“Complex Systems” under any name

“Complex Systems” is the most widely used generic description of the theoretical prospective intended to be a pillar of Kororoit Institute. Yet its meaning has grown even wider than the scope of the Complex Systems journal launched by Stephen Wolfram near the start of the explosion of interest in the field in the mid 1980s. A key point of the Kororoit Proponents is seeing the connection and bridging the gap between those for whom complex systems is grounded in the limits of the hard sciences, mathematics and computing, and those who seek to apply its revealed principles to human organisation, human knowledge and human management.

The fundamentals have been (re)discovered from many perspectives, usually being described in terms that have more to say about where the discoverer was coming from than about the elephant in the room. What we call “Emergence”, successful market trader N.N. Taleb called “The Black Swan” and U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld called “unknown unknowns”, though neither admits any recognition of the growing body of theory which helps us account for such things, let alone make appropriate contingency plans.

However, both those labels do convey the sense of surprise that comes to those who have internalised too many unstated assumptions about the scope of mechanism or of authority. What remains so widely neglected in the dominant culture is that everything we deal with day to day is an emergent form that is better understood by looking at the level at which we find it than by trying to extrapolate from whatever we may know, often a lot more precisely, about its fundamental components. The study of complex systems is about seeing how those well understood components come together to make something much more complex. The lack of such understanding is the proverbial “not seeing the forest from the trees”.

Descriptors and characteristics that have been assigned to complex systems include:

  • second order cybernetics
  • Out of Control
  • non-linear
  • far from equilibrium
  • dissipative
  • eusocial
  • emergent
  • supervenient
  • Ecology of Mind
  • bifurcation
  • strange attractors
  • general evolution
  • self-organising
  • wicked
  • holistic
  • A New Kind of Science

The question always comes back to how can something so complex arise from the interaction of simpler parts. Studying this generalised question in isolation is often done with cellular automata which make no serious pretence to model our actual world, but rather provide an artificial world which is particularly well matched to human visual perception. Kororoit seeks to span the territory from better seeing and presenting such fundmental principles to applying them to provide guidance as to how to act in a world of ever changing complex systems.