As the Santa Fe Institute is formed in , it becomes the glue to bring these thinkers together and encourage a highly creating and dynamic dialog that Waldrop argues is advancing thinking about complexity much more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. As Waldrop makes clear in his opening pages, the science of complexity is still very new and wide-ranging. Yet Waldrops aim is to establish complexity as an up-andcoming and entirely legitimate new branch of scientific thinking that moves beyond the linear, reductionist approach that has dominated scientific thought since the days of Newton.
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Complexity, the theory goes, manifests itself in complex adaptive systems, which are made up of many independent agents who interact and adapt to each other and to their environment, producing the phenomenon of emergence -- a system behaving as more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps the most compelling evidence that Waldrop can muster of the promise of complexity is the sheer variety of examples of complex adaptive systems, from such diverse fields as economics, physics, computer science and biology.
Waldrops tone is serious, but he retains a sense of balance. He manages to put an optimistic glow on the potential of complexity to address a series of key issues of human existence and the nature of the universe, while still acknowledging that complexity is not yet ready to rewrite all of human scientific thinking. He issues a warning of sorts about the implications of complex systems, poised on the edge of chaos, but he does so without being alarmist. The possibility of dramatic change, analogous to massive extinctions evident in the fossil record, implies that the utility of complexity theory to the human race may be much greater than mere satisfaction of intellectual curiosity.
Economic Complexity… after Thirty-Five Years
If, as many of the thinkers at Santa Fe would argue, complexity theory holds out the possibility of recognizing patterns of behavior of complex systems, just as meteorologists have developed an understanding of various weather patterns, then the resulting knowledge may help the human race achieve its own survival. What is evolving at the Santa Fe Institute is a common language and a framework for thinking about complexity that is enabling experts to establish connections between a multitude of disciplines. In the words of Stuart Kaufman, the very existence of a common framework is reassuring, in the sense that most of the blind men at least seem to have their hands on the same elephant.
Economists thinking beyond equilibrium in the marketplace are finding common ground with biologists deciphering the underlying mechanisms of evolution. The dynamic nature of adaptation and emergence are sometimes reminiscent of chaos, a condition without order or form. Yet what is compelling is that structure and self-organization continue to emerge everywhere one. One of the important insights emerging from complexity theory is the concept of complex systems poised at the edge of chaos in a zone between rigid stability and chaotic turbulence.
Computer modeling has become a mainstay in the search for patterns of complexity, and Waldrop goes into great detail to describe the formulation of several different models, all leading to the same observation of a balance point between order and chaos where complex systems come alive and produce emergent order. Existence of all this order at the edge of chaos would seem to fly in the face of the second law of thermodynamics, which declares an inexorable process of decay from order into chaos.
Waldrop argues that one of the important directions of complexity theory is toward a reformulation of the second law, to take into account the structure and trend toward greater, rather than less, complexity in the universe. Why isnt the universe just a random mess of unrelated particles?
Edge of Chaos – Systems Innovation
How is human consciousness even possible? Some other forces, inherent in the nature of the universe, are at work. Given more time and thought, the many insights that are forming regarding complexity may converge into a real theory which, Waldrop argues, has the potential to shed light on these forces. While the potential of the Santa Fe Institute is still unfolding, a new realm of economics has been established, in large part around the theories postulated by Brian Arthur.
Human agents are not all-knowing and do not always make profit maximizing decisions, nor is the economy always in a frozen state of equilibrium. Complexity theory offers a window into the phenomenon of adaptive behavior of agents and emergent properties, such as the apparent personality of the marketplace.
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