Recent years have seen the introduction of concepts from the new and exciting field of complexity science. These concepts -- including tipping points (moments when unique phenomena become commonplace) and emergence (the idea that new structures can emerge unexpectedly from complex systems) -- have captivated the attention of economists, sociologists, engineers, business people, and many others.
Interest in these intriguing concepts is widespread because of the utility of this field. Complexity science can shed light on why businesses or economies succeed and fail, how epidemics spread and can be stopped, and what causes ecological systems to rebalance themselves after a disaster.
In fact, complexity science is a discipline that may well hold the key to unlocking the secrets of some of the most important forces on Earth. But it's also a science that remains largely unknown, even among well-educated people.
Now you can discover and grasp the fundamentals and applications of this amazing field with Understanding Complexity. Professor Scott E. Page—one of the field's most highly regarded teachers, researchers, and real-world practitioners—introduces you to this vibrant and still evolving discipline. In 12 lucid lectures, you learn how complexity science helps us understand the nature and behavior of systems formed of financial markets, corporations, native cultures, governments, and more.
What Makes a System Complex?
What defines a system as complex, as opposed to being merely "complicated"? The answer lies in the presence of four factors:
- A population of diverse agents, all of which are
- Connected, with behaviors and actions that are
- Interdependent, and that exhibit
Understanding Complexity is filled with insights not only into the systems around you, but into yourself as well. For example, you discover how your own consciousness is perhaps the ultimate example of a complex system, as billions of neurons coalesce and communicate to create the mystery of awareness.
Similarly, your own local city is another pointed example of a complex system, with its storefronts, trash collection schedules, police activity, and more that organize themselves into the patterns and rhythms that make life in your particular area entirely different from life in another. Then there are the financial markets, business sectors, global regions, ecological and climatic systems, and more—all complex systems that you work with or are affected by daily.
Understanding these and other complex systems is important for several reasons:
- They're often unpredictable.
- They sometimes produce events with global ramifications.
- They're remarkably robust and can withstand substantial trauma and variation.
Most important, however, are the stakes, which, in a modern world so interconnected that the links between systems are often invisible, are far different from what they once were. Our social, economic, and political worlds are more complex than they were years ago, and they may become too complex for us to understand unless we develop new ways of seeing and thinking about them.
"From a pragmatic perspective, we have no choice but to take an interest in complexity," notes Professor Page at the start of the course. "Like it or not, we live in complex times, and there is little or no sign of the complexity abating."
Discover New Tools for Understanding
While modern decision-making theory has long been the "canonical" tool for guiding choices in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors, complexity science takes it a step further and provides us with a useful model for understanding and determining what to do in these complex systems. Understanding Complexity shows you how the ideas and tools made possible by complexity science—such as agent-based computer modeling, which builds a complex system for individual agents—can effectively take on those problems that decision-making theory cannot.
In one of the many illuminating examples Professor Page uses throughout the course, he reveals how such a model showed architects how a change in the shape of a ballroom with its doors on two opposite walls—from a square to a long rectangle with the doors on two opposite walls—made it much less likely that people fleeing a fire would jam the doorways. The narrower shape encouraged people to approach the doors straight-on instead of at a sharp angle.
Learn a New Way to See the World
Professor Page maintains an active involvement with the Santa Fe Institute, the interdisciplinary think tank recognized as the nerve center of complexity theory research, and his depth of knowledge in, and passion for, complexity science shines through in each of these 12 lectures.
Designed to be both a comprehensive and accessible gateway into the world of complexity science, the course features nearly 40 two- and three-dimensional computer graphics and a variety of highly illustrative thought experiments—to say nothing of the teaching skills that have earned Professor Page several awards and a career as a national speaker.
By the conclusion of Understanding Complexity, you'll have attained a new lens through which to better view, understand, and make sense of your world. While the systems you explore in this course will continue to remain complex, the science behind them will attain a startling new level of clarity.