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To master complexity, we can organize it or discard it. The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering first teaches the tools for organizing complexity, then distinguishes the two paths for discarding complexity: with and without loss of information. Questions and problems throughout the text help readers master and apply these groups of tools. Armed with this three-part toolchest, and without complicated mathematics, readers can estimate the flight range of birds and planes and the strength of chemical bonds, understand the physics of pianos and xylophones, and explain why skies are blue and sunsets are red.

The complete book is provided as a free download (License CC BY-NC-SA), courtesy of Sanjoy Mahajan and MIT Press.

The book is also available in paperback for purchase:

  • Buy at MIT Press Mahajan, Sanjoy. The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering: Mastering Complexity. MIT Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780262526548. [Preview with Google Books]

Brief Table of Contents

Part I Organizing complexity

  • Divide and conquer
  • Abstraction

Part II Discarding complexity without losing information

  • Symmetry and conservation
  • Propotional reasoning
  • Dimensions

Part III Discarding complexity with loss of information

  • Lumping
  • Probabilistic reasoning
  • Easy cases
  • Spring models

Note: This book is an outgrowth of notes that Prof. Mahajan developed for his course “The Art of Approximation,” taught at Cambridge University, MIT, and Olin College. OCW’s version of the MIT course 6.055J The Art of Approximation in Science and Engineering (Spring 2008) includes an earlier draft manuscript of the book, a syllabus that distributes the topics across individual classroom sessions, and homework assignments with solutions.

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