3/1/09

What are we? Complexity science, complexity theory, complex systems, complex self-organizing systems, etc????



Complexity science has been around long enough for the field to finally settle on a name. Systems science has a clear name, as does cybernetics and agent-based modeling. Complexity science needs similar clarity.

To demonstrate the current lack of clarity, do a basic search on Wikipedia, or examine the various web trackers. It becomes quickly clear that fuzziness and chaos abound--and I do not use these terms in a positive way.

Not having a name is a problem for a new science. It makes it hard for people to know what they are doing.


I strongly recommend complexity science as a name. Here is why

Not Complexity theory: Complexity is more than a theory. In fact, i would like someone to show what complexity theory is? I have yet to see a theory of complexity. I have seen complexity theories about evolution (Kauffman); social systems (Luhmann); organizations (Cilliers). But, I have not seen a complexity theory. No such thing exists.

Not complex self-organizing systems: Of all the possible terms, this one comes close, but it is too cumbersome. Complexity science is definitely the study of complex, self-organizing systems. However, complexity science is broader than just self-organizing systems. It deals with a variety of complex systems. Also, complexity science is cleaner and terse.

Not Chaos theory: While complexity science is indebted to chaos theory, it is something else. It is interested in organized chaos.

Not Agent-based modeling: While complexity science makes use of agent-based modeling, complexity science is more than just method.

Not e-science or web-science: This isn't going to work because the former is too substantively focused and the second is all method and often not systems oriented.

Not Post-systems science or Post-cybernetics: Complexity science is indebted to systems science and cybernetics--these fields are the historical lineage upon which complexity science is based. But, complexity science makes a break with these two fields, turning to a much larger literature to define its theories, methods and substantive problems.

Not Complexity: Complexity science is not just complexity. This term is too wide and ambiguous--we have always had complexity.

Not Computational Complexity: Computational complexity is too focused: it has to do with computational problem solving, not the study of complex systems.


And still more:The other reason complexity science is preferrable is because it separates the field from metaphorical, political and spiritual uses of this new science. A major criticism of complexity science today, particularly in the management literature, is a lack of rigor. Can a car company really be autopoietic? I doubt it. Is emergence some kind of quasi-spiritual mysterious force? If it is, then science might as well stop studying crowd behavior and the standing ovation problem.

Complexity science is a science. Let's call it that.

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