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Herb Simon and Your Life as Nearly Decomposable Systems

July 17, 2021 at 7:00 am - 9:30 am PDT

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Join Liz Voeller on an exploration through one of Herbert Simon’s key concepts and what it means for addressing complexity in our own lives.

Systems demonstrate the property of “near-decomposability” when interactions WITHIN each subsystem are stronger than the interaction AMONG subsystems. This concept, made legible by Herbert Simon in his essay The Architecture of Complexity, appears in diverse settings from the dynamics of molecular systems to the power of small groups. 

How do we use this idea from the early days of complexity science to help us to sift through the noise in our day-to-day lives? Once we understand this structure, how do we weave our way through it? How do descriptions (or stories) help us find simplicity within complexity? (And why do we seek simplicity, anyway? Why not revel in the noise?)

Join us for this salon, as we explore:

  • A short introduction to Herbert Simon
  • Nearly Decomposable systems & how we use them – Where do we see ND systems in our own lives? How can we use ND systems to better make sense of / manage our day-to-day?
  • State vs. Process descriptions & how we use them – What simple processes lead to far-reaching outcomes? How do we use stories to explore new ideas and better communicate?

Our goal: Develop an intuition for nearly decomposable systems together, working from an essay and short story from polymath Herbert Simon (1916-2001)

Reading list:

Cover art: Sky Above Clouds (Georgia O’Keefe)


To learn more of Herbert Simon’s work, you can explore his digital archive at Carnegie Mellon



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July 17, 2021
7:00 am - 9:30 am PDT
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