It is generally recognized that complex systems are comprised of multiple, inter-related processes. In terms of restricted complexity, the goal of scientific practices is to study these processes, in order to uncover the rules or laws of complexity (…) complexity becomes the umbrella term for the ideas of chaos, fractals, disorder, and uncertainty. Despite the difficulty of the subject matter, it is believed that, with enough time and effort, we will be able to construct a unified theory of complexity – also referred to as the ‘Theory of Complexity’ (TOC) or the ‘Theory of Everything’ (TOE) (…) Seth Lloyd, a professor in mechanical engineering at MIT, has compiled a list of 31 different ways in which one can define complexity!
If we accept the fact that things are inherently complex, then it means that we cannot know phenomena in their full complexity. In other words, complex phenomena are irreducible. Acknowledging complexity therefore has a profound impact not only on the status of scientific practices, but also on the status of our knowledge claims as such. More specifically, because our knowledge of complex phenomena is limited, our practices should be informed by, and subject to, a self-critical rationality (…) Acknowledging the irreducible nature of complexity also influences our understanding of the general features of complexity
Features of Complex Systems:
- Complex Systems are constituted by richly interconnected components
- The component parts of complex systems have a double identity premised on both a diversity and a unity principle
- Upward and Downward causation give rise to complex structures: the competitive and cooperative interactions between component parts on a local level give rise to self-organisation which is defined as ‘a process whereby a system can develop a complex structure from fairly unstructured beginnings’
- Complex Systems exhibit self-organizing and emergent behavior: Self-organisation is a necessary condition for emergence, which is defined as ‘the idea that there are properties at a certain level of organization which cannot be predicted from the properties found at lower levels but not sufficient!
- Complex Systems are Open Systems: the intelligibility of open systems can only be understood in terms of their relation with the environment (…) there is an energy, material, or information transfer into or out of a given system’s boundary (…) the environment cannot be appropriated by the system, so the boundary between a system and its environment should be treated both as a real, physical category, and a mental category or ideal model
Woermann, M., 2011. What is complexity theory? Features and Implications. Systems Engineering Newsletter, 30, 1-8, available here
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