Understanding observed complex systems – the hard complexity problem

bruce@edmonds.name http://bruce.edmonds.name Abstract. Two kinds of problem are distinguished: the first of finding processes which produce complex outcomes from the interaction of simple parts, and the second of finding which process resulted in an observed complex outcome. The former I call the easy complexity problem and the later the hard complexity problem. It is often assumed that progress with the easy problem will aid process with the hard problem. However this assumes that the “reverse engineering” problem, of determining the process from the outcomes is feasible. Taking a couple of simple models of reverse engineering, I show that this task is infeasible in the general case. Hence it cannot be assumed that reverse engineering is possible, and hence that most of the time progress on the easy problem will not help with the hard problem unless there are special properties of a particular set of processes that make it feasible. Assuming that complexity science is not merely an academic “game” and given the analysis of this paper, some criteria for the kinds of paper that have a reasonable chance of being eventually useful for understanding observed complex systems are outlined. Many complexity papers do not fare well against these critieria.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 39,545
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
42 ( #177,091 of 2,325,427 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #922,770 of 2,325,427 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature