[RESUMO] In declaring that the science of this century will be complex, Stephen Hawking noted the importance of understanding phenomena resulting from interactions in complex systems, but the decline of this field of research shows that the physicist may have underestimated the factors standing in the way of his prophecy.
Stephen Hawking has declared that the science of this century will be the science of complexity, a prophecy that appears to be confirmed by many signs of enthusiasm. Only in July, this binding Give two great examples.
in the next day Australian philosopher Peter Godfrey Smith gave an interview about the recently released translation of his latest book, metazoa (However), he stressed the need for further research on the hidden “complexity” of animal life.
Two weeks later, the idea was used 14 times in Essay “What would life be like if there was no more nature”, by young zoologist Lauren Holtfrom the Center for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge.
Why do they both use this term? The truth is that, from the immune system to the market, through the brain or the anthill, there is no shortage of phenomena in which self-organized wide networks lead to – through simple operational schemes and without any central control – complex behaviors and information processing. In addition, most of these groups have the capacity to adapt, either by evolution or by learning.
This is perhaps the most succinct answer to the question about what complexity means, but there are many others, which certainly better answer many of the disciplinary concerns.
However, they almost always refer to interactions that lead to nonlinear behavior of complex adaptive systems that, out of equilibrium, can either remain relatively stable or prove capable of generating sudden oscillations, explosive bubbles, crashes, convulsions and collapses.
The big question is whether studies of such interactions are progressing as far as Hawking predicted when he prophesied about what today seems more accurate to call the new science of complexity.
One indicator might be the academic trajectory of John Sterman, director of the Dynamic Systems Group at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and author of the best-selling and award-winning Business Dynamics, already approaching 20,000 quotes in Google Scholar.
There is a clear objective discrepancy between his production before and after the early 2000s that the scholar has abandoned any new effort to theorize about complex systems to devote himself to pedagogical proposals in the context of climate urgency and sustainability. By the way, it is his solution simulator En-ROADSwhich helped a lot in the negotiations of the climate agreement.
It is worth asking whether such a shift in Sterman’s academic career would be a coincidence or an isolated fact. Could such a decline in interest in eventual theoretical advances over complex systems not reflect a broader phenomenon, such as a kind of decline in the “complexity sciences” itself?
Apparently, until 2009 at least, there will be no reason to talk about a decline. That’s when Oxford University Press released an excellent book on the topic of “Complexity: A Guided Tour” by Melanie Award-Winning Computer Scientist Mitchell.
In conclusion, Mitchell highlights many of the limitations that have already emerged since the mid-1990s on the possibility of complex research that generates a unified science. The researcher even records a drastic change in the behavior of students at the Santa Fe Institute, the research center where she works as a teacher: students have become skeptical and questionable, after more than a decade of drunkenness and exhilaration.
The computer scientist, however, asserts her confidence in the project’s future, despite the massive damage it has done since 1995, when Scientific American published a hostile cover story, signed by Science journalist and history science professor John Horgan.
Based on dozens of interviews with leading advocates of complexity research, Horgan was completely baffled by the lack of unity of purpose among the highly speculative projects. His article caused further damage when, in 1996, it was turned into chapter eight of “O Fim da Ciência” (Companhia das Letras).
It is impossible to quantify the extent to which Horgan’s violent attack has wrung the magic of what he called “chapplexiology,” but it certainly did much to make many question whether the new science of complexity was, in fact, moving in the direction of Hawking’s prophecy.
Melanie Mitchell’s excellent and upbeat book emerged precisely in the midst of a full-blown euphoria: in the year following its publication, 2010, it scored a cap in the number of think tanks on the subject (60), spread across the Americas, Europe, China, Japan and Australia. In addition, EU funding for projects related to complexity, which amounted to €100 million, was discontinued in 2015.
Everything indicates a clear decline, which is also confirmed by the fact that many researchers who continue to study complex adaptive systems prefer not to use the term complexity. This process requires a three-way discussion: about the characteristics of the ascent, the reasons for reversing expectations, and the mode of research that perseveres.
Nothing more, nothing less than handing over the book.Histoire et Sociologie des Sciences de la complication’, by young Parisian-Italian professor Fabrizio Le Vigne. A byproduct of his gigantic doctoral thesis, the work was published in 2021 by Éditions Matériologiques and has become an inescapable reference for anyone wanting to examine the potential future of scientific studies on complexity.
What this detailed analytic description confirms is that there is nothing wrong with the metaphor linking the search for complexity with the Tower of Babel, from which some kind of Esperanto does not seem to emanate. This did not prevent Li Vigni from making a proposal to resolve the impasse.
Mapping the work of hundreds of researchers in complex sciences, the author discovered about 20 different species, seven of which make up a plausible “archipelago”. Four celebrities have been dubbed “free electrons” (such as Warren Weaver and Joseph Tinter), and the rest incorporate very outlandish notions of complexity, pervasive in fields such as health, the environment, computing, and mathematics. In the latter, the term ‘complexity’ always receives some hermetic classifier – ‘combined’, ‘cyclomatic’ or ‘communicative’.
Can at least a small part of Hawking’s optimism be preserved in the face of such confusion? The answer, of course, tends to be negative. However, a ray of light appeared at the end of the tunnel in the development of Li Vigni’s historical, social and even ethnographic research, which focused on the influence of the two main poles that promoted the science of complexity.
In addition to the already mentioned and active Instituto Santa Fe (1984-), there is the Parisian Pole, led by Crea (Center for Research in Applied Epistemology, 1982-2012) and, in a certain way, affiliated with the ISC-PIF (Instituto dos Sistemas – Paris Île de France ), was created in 2005.
The influence of these two poles translates today into countless circles of undergraduate researchers who approach the science of complexity without considering it, however, more important than their disciplinary traditions. Something very common in the faculties of physics and mathematics, but also in the life sciences and knowledge. In addition, these researchers interact at thematic conferences, seek crowdfunding and report results in numerous scientific journals.
In such a context, Feigny tells me he encountered a paradox. If, on the one hand, the frontiers of complex sciences are flexible, undetermined and open, on the other hand, their naming shows a unified, recognized and clear identity, although there is undoubtedly a strong tension between the rigidity of the interdisciplinary field and the openness of its epistemological, social and institutional characteristics.
Hence the main proposal of the book is to adopt the concept of the scientific platform, an expression which, however, has already been used in several other meanings, as shown, for example, by Recently created scientific platform Pasteur-USP. This may be an honorable way out of the so-called paradox, but it does not give the slightest sign of the future of complexity science.
In short, it appears that Stephen Hawking may have greatly underestimated the degree of turbulence hostile to the fulfillment of his prophecy.
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