Monday, 19 August 2013

Thinking about complexity

I have in previous blog posts alluded to my interest in philosophy of science. Together with my friend and colleague Henrik Thorén I've previously written a short piece analysing 'weak emergence', the idea that certain systems display properties that cannot be predicted through theory, but only by simulating them. This inevitably lead us down the route of complexity and complex systems, and we have for some time struggled to make sense of, and understand the notions of emergence, complexity and chaos. We decided early on that the best way to achieve this is to get together and write a book about it. A book that tries to disentangle these concepts and also analyses the role of complexity in the sciences today. Or in the words of an abstract for a grant application:
The purpose of this project is to write a book that investigates the concept of complexity from a philosophy of science perspective. This work is motivated by the fact that the concept is used diligently in almost all scientific disciplines, often without a specific meaning or definition. The main question that we hope to answer relates to the basic meaning, or possibly multiple meanings, of the concept: what is complexity, and what consequences does it have? Are there many types, or kinds, of complexity? Is complexity something that can unify disciplines? When is somethingto be considered complex, and when does the concept aid in understanding a system? These questions will be answered by carrying out a thorough conceptual analysis, in close proximity to the disciplines in which it is used. In particular we will focus our study on physics, biology, economics, sociology and sustainability science. Further, we will explore the consequences of complexity on policy making, which is closely related to our ability to describe, regulate and control complex systems. Answering the above questions is of great importance if we are to discuss and handle changes in complex systems such as the climate and global economy in a factual and objective way.
As a matter of fact or application was successful with the Helge Ax:son Johnson Foundation, and we now have some funds to continue our collaboration and realise our idea of a book about complexity. I'll keep posting as the work progresses.

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