Introduction To Complexity


This week we're going to get introduced to the concept of complexity. We are also going to consider the concept of emergent behavior —- what it is and how it comes to be.


Be sure to refer to the questions below while you are reading; be prepared to discuss them in class. Everyone should read the following:

  1. "Complexity: The bigger picture", by Tamas Vicsek, Nature, 418:131, July 11, 2002.
  2. "Why do things become more complex?", by W. Brian Arthur, Scientific American, page 144, May 1993.
  3. Preface to the Computational Beauty of Nature, by Gary William Flake. A Bradford Book, 1998.
  4. What is complexity?" by Murray Gell-Mann, Complexity, 1:16-19, 1995. (More information about Gell-Mann at wikipedia.)
  5. "Adapting to complexity" by Russell Ruthen, Scientific American, 130-140, January 1993.
  6. "Self-organized criticality" by Per Bak and Kan Chan, Scientific American, 46-53, January 1991.

Questions to consider

The questions below are meant to get you started in thinking about the above articles. You should prepare notes (for yourself) for class discussion (for this Thurs/Fri). I want us to have an informed discussion during this first class. In later classes we will also have formal presentations; however, in this one I simply want to have a discussion.

  1. What is complexity? Is this an accepted definition? Is it easily determined if a situation is complex?
  2. Why does it occur? Does it occur often? What does it have to do with research in business or information systems?
  3. Have you come across any situations in your readings (for other classes, seminars, or in your research) that have an element of complexity? Describe.

Don't let the above limit your thoughts on these articles. Understand the points of each article. Do they conflict with each other? Complement each other?

Other resources

Questions about this class

  • So, let's come up with our own definition of complexity. Phrase it in the form of the beginning of an answer to the question: "I see your taking that PhD class in the BIT department. What's it about?" You have no more than 30 seconds to tell him or her what complexity is (the first time around), and then they ask "What do you mean by that?" and you get a chance to elaborate.
  • Another question you might get is “Why are you taking this class? What does it have to do with research in IT?”
  • Go to the Elevator Pitch page on the wiki and enter your answer.
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