Complex Systems Summer School 2017-Viniegra Essay

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Complex Systems Summer School 2017

Why I decided to spend a month away from home with dozens of complexity scientists?

The question resonated on my head on the flight on route to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I can´t really remember when I started to show interest in big ticket questions such as: What is the universe? What is the purpose of humans? Where is civilization moving towards? Etc. It seems that this type of questions have accompanied me since a young age and many of them simply have no answer, and would probably remain the same after attending Santa Fe’s Institute Complexity Summer School 2017.

After spending a lifetime learning, thinking and working on some of these issues, the only thing that came to mind was that most of what I’ve had learned, up to that flight, could be reduced to some very simple statements. Even though cosmologists say through the cosmological principle that the universe is isomorphic and homogeneous (or boring), meaning that it looks the same regardless of the position where you look from and, that the matter and the energy that conforms it is uniformly distributed. It is also true that apart from macroscopic distribution of energy and matter, in reality the universe is much more interesting. First of all, it isn’t a unitary entity, it has several laws that govern it. Two of the many principles that result out of these laws can be formulated as follows:

1. The universe is heterogeneous. It is made from many different types of things: elemental particles, atoms, forces, molecules, etc. &;

2. The universe is interactive. Given its laws, its components can interact and from these interactions (called systems) new things arise.

So, apart from the study of the fundamental laws, we can either focus our attention on the inert and homogenous part of the universe, that’s quite boring, or we can center our attention on the business part of the cosmos, and this means, understanding how systems are created, work and are transformed. This is nothing new, for millennia we’ve been captivated by the inner workings of systems, but being such an immense field of research, we have also chosen to break its study into small bitesize portions, that traditionally have been labeled as specific sciences: chemistry, astronomy, biology, and even the social sciences.

As centuries have passed, knowledge has accumulated and scientists, thinkers, technologists and yes, even a few physicists, have learned that different systems share commonalities. Knowledge of these commonalties (shared interactions or system arrangements) are very important because they reduce the difficulty of the intractable questions and in the end, demonstrate that the fundamental laws truly govern it all. Given that most of our knowledge has been coded through different scientific points of view, the systems’ interactions that we have studied, throughout the history of science, are still very narrow.

However, in recent decades things have been moving in a different direction, one where systems and the complex interactions created by them, has allowed scientists to break away from label specific science areas, into a more holistic, open and systems based paradigm called complexity science. Thus, there laid the answer, I was moving for a month to live among a diverse community of complexity scientists, because the interesting answers relate directly to our understanding of systems, their complicated and complex interactions, linked to the results they produce and that we either love, all that is dear and beautiful to us, or that become the source of all of our problems and tragedies.

2017 CSSS - Carlos Viniegra