carrot. Add the mince and brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Add the gravy till the mince is just covered, brown sauce and season. Let the pan simmer uncovered while the potatoes cook. Add more gravy if it gets too dry.

Boil the potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes until soft. Drain and leave on a low heat for a minute with the lid on to get rid of any moisture. Mash with the knob of butter and the milk.

Heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6

Put the beans in the bottom of a casserole dish. Add the mince on top then the potatoes on top of that. You can either smooth them off with a knife or fluff with a fork. Add some dots of butter to the top and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden.

Dig in!


  1. Pingback: My life has added complexity | weeklyblogclub
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  3. Phil Jewitt · February 11, 2013

    Hi Carolyne. Thinking I might be tapping you up about the complexity stuff. Assume you are referring to complex adaptive systems theory. Interested to find out how you came about wanting/needing to look into it further.

    • carolynemitchell · February 11, 2013

      I was sifting through a database of MOOCs and stumbled across this one at the Santa Fe Institute. I just felt like taxing my brain in a different direction. Now I’m in – though not very far – I’m wondering what data we have that could be run through Netlogo. It’s not too late to join the course yourself πŸ˜‰

      • Phil Jewitt · February 11, 2013

        Nice try *winks back* As my last few blogs have mentioned, something will have to give to allow me to commit to other things. I need to fully get my head round it first. It seems like a total headshift, which is not a bad thing, so will be really interested to see how you get on.

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