About this topic

The study of complexity has emerged out of a number of analytical trends in the physical and biological sciences in the last century, principally in the fields of computing and computer modelling, cybernetics, dynamical system theory (a branch of classical mechanics which studies the properties and interactions of many-bodied point mass systems), 'organismic' biology (an approach to theoretical biology emphasizing an analytic approach to vitalistic concepts such as teleology) and thermodynamics. In an attempt to provide modern scientific foundations for vitalistic notions such as teleological behaviour, analytic biologists such as Cannon and Sommerhoff proposed analytic or behavioural analyses and definitions of biological notions. Once given a behavioural grounding, these models were able to migrate out of biology, to account for analogical features of non-biological systems: first to the study of machines and control systems in cybernetics, and thence to a wide range of physical and social processes, aided by developments in non-linear dynamics such as dynamical systems theory, the emergence of the statistical sciences, and the development of modern computer modelling. Somewhat surprisingly, there has been little theoretical interaction between complexity theory and continuum mechanics, a part of classical mechanics that also deals with non-linear phenomena (such as elastic collisions or fluid flow), perhaps because complexity theory standardly deals with systems of discrete elements, and not homogenous continua. A consequence is that non-linearity may not be a sufficient characterization of complexity. ‘Complexity’ (a term that can describe behaviour and function equally well as structure) has since become a trans-disciplinary umbrella term that is intended to denote that feature of entities which is claimed to be responsible or to account for such characteristics, in both living and non-living systems. Complexity, as a concept, thereby provides not only analysis, but also (and perhaps more crucially, yet contentiously) a uniform explanation for the structure and behaviour of a very extensive range of phenomena. Philosophical problems associated with complexity include clarifying the meanings of various concepts associated with complexity, such as emergence, non-linearity, feedback, adaptation, and self-organization, and the extent to which these terms can be given scientific meaning, that is, the extent to which these terms can be meaningfully used in the physical sciences themselves. The study of complexity also naturally intersects with more traditional problem areas in the philosophy of the sciences, such as the study of reductionism, modelling, supervenience, functionalism, and causality; however the focus of contemporary philosophy of complexity has largely tended towards the examination of (or in many cases, an attempt at the legitimization of) a scientific grounding of a particular set of approaches to these problem areas. Much of this focus is surely due to the fact that the study of complexity in the twentieth century has largely been driven by scientific practitioners themselves, and not by philosophers or philosophers of science. As such, contemporary complexity theory also makes assumptions about the relationship between scientific and philosophical theories, leading to one of its central problems: its essential ambiguity. Is complexity science a specific branch of physical science (for example, the study of 'complex adaptive systems'); a study of a widespread trans-disciplinary scientific phenomenon (leading to the study of, for example, various broad 'measures of complexity', not to speak of complexity in other divisions of science, including biological and social complexity); or even a general (and allegedly paradigmatic) approach to science itself (the source of many popularizations, and in some cases works bordering on pseudo-science)? This ambiguity (which is reflected in the bibliography) opens up further avenues for exploration, and has implications for the manner in which philosophers should attempt to approach the subject.

Key works Weaver 1948, Simon 1962, and Ashby 1962 are classic early works, generalizing concepts from cybernetics. Buckley 1968 is an early application to sociology and is likely the origin of the concept of a 'Complex Adaptive System', later explored in Holland 1992. Prigogine 1984 explores a model of complexity based on ideas from thermodynamics; Various proposed measures of complexity are explored in Bennett 1988, Lloyd & Pagels 1988 and Gell-Mann 1995. Kauffman 1969 and Bak 1996 are the origins of the influential models of Random Boolean Networks and Self-Organized Criticality, respectively.
Introductions A comprehensive introduction to many of the technical and philosophical issues of complexity can be found in Ladyman et al 2013. Book-length introductions to the diverse areas of research in complexity are Mitchell 2009 and Hooker 2011. Historical context is provided in Abraham 2011 and Francois 1999, as well as Keller 2008 and Keller 2009. There is a paucity of discussion of the subject in a manner that would be familiar to academic philosophers; in addition to Ladyman et al 2013, readers can consult Frigg 2003, Poser 2007Phelan 2001, and, on a more skeptical note, Taborsky 2014
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  1. added 2018-12-23
    Epistemological Implications of Economic Complexity.J. Barkley Rosser Jr - 2004 - Annals of the Japan Association for Philosophy of Science 13 (1):45-57.
  2. added 2018-12-23
    Simple Theories of a Messy World: Truth and Explanatory Power in Nonlinear Dynamics.Alexander Rueger & W. David Sharp - 1996 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 (1):93-112.
    Philosophers like Duhem and Cartwright have argued that there is a tension between laws' abilities to explain and to represent. Abstract laws exemplify the first quality, phenomenological laws the second. This view has both metaphysical and methodological aspects: the world is too complex to be represented by simple theories; supplementing simple theories to make them represent reality blocks their confirmation. We argue that both aspects are incompatible with recent developments in nonlinear dynamics. Confirmation procedures and modelling strategies in nonlinear dynamics (...)
  3. added 2018-12-16
    Systemic Fragility as a Vulnerable World.David Manheim - manuscript
    The possibility of social and technological collapse has been the focus of science fiction tropes for decades, but more recent focus has been on specific sources of existential and global catastrophic risk. Because these scenarios are simple to understand and envision, they receive more attention than risks due to complex interplay of failures, or risks that cannot be clearly specified. In this paper, we discuss a new hypothesis that complexity of a certain type can itself function as a source of (...)
  4. added 2018-08-29
    From the End of Unitary Science Projection to the Causally Complete Complexity Science: Extended Mathematics, Solved Problems, New Organisation and Superior Purposes.Andrei P. Kirilyuk - 2017 - In A. P. Kirilyuk, Theory of Everything, Ultimate Reality and the End of Humanity: Extended Sustainability by the Universal Science of Complexity. Beau Bassin: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing. pp. 199-209.
    The deep crisis in modern fundamental science development is ever more evident and openly recognised now even by mainstream, official science professionals and leaders. By no coincidence, it occurs in parallel to the world civilisation crisis and related global change processes, where the true power of unreduced scientific knowledge is just badly missing as the indispensable and unique tool for the emerging greater problem solution and further progress at a superior level of complex world dynamics. Here we reveal the mathematically (...)
  5. added 2018-06-07
    A Unified Cognitive Model of Visual Filling-In Based on an Emergic Network Architecture.David Pierre Leibovitz - 2013 - Dissertation, Carleton University
    The Emergic Cognitive Model (ECM) is a unified computational model of visual filling-in based on the Emergic Network architecture. The Emergic Network was designed to help realize systems undergoing continuous change. In this thesis, eight different filling-in phenomena are demonstrated under a regime of continuous eye movement (and under static eye conditions as well). -/- ECM indirectly demonstrates the power of unification inherent with Emergic Networks when cognition is decomposed according to finer-grained functions supporting change. These can interact to raise (...)
  6. added 2018-06-01
    Complex Systems Approach to the Hard Problem of Consciousness.Sahana Rajan - manuscript
    Consciousness has been the bone of contention for philosophers throughout centuries. Indian philosophy largely adopted lived experience as the starting point for its explorations of consciousness. For this reason, from the very beginning, experience was an integral way of grasping consciousness, whose validity as a tool was considered self-evident. Thus, in Indian philosophy, the question was not to move from the brain to mind but to understand experience of an individual and how such an experience is determined through mental structures (...)
  7. added 2018-05-26
    Non-Linearity in Complexity Science.R. S. MacKay - 2008 - Nonlinearity 21 (12):T273-T281.
  8. added 2018-05-22
    Unified Complex-Dynamical Theory of Financial, Economic, and Social Risks and Their Efficient Management: Reason-Based Governance for Sustainable Development.Andrei P. Kirilyuk - 2017 - In A. P. Kirilyuk, Theory of Everything, Ultimate Reality and the End of Humanity: Extended Sustainability by the Universal Science of Complexity. Beau Bassin: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing. pp. 194-199.
    An extended analysis compared to observations shows that modern “globalised” world civilisation has passed through the invisible “complexity threshold”, after which usual “spontaneous”, empirically driven kind of development (“invisible hand” etc.) cannot continue any more without major destructive tendencies. A much deeper, non-simplified understanding of real interaction complexity is necessary in order to cope with such globalised world development problems. Here we introduce the universal definition, fundamental origin, and dynamic equations for a major related quantity of (systemic) risk characterising real (...)
  9. added 2018-04-11
    Mind the Physics: Physics of Mind.Andrew And Alexander Fingelkurts - 2018 - Physics of Life Reviews 25:75-77.
    The target paper of Schoeller, Perlovsky, and Arseniev is an essential and timely contribution to a current shift of focus in neuroscience aiming to merge neurophysiological, psychological and physical principles in order to build the foundation for the physics of mind. Extending on previous work of Perlovsky et al. and Badre, the authors of the target paper present interesting mathematical models of several basic principles of the physics of mind, such as perception and cognition, concepts and emotions, instincts and learning. (...)
  10. added 2018-02-22
    Objective Fundamental Reality Structure by the Unreduced Complexity Development.Andrei P. Kirilyuk - 2018 - FQXi Essay Contest 2017-2018 “What Is “Fundamental””.
    We explain why exactly the simplified abstract scheme of reality within the standard science paradigm cannot provide the consistent picture of “truly fundamental” reality and how the unreduced, causally complete description of the latter is regained within the extended, provably complete solution to arbitrary interaction problem and the ensuing concept of universal dynamic complexity. We emphasize the practical importance of this extension for both particular problem solution and further, now basically unlimited fundamental science development (otherwise dangerously stagnating within its traditional (...)
  11. added 2018-02-18
    Self-Organised Criticality—What It is and What It Isn’T.Roman Frigg - 2003 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 34 (3):613-632.
    The last decade and a half has seen an ardent development of self-organised criticality, a new approach to complex systems, which has become important in many domains of natural as well as social science, such as geology, biology, astronomy, and economics, to mention just a few. This has led many to adopt a generalist stance towards SOC, which is now repeatedly claimed to be a universal theory of complex behaviour. The aim of this paper is twofold. First, I provide a (...)
  12. added 2018-02-17
    Complexity-Based Theories of Emergence: Criticisms and Constraints.Kari Theurer - 2014 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 28 (3):277-301.
    In recent years, many philosophers of science have attempted to articulate a theory of non-epistemic emergence that is compatible with mechanistic explanation and incompatible with reductionism. The 2005 account of Fred C. Boogerd et al. has been particularly influential. They argued that a systemic property was emergent if it could not be predicted from the behaviour of less complex systems. Here, I argue that Boogerd et al.'s attempt to ground emergence in complexity guarantees that we will see emergence, but at (...)
  13. added 2018-02-17
    Complexity: Metaphors, Models, and Reality.G. Cowan, D. Pines & D. Elliott Meltzer (eds.) - 1994 - Perseus Books.
  14. added 2018-02-16
    Emergence or Reduction?: Essays on the Prospects of Nonreductive Physicalism.Ansgar Beckermann, Hans Flohr & Jaegwon Kim - 1992 - International Phenomenological Society.
    Introduction — Reductive and Nonreductive Physicalism A Short Survey of Six Decades of Philosophical Discussion Including an Attempt to Formulate a Version ...
  15. added 2018-02-14
    Theory of Everything, Ultimate Reality and the End of Humanity: Extended Sustainability by the Universal Science of Complexity.Andrei P. Kirilyuk - 2017 - Beau Bassin: LAP LAMBERT Academic Publishing.
    Instead of postulated fixed structures and abstract principles of usual positivistic science, the unreduced diversity of living world reality is consistently derived as dynamically emerging results of unreduced interaction process development, starting from its simplest configuration of two coupled homogeneous protofields. The dynamically multivalued, or complex and intrinsically chaotic, nature of these real interaction results extends dramatically the artificially reduced, dynamically single-valued projection of standard theory and solves its stagnating old and accumulating new problems, “mysteries” and “paradoxes” within the unified (...)
  16. added 2018-01-18
    Remarks on the Geometry of Complex Systems and Self-Organization.Luciano Boi - 2012 - In Vincenzo Fano, Enrico Giannetto, Giulia Giannini & Pierluigi Graziani (eds.), Complessità e Riduzionismo. © ISONOMIA – Epistemologica, University of Urbino. pp. 28-43.
    Let us start by some general definitions of the concept of complexity. We take a complex system to be one composed by a large number of parts, and whose properties are not fully explained by an understanding of its components parts. Studies of complex systems recognized the importance of “wholeness”, defined as problems of organization (and of regulation), phenomena non resolvable into local events, dynamics interactions in the difference of behaviour of parts when isolated or in higher configuration, etc., in (...)
  17. added 2018-01-18
    The Physics of Complex Systems: Proceedings of the International School of Physics ≪≪Enrico Fermi≫≫: Course Cxxxiv: Varenna on Lake Como, Villa Monastero, 9-19 July 1996.F. Mallamace & H. Eugene Stanley (eds.) - 1997 - Ios Press.
  18. added 2017-12-12
    The Rise and Fall of Thermodynamic Complexity and the Arrow of Time.A. D. Kirwan & William Seitz - 2017 - In A. Tsonis (ed.), Advances in Nonlinear Geosciences. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. pp. 225-236.
  19. added 2017-12-06
    The Evolution of Complexity.Mark Bedau - 2009 - In Anouk Barberousse, M. Morange & T. Pradeau (eds.), Mapping the Future of Biology. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol 266. Dordrecht: Springer.
  20. added 2017-12-04
    A New Definition of Complexity in a Risk Analysis Setting.A. Jensen & T. Aven - 2018 - Reliability Engineering and System Safety 171:169-173.
  21. added 2017-12-04
    Dynamics of Complex Systems.Yaneer Bar-Yam - 1997 - Boston: Addison-Wesley.
  22. added 2017-11-26
    The Unexplained Intellect: Complexity, Time, and the Metaphysics of Embodied Thought.Christopher Mole - 2016 - Routledge.
    The relationship between intelligent systems and their environment is at the forefront of research in cognitive science. The Unexplained Intellect: Complexity, Time, and the Metaphysics of Embodied Thought shows how computational complexity theory and analytic metaphysics can together illuminate long-standing questions about the importance of that relationship. It argues that the most basic facts about a mind cannot just be facts about mental states, but must include facts about the dynamic, interactive mental occurrences that take place when a creature encounters (...)
  23. added 2017-08-21
    Introduction to the Physics of Complex Systems: The Mesoscopic Approach to Fluctuations, Non Linearity, and Self-Organization.Roberto Serra (ed.) - 1986 - Pergamon Press.
  24. added 2017-07-01
    Life as an Emergent Phenomenon: From an Alternative to Vitalism to an Alternative to Reductionism.Christophe Malaterre - 2013 - In S. Normandin & C. T. Wolfe (ed.), Vitalism and the Scientific Image in Post-Enlightenment Life Science, 1800-2010. Dordrecht: Springer Science+Business Media. pp. 155-178.
  25. added 2017-07-01
    Are Self-Organizing Biochemical Networks Emergent?Christophe Malaterre - 2009 - In Maryvonne Gérin & Marie-Christine Maurel (eds.), Origins of Life: Self-Organization and/or Biological Evolution? EDP Sciences. pp. 117--123.
    Biochemical networks are often called upon to illustrate emergent properties of living systems. In this contribution, I question such emergentist claims by means of theoretical work on genetic regulatory models and random Boolean networks. If the existence of a critical connectivity Kc of such networks has often been coined “emergent” or “irreducible”, I propose on the contrary that the existence of a critical connectivity Kc is indeed mathematically explainable in network theory. This conclusion also applies to many other types of (...)
  26. added 2017-07-01
    Complex Systems From the Perspective of Category Theory: II. Covering Systems and Sheaves. [REVIEW]Elias Zafiris - 2005 - Axiomathes 15 (2):181-190.
    Using the concept of adjunction, for the comprehension of the structure of a complex system, developed in Part I, we introduce the notion of covering systems consisting of partially or locally defined adequately understood objects. This notion incorporates the necessary and sufficient conditions for a sheaf theoretical representation of the informational content included in the structure of a complex system in terms of localization systems. Furthermore, it accommodates a formulation of an invariance property of information communication concerning the analysis of (...)
  27. added 2017-07-01
    Complex Systems From the Perspective of Category Theory: I. Functioning of the Adjunction Concept. [REVIEW]Elias Zafiris - 2003 - Axiomathes 15 (1):147-158.
    We develop a category theoretical scheme for the comprehension of the information structure associated with a complex system, in terms of families of partial or local information carriers. The scheme is based on the existence of a categorical adjunction, that provides a theoretical platform for the descriptive analysis of the complex system as a process of functorial information communication.
  28. added 2017-07-01
    Weak Emergence.Mark A. Bedau - 1997 - Philosophical Perspectives 11 (s11):375-399.
    An innocent form of emergence—what I call "weak emergence"—is now a commonplace in a thriving interdisciplinary nexus of scientific activity—sometimes called the "sciences of complexity"—that include connectionist modelling, non-linear dynamics (popularly known as "chaos" theory), and artificial life.1 After defining it, illustrating it in two contexts, and reviewing the available evidence, I conclude that the scientific and philosophical prospects for weak emergence are bright.
  29. added 2017-07-01
    Emergence -- A Systematic Look at its Historical Facets.Achim Stephan - 1992 - In Ansgar Beckermann, Hans Flohr & Jaegwon Kim (eds.), Emergence or Reduction?: Prospects for Nonreductive Physicalism. De Gruyter.
  30. added 2017-07-01
    Understanding Complexity.Bernd-Olaf Kuppers - 1992 - In H. Flohr A. Beckermann (ed.), Emergence or Reduction?: Essays on the prospects of non-reductive physicalism. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 241-256.
  31. added 2017-02-15
    Evolution, Adaptive Systems, and Humanism.Robert Finch - 2000 - Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism 8.
  32. added 2017-02-14
    Cellular Automata (Abstract and Discussion): Complex Nonadaptive Systems.Erica Jen - forthcoming - Complexity.
  33. added 2017-02-14
    Nanotechnoscience and Complex Systems: The Case for Nanology.Geoffrey Hunt - unknown
  34. added 2017-02-14
    Three Generations of Complexity Theories: An Orienting History for Disorienting Contributions.M. Alhadeff-Jones - 2006 - Educational Philosophy and Theory 39 (7).
  35. added 2017-02-14
    The Significance of Complexity.Taede A. Smedes - 2004 - Ars Disputandi 4.
  36. added 2017-02-14
    Synergetics and Biology.M. I. Shterenberg - 2004 - Russian Studies in Philosophy 43 (2):75-96.
  37. added 2017-02-14
    Editorial: Networks and Complexity.D. R. White - 2002 - Complexity 8 (1):14-14.
  38. added 2017-02-14
    Self-Organized Criticality: A Holistic View of Nature.Per Bak - 1999 - In G. A. Cowan, D. Pines & David Elliott Meltzer (eds.), Complexity. Cambridge, MA: Perseus. pp. 477-496.
  39. added 2017-02-14
    Special Issue: A Review of Complexity Books. [REVIEW]S. Maquire & Bill McKelvey - 1999 - Emergence: Complexity and Organization 1 (2).
  40. added 2017-02-13
    Turing Systems: A General Model for Complex Patterns in Nature.R. A. Barrio - 2008 - In World Scientific (ed.), Physics of Emergence and Organization. pp. 267.
  41. added 2017-02-13
    A General Theory of Complex Living Systems: Exploring the Demand Side of Dynamics.Graeme Donald Snooks - 2008 - Complexity 13 (6):12-20.
  42. added 2017-02-13
    The Science of Complexity: Epistemological Problems and Perspectives.Giorgio Israel - 2005 - Science in Context 18 (3):479.
  43. added 2017-02-13
    The Diversity of Complexity.Carl Schlichting - 2004 - In Massimo Pigliucci & Katherine Preston (eds.), Phenotypic Integration: Studying the Ecology and Evolution of Complex Phenotypes. Oxford University Press. pp. 3.
  44. added 2017-02-13
    The Hierarchic Logic of Emergence: Untangling the Interdependence of Evolution and Self-Organization.Terrence W. Deacon - 2003 - In Bruce H. Weber & David J. Depew (eds.), Evolution and Learning: The Baldwin Effect Reconsidered. MIT Press. pp. 273--308.
  45. added 2017-02-13
    Life-Like Self-Reproducers.Eleonora Bilotta, Antonio Lafusa & Pietro Pantano - 2003 - Complexity 9 (1):38-55.
  46. added 2017-02-13
    Networks and Complexity.D. R. White - 2002 - Complexity 8 (1):14-14.
  47. added 2017-02-13
    On the Challenge of Developing a Formal Mathematical Theory for Establishing Emergence in Complex Systems.Daniel Solow - 2000 - Complexity 6 (1):49-52.
  48. added 2017-02-13
    Planigon Tessellation Cellular Automata.Alexander Korobov - 1999 - Complexity 4 (6):31-38.
  49. added 2017-02-13
    How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality.David M. Raup - 1997 - Complexity 2 (6):30-33.
  50. added 2017-02-13
    Descartes Revisited:The Endo-Exo-Distinction and its Relevance for the Study of Complex Systems.Harald Atmanspacher, Gerda Wiedenmann & Anton Amann - 1995 - Complexity 1 (3):15-21.
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