Authors
John Collier
University of KwaZulu-Natal
Abstract
Complex systems are dynamic and may show high levels of variability in both space and time. It is often difficult to decide on what constitutes a given complex system, i.e., where system boundaries should be set, and what amounts to substantial change within the system. We discuss two central themes: the nature of system definitions and their ability to cope with change, and the importance of system definitions for the mental metamodels that we use to describe and order ideas about system change. Systems can only be considered as single study units if they retain their identity. Previous system definitions have largely ignored the need for both spatial and temporal continuity as essential attributes of identity. After considering the philosophical issues surrounding identity and system definitions, we examine their application to modeling studies. We outline a set of five alternative metamodels that capture a range of the basic dynamics of complex systems. Although Holling’s adaptive cycle is a compelling and widely applicable metamodel that fits many complex systems, there are systems that do not necessarily follow the adaptive cycle. We propose that more careful consideration of system definitions and alternative metamodels for complex systems will lead to greater conceptual clarity in the field and, ultimately, to more rigorous research.
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References found in this work BETA

A Matter of Individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
Are Species Really Individuals?David L. Hull - 1976 - Systematic Zoology 25:174-191.
Identity and Spatio-Temporal Continuity.David Wiggins - 1967 - Philosophy 43 (165):298-299.

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Citations of this work BETA

Structural Modeling Error and the System Individuation Problem.Jon Lawhead - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
Is Resilience a Normative Concept?Henrik Thorén & Lennart Olsson - 2018 - Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses 2 (6):112-128.

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