"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking
we used when we created them."
- Albert Einstein
We need a new problem-solving approach to the many complex and unprecedented problems of today, namely the threat to the planetary systems that provide life on earth for human and more-than-human species, to help humans envision a more just and equitable future for people and the planet.
Complexity Science (the principles it offers to understand the world), is the appropriate tool to address the wicked problems all species on planet earth face right now.
What is Complexity Science?
It is the study of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), defined as any system with many different components that interact with each other and evolve over time. A good way to characterize this idea is to understand that in a CAS “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
A Few Examples of Complex Systems Include:
As the connectivity of the world increases, past experience and trend analysis is not a good problem-solving method to meet the challenge of future risks. For example, strategic solutions to manage the twin risks coming from biodiversity loss and global warming are often formulated separately, even though they are dependent on one another and risk failure if pursued in isolation.
When we say that the world is increasingly networked or connected, we are implicitly saying that it is complex. A basic understanding of complex systems can help us go from feeling paralyzed by the unraveling of our ability to control what’s happening from the world outside. It provides a new way of understanding the problem of the invisible or unknowable that we can’t control and helps us begin to solve the challenges that lie ahead. We're all familiar with the idea of using the right tool for the job. When your job is to understand a Complex Adaptive System, we believe that Complexity Science is that tool.
Complex Adaptive Systems usually involve living organisms. They feature many connected and interdependent elements that have the capacity to change, and the ability to learn from experience.
Linear scientific methods seek to fully understand each individual element of the system, and the cause and effect relationship between the elements. If you're trying to understand a more mechanical, non-living system, these methods work nicely. For example, if you want to understand how and why a clock works, you would go with the linear scientific method.
Non-linear scientific methods also seek to understand the individual elements of a system, but in addition, they examine patterns of relationships, how they are sustained, how they self-organize, and how outcomes emerge. If you're trying to understand how and why societies, financial markets, or biological systems function, the non-linear approach is necessary.
Properties of Complex Adaptive Systems Relevant to Social Systems
This new science is a science of collective behavior that is full of surprising dynamics, as human and natural systems co-evolve in a mutual search for renewal and balance.
Below are a few examples of some of the properties that underlie the theory of Complex Adaptive Systems science that are especially helpful in problem-solving in complex adaptive social systems.