Online Complexity Course from Santa Fe

MOOCs are all the rage these days. That would be Massive Open Online Courses, for those of you still stuck in 2007. Apparently Bucky Fuller was pushing the idea back in the early Sixties? These days, with everyone spending most of their waking hours looking at a computer screen, the time has come to get our education on.

The Santa Fe Institute, always in the vanguard, is stepping up to the plate. Melanie Mitchell, a computer scientist at Portland State and external professor at SFI, will be leading an 11-week online course titled Introduction to Complexity, starting January 28. Details are explained in a handy FAQ. Lectures given over video, but you can watch them at your leisure, and they will stay online indefinitely. If you want to get a certificate of completion and participate in the student chat room, you have to sign up and follow along as the course progresses.

Seems like a great way to spread some specialized knowledge to a wide audience using a novel format. This course is aimed broadly at the interested public, which is great for the interested public but too bad for me, as I would really love to see a version with all the glorious equations. Maybe next time?

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11 Responses to Online Complexity Course from Santa Fe

  1. Thomas says:

    Neat and tempting. But that “The Santa Fe Institute thanks the John Templeton Foundation for its generous support of this work.” at the bottom of the syllabus is a red flag.

  2. Melanie Mitchell says:

    Sean, Thanks for posting this. We do plan to have additional offerings at more technical levels, given by various SFI faculty. To Thomas: The JTF is funding this MOOC as part of a large research and education grant to SFI (see All the course content will be created and presented by myself and the SFI MOOC team, with no input from any of SFI’s funders aside from their generous support for this project.

  3. Iwona says:

    “as I would really love to see a version with all the glorious equations. ”
    Dr Carroll, herein lies my problem with quite a few of the MOOCs courses. I am “mathematically inclined”, although I haven’t done much higher maths for the past 15 years. But I’d rather work out through all the equations, no matter how difficult the subject is, than get a vague idea of what the teacher is trying to present in the form as accessible to the general public as possible. If the MOOCs offer courses where maths would be extremely handy but leave out the calculations to the sudents who don’t remember much algebra, to say nothing of more advanced mathematical concepts, I drop out. Not because I’m such a massive failure (although I do admit to being sort of a failure), but because I can read up on the mathematical parts on my own and then use it them, say, astronomy (again, learned from the books).
    That being said, I’ve enrolled in some Calculuc classes on MOOCs, just to find the motivation to try harder.

    Still, reading your book “From Eternity to Here” has been the highlight of this year for me, and I can’t wait to get the copy of “The Particle at the End of the Universe” – I can’t stand the Kindle edition, I’m sorry, I need a book book 🙂

    BTW, do you share the view of Professor Andrei Linde that people of certain age (around 40) will never be able to understand his theories? (I did start “tinkering” with Physics at a very young age, but then an insidious illness stole away almost 15 years of my life)…I’m asking because I’d really really like to go back to Physics. Not to be another Feynman, for sure 🙂 But because Physics is and always has been fun for me, even in the deepest hours of my illness.
    I’m sorry I sound chaotic – my main point is “bring on the derivations of the equations, MOOCs” 🙂

  4. Desargues says:

    Dear Professor Carroll,

    I’m a regular reader (or lurker, better put) of you blog, which I admire greatly. It’s a fantastic service you’re doing to the rest of us. I was wondering if I may ask a question, somewhat related to the topic of your post here. Could you please recommend a set of web videos or online seminars on rigid-body dynamics? I dabble in the history of classical mechanics, and I keep struggling for a clear grasp of rigid-body kinematics. I get the modern, tensor-based account, but I’m seeking a more visual, intuitive grasp of rigid body motion, which would help me through the (spherical trigonometry based) descriptions of that motion, in Euler, Poisson, and Coriolis.

    Thank you for your attention.

  5. Sean Carroll says:

    Desargues– Afraid I can’t help. I’m not really an expert on online physics videos.

  6. Desargues says:

    Thank you, anyway. I appreciate it.

  7. William says:

    Reply to Desargues comment.

    Dear Sean,

    I hope that you don’t mind me posting this link to a set of online lectures on rigid body dynamics. I’ve been watching these videos, and they may help Desargues with his studies.



  8. Melanie Faverville says:

    Sean, are you aware that this course is funded through a grant from the Templeton Foundation?

  9. David Dickinson says:

    When I took algorithms as a comp sci undergrad, I thought that considerations of complexity — and efficiency — would play a bigger role in programming than we’ve seen during the intervening decades. Unfortunately, the power of hardware has permitted bloat in software. The same attitudes that permit that seem to pervade society as a whole; avoiding grasping complexity for the comfort of a crutch contributes to all sorts of ills. (I think I can make a fair case that that is so with regard to our society’s mismanagement of climate and global warming.) I’m convinced that any discussion at all of complexity will be a good thing, /especially/ if it is aimed at the general public.

  10. Melanie Mitchell says:

    Just to clarify — this course will be on complex systems science, not on computational complexity of algorithms.

  11. Chuck says:

    I don’t think people should be worried that the Templeton Institute is behind this. We potential students are (presumably) intelligent free agents who want to learn something about formal approaches to complexity. Are any of us gullible enough to allow some alien philosophy to be shoved down our throats? Even if the JTI were deeply insidious, would this course really ensnare people like the students in this course? Why not just take the course if you’re interested and not worry about the JTI? How could it possibly hurt you?