Puppets Without Strings (Science for Everyone) – Varshavsky, Pospelov

In this post, we will see the book Puppets Without Strings: Reflections on the Evolution
and Control of Some Man-Made Systems by V. I. Varshavsky, D. A. Pospelov. This is another book in the Science For Everyone series.


About the book

Paradoxes in the evolution of technological systems. Who designed the global telephone and communication network? The whole is the sum of the parts plus their interactions. Is a simple data register really simple? Automata exploring unknown worlds. Optimum or expediency? Random interactions and information exchange. Daydreaming and cynical automata.

“I thought he thought I thought he. .. .” Heterogeneity in a group of automata is a key to success. Are we haunted by the ghost of Erehwon City? Puppets without strings: who is the puppeteer? Boundaries of centralization. How do systems evolve?
A fresh look at design. Evolution goes on. (from the Back Cover)

We seek to present a popular account of the control problems that arise in complex systems which are more generally called large-scale systems in control theory. In systems of this kind, centralized control often gives way to decentralized control, the transition being a penalty for the system’s complexity. This is because the system’s complexity makes centralized con­trol either inefficient or impracticable. How do large-scale systems arise, and is it possible that the category of large-scale system is merely a far-fetched nothing? We have tried to show in this book that large-scale man-made systems which sur­round us are steadily becoming more nu­merous and still more complex. The evolu­tion of man-made systems out of the already existing ones goes on in much the same way as living organisms evolve. Decen­tralized control is but a natural product of this evolution. We hope to convince our readers that it is just so. (from Instead of a Preface)

The book was translated from the Russian by A. Kandaurov and was first published by Mir in 1988.

The Internet Archive Link


Instead of a Preface 8

Chapter 1. Decentralized Control: the Whys and Wherefores 11

1.1. The Man-Made World 11
1.2. Systems That Have Never Been Designed as a Whole 17
1.3. A Few Instructive Examples 23
1.4. Analysis of the Examples 28
1.5. Why Decentralization? 33

Chapter 2. Is It Easy to Exist in a Contradictory World? 40

2.1. The Pros and Cons of Com­mon Sense 40
2.2. A “Small Animal” 45
2.3. Reaping the Fruits of Linear Tactics 49
2.4. Smart Machines: Reckless and Cautious 55
2.5. How to Live in a Transient World 60
2.6. Hungry Bats and Aerobatics 76
2.7. Put Your Heads Together 81

Chapter 3. “How Comes This Gentle Concord in the World? 86

3.1. The Sukharev Tower Pact 86
3.2. When Everybody Is Alike 103
3.3. Distribution of Limited Resources 119
3.4. What Shall ’ We Do with Random Interactions? 127
3.5. He Thought I Thought He 141
3.6. Optimists and Pessimists in the World of Automata 150
3.7. Three More Simple Models 161

Chapter 4. Jump the Queue and Call It Fair! 170

4.1. Where Do All the Queues Come From? 170
4.2. Barbers, Clients, and Prior­ities 178
4.3. How to Learn to Be a Foreman 187
4.4. One Circus Ring Is Not Enough 194
4.5. Problem Faced by Housing Board and Similar Problems 200
4.6. “Stubborn” Automata and Vot­ing 212

Chapter 5. Stringless Puppets Make a Show 223

5.1. Wait and See Them Fire 223
5.2. Have Them Fire All at Once 227
5.3. Marching and Wandering Au­tomata 236
5.4. Praise Be to Homogeneous Structures 241
5.5. Why Yoga Is Not Our Way? 255

Chapter 6. Dialectics of the Simple and the Complex 262

6.1. Synthesogenesis and Integra­tion of Efforts 262
6.2. Segregatiogenesis and Its Ef­fects 272
6.3. Evolution in the Erehwon City 282
6.4. Instead of a Conclusion. Evo­lution Goes on 287

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