What is a Complex System? A new book explains


Dec 1, 2020

Now there is a Guide through the Chaos

 

When coming across the term “complex systems,” many readers may shy away from engaging any further. The term is often associated with confusion because complex systems come up in various disciplines and seem to be everything and nothing at once.

 

With their book “What is a complex system?,” Karoline Wiesner, a member of our External Faculty and associate professor of mathematics at the University of Bristol, and James Ladyman, as well professor (of philosophy) at the University of Bristol, connect the dots behind the various phenomena under the umbrella of complex systems. Those range from the way a flock of birds flies, to the motion of people in a city, to the inner workings of stock markets.

 

In December 2020, the book was considered as one of “the week’s best science picks” by Nature.

 

In the past years, complexity science has grown in popularity and appeared in various academic studies. However, something was missing in the existing body of literature. “Whenever a student asked me ‘What should I read first?’, I always struggled. I would start giving them a collection of articles,” says Karoline, a trained physicist. “This book fills that gap and is a good starting point to approach the field.”

 

Some complex systems may have undesirable effects

 

Karoline aimed to bring clarity into the intertwined and convoluted world of complex systems. Many academics have used complexity science to describe living and nonliving systems in disciplines like biology, physics, sociology or economics.

 

The new book “What is a complex system?” looks at the research that has been done so far and creates a conclusive framework.

Karoline Wiesner, James Ladyman:

What is a Complex System?

 

ISBN: 9780300251104

Yale University Press

August 2020

“You don’t have to be a math wizard to combine these subjects”

 

The first two chapters are introductory and can be understood by interested lay people, too. Yet, the further the reading goes, the more basic mathematical knowledge becomes useful.

 

The book ends on a rather cautionary note, explaining how the fate of complex systems such as the climate or life on earth depends on us. The authors convey a sense of urgency in dealing with these matters. “Once you have understood how complex systems work, you know how problematic the unbearably slow approach to the grand challenges is,” says Karoline.

 

Urgency also becomes apparent as the focus in the book shifts to new complex systems, like social media algorithms. “We clearly need a lot more research in these matters to avoid unpredictable and undesirable effects,” Karoline emphasizes.

 

Yet, it is important to know that we are not helpless in the face of complexity, she adds. “If we are open to working interdisziplinarily, we can understand different phenomena with similar ways of thinking—this is what complexity science is all about.”

 

The world is without doubts becoming more and more connected. Using the insights of complexity scientists, we are now capable of utilizing these connections to our advantage: We can look at the functioning of the human brain and notice similarities with the behavior of a beehive. “Importantly, you don’t have to be a math wizard to combine these subjects”, argues Karoline. The book provides readers of any background tools to recognize and measure complex systems and better grasp the complex world we live in. It seems easy for Karoline to state her reasons for investing a decade into co-authoring the book: “We can see that, in the face of all this complicatedness and messiness, there is actually a lot of order underneath the seeming chaos.”

 

The book is not without its intricacies. It is an extensive academic discussion on complex systems targeted primarily at students interested in the matter. Nonetheless, the straightforward style and example based breakdown make the book an interesting read for all who want to discover the world of complex systems.

 

About the authors:

 

James Ladyman is a professor of philosophy who mainly works in philosophy of science at the University of Bristol.

 

Karoline Wiesner is an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Bristol. She teaches courses in mathematics and complexity science.


Press

Das sind die Gründe, warum die Infektionszahlen jetzt sinken


Kurier, Sep 22, 2021

Press

Wien verschärft CoV-Maßnahmen ab Oktober


ORF 2 | ZIB 1, Sep 21, 2021

Press

Schärfere Regeln für Ungeimpfte in Wien


ATV | aktuell, Sep 21, 2021

Press

Trotz stagnierender Infektionen keine Entspannung


Der Standard, Sep 21, 2021

News

Sep 15, 2021

Impressions from this year's Hub Retreat

Publication

V. Machàcek, M. Srholec, M. R. Ferreira, et al.

Researchers’ institutional mobility: bibliometric evidence on academic inbreeding and internationalization

Science and Public Policy (2021) scab064

Publication

M. Hâncean, J. Lerner, M. Perc, M. Ghita, D. Bunaciu, A. Stoica, B. Mihaila

The role of age in the spreading of COVID-19 across a social network in Bucharest

Journal of Complex Networks 9 (4) (2021) cnab026

Publication

J. Einsiedler, et al.

Transferable Models to Understand the Impact of Lockdown Measures on Local Air Quality

in: Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Urban Computing (UrbCom) (2021)

News

Sep 6, 2021

CSH in Albpach | The Great Green Transformation | Panel Discussion

News

Sep 1, 2021

Fariba Karimi nominated for Hedy Lamarr Award

Publication

V. Chuqiao Yang, M. Galesic, H. McGuinness, A. Harutyunyan

Dynamical system model predicts when social learners impair collective performance

PNAS 118 (35) (2021) e2106292118

News

Aug 2, 2021

The future of COVID-19 in Europe

Press

Das sind die Gründe, warum die Infektionszahlen jetzt sinken


Kurier, Sep 22, 2021

Press

Wien verschärft CoV-Maßnahmen ab Oktober


ORF 2 | ZIB 1, Sep 21, 2021

Press

Schärfere Regeln für Ungeimpfte in Wien


ATV | aktuell, Sep 21, 2021

Press

Trotz stagnierender Infektionen keine Entspannung


Der Standard, Sep 21, 2021

News

Sep 15, 2021

Impressions from this year's Hub Retreat

Publication

V. Machàcek, M. Srholec, M. R. Ferreira, et al.

Researchers’ institutional mobility: bibliometric evidence on academic inbreeding and internationalization

Science and Public Policy (2021) scab064

Publication

M. Hâncean, J. Lerner, M. Perc, M. Ghita, D. Bunaciu, A. Stoica, B. Mihaila

The role of age in the spreading of COVID-19 across a social network in Bucharest

Journal of Complex Networks 9 (4) (2021) cnab026

Publication

J. Einsiedler, et al.

Transferable Models to Understand the Impact of Lockdown Measures on Local Air Quality

in: Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Urban Computing (UrbCom) (2021)

News

Sep 6, 2021

CSH in Albpach | The Great Green Transformation | Panel Discussion

News

Sep 1, 2021

Fariba Karimi nominated for Hedy Lamarr Award

Publication

V. Chuqiao Yang, M. Galesic, H. McGuinness, A. Harutyunyan

Dynamical system model predicts when social learners impair collective performance

PNAS 118 (35) (2021) e2106292118

News

Aug 2, 2021

The future of COVID-19 in Europe

News

Sep 15, 2021

Impressions from this year's Hub Retreat

News

Sep 6, 2021

CSH in Albpach | The Great Green Transformation | Panel Discussion

News

Sep 1, 2021

Fariba Karimi nominated for Hedy Lamarr Award

News

Aug 2, 2021

The future of COVID-19 in Europe

News

Jul 29, 2021

CSH and Austrian Railways OeBB launch joint project

News

Jul 28, 2021

Disease network analysis shows: healthy overweight is possible

News

Jul 22, 2021

New CSH team leader Frank Neffke & the "science of cities"

News

Jul 10, 2021

Peter Klimek about delta variant: "We must remain vigilant, also with kids"

News

Jul 7, 2021

Blog | Jenny Reddish: "Introduction to the new Crisis Databank at the Hub"

News

Jun 30, 2021

We proudly present: 5 years CSH | The Report

News

Jun 22, 2021

Digital Humanism: CSH successful with three projects

News

Jun 17, 2021

TU Wien–CSH Vienna COVID-19 project | Final Report

Press

Das sind die Gründe, warum die Infektionszahlen jetzt sinken


Kurier, Sep 22, 2021

Press

Wien verschärft CoV-Maßnahmen ab Oktober


ORF 2 | ZIB 1, Sep 21, 2021

Press

Schärfere Regeln für Ungeimpfte in Wien


ATV | aktuell, Sep 21, 2021

Press

Trotz stagnierender Infektionen keine Entspannung


Der Standard, Sep 21, 2021

Press

Stabilisierung nur eine kleine „Verschnaufpause“


Kronen Zeitung, Sep 21, 2021

Press

Experte rechnet mit Homeoffice-Pflicht für Ungeimpfte


Heute, Sep 19, 2021

Press

Peter Klimek: „Das Einzige, womit ich es erklären kann, ist die Oberösterreich-Wahl“


Die Presse, Sep 18, 2021

Press

Impfquote und Ansteckungsrate


Ö1 | Nachtjournal, Sep 17, 2021

Press

Ab wann die Ansteckungswelle gebrochen wird


ORF Science, Sep 17, 2021

Press

Gekipptes Fenster [Print]


Kronen Zeitung, Sep 17, 2021

Press

Ab wann die Ansteckungswelle gebrochen wird


Ö1 | Mittagsjournal, Sep 17, 2021

Press

Una red global de científicos medirá qué éxito tuvieron las medidas sanitarias para frenar la pandemia [Spanish]


Infobae, Sep 16, 2021

Publication

V. Machàcek, M. Srholec, M. R. Ferreira, et al.

Researchers’ institutional mobility: bibliometric evidence on academic inbreeding and internationalization

Science and Public Policy (2021) scab064

Publication

M. Hâncean, J. Lerner, M. Perc, M. Ghita, D. Bunaciu, A. Stoica, B. Mihaila

The role of age in the spreading of COVID-19 across a social network in Bucharest

Journal of Complex Networks 9 (4) (2021) cnab026

Publication

J. Einsiedler, et al.

Transferable Models to Understand the Impact of Lockdown Measures on Local Air Quality

in: Proceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Urban Computing (UrbCom) (2021)

Publication

V. Chuqiao Yang, M. Galesic, H. McGuinness, A. Harutyunyan

Dynamical system model predicts when social learners impair collective performance

PNAS 118 (35) (2021) e2106292118

Publication

M. Hakkar,et al.

Enhancing rare earth element transfer from phosphate rock to phosphoric acid using an inexpensive fly ash additive

Minerals Engineering 172 (2021) 107166

Publication

Y. Zhang, et al.

Unified treatment of synchronization patterns in generalized networks with higher-order, multilayer, and temporal interactions

Communications Physics 4 (2021) 195

Publication

T. M. Pham, A. C. Alexander, J. Korbel, R. Hanel, S. Thurner

Balance and fragmentation in societies with homophily and social balance

Scientific Reports 11 (2021) 17188

Publication

S. U. Wetzels, et al.

Wolves, dogs and humans in regular contact can mutually impact each other’s skin microbiota

Scientific Reports 11 (2021) 17106

Publication

D. Wolpert, D. Kinney

Noisy Deductive Reasoning: How Humans Construct Math, and How Math Constructs Universes

in: A. Aguirre et al. (eds), Undecidability, Uncomputability and Unpredictability, Springer Cham 2021, 147-167

Publication

M. Serra-Peralta, J. Serrà, Á. Corral

Heaps’ law and vocabulary richness in the history of classical music harmony

EPJ Data Science 10 (2021) 40

Publication

A. Presbitero, V. Melnikov, V. Krzhizkhanovskaya, P. M. A. Sloot

A unifying model to estimate the effect of heat stress in the human innate immunity during physical activities

Scientific Reports 11 (2021) 16688

Publication

A.S. Sunahara, M. Perc, H.V. Ribeiro

Association between productivity and journal impact across disciplines and career age

Physical Review Research 3 (2021) 033158