Talk:Complex system

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The original intention of this article[edit]

When I originally wrote this, I framed the whole thing with an emphasis on non-linear dynamics. This seems to have been removed, but at a later state some kind of half educated twaddle about "chaos theory" ( which is a subset of non-linear dynamics) has been chucked in by someone who has only half an idea what they are going on about. The section even contradicts itself.

All very frustrating. I'd advise people to use scholarpedia instead. I know I will.

Duracell 10:44, 21 August 2007 (UTC)

What I don't understand is when you wanted to write an article about non-linear dynamics, why didn't you call it that way?
Allready on 6 March 2004 the user:Waltpohl made a REDIRECT from 'Nonlinear dynamics' to 'Chaos theory'. It's a bit late to complain about that three years later?
Since this article is called complex systems people have been writing about this. I think everybody, even the experts have only half an idea what this is about. So I refrased the title.
The wikipedia article non-linear dynamics is now a redirect. It's seems like a small step to collect you original ideas and make it to an own article non-linear dynamics. Good luck - Mdd 11:13, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
The point is that complex systems are described by predictive models that use the maths of non-linear dynamics. Non-linear dynamics itself is not synonymous with complex systems, but it is crucial to their understanding. And not just in describing the components themselves and their interactions; equations can be derived that explain changes in "emergent" properties without reference to the microstates that cause them. That is what makes the study of complex systems a definable discipline.
There is already a not-bad-looking article on non-linear dynamics (though I just skimmed over it) dynamical system. It is *that* body of work that needs to be refactored into this one, so that there is a proper link between theory and application.
also, this: is what the article here should look like.
Duracell 19:14, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
I kind of agree with you about non-linear dynamics, but I would only suggest that when it comes to complex systems, there's a good case that can be made that these systems cannot be modelled very well, let alone predicted... (perhaps that's not what you implied) --Childhood's End 19:36, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
I'm glad you "kind of agree". The extent to which they can be modeled is the extent to which they can be *understood*. The rest is hand waving. It's not science. A model is just a formal explanation. And complex systems *can* be predicted, at least to some extent. I'm not sure why you think a prediction is one step up from a model (".. let alone predicted"). Some models cannot be predicted in practice, although they are in principle predictable, because they are deterministic (e.g. "chaos" in dynamical systems of >=3 dimensions). Still that might be clouding the issue; models are usually used for prediction. But we can talk about levels of prediction. Can I predict the weather in Accra next year? Well, I cannot predict where all the individual air or water molecules will be (micro-level). I can't predict where individual weather systems will be (meso-level) but I *can* predict that it will be very hot (macro-level). This macro-level description is a bit trivial. The point in complex systems is that we are trying to make meso-level predictions, but not micro. and those predictions might involve, e.g. phase transitions which are modelled (amazingly well) by bifurcations in non-linear systems.
In respect of all this, I think anyone who wants to chip in on this should read the scholarpedia article (which is *peer* *reviewed*!!!!) I referenced above and look at the bibliography there. Actually, if scholarpedia is GPLed we should probably just copy that article in here (when it is out of review of course)
Duracell 21:00, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
turns out scholarpedia is copyright, so that a print version can be published. But a good place to start nonetheless. Duracell 21:03, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
I made some inquiries here and there... and first some findings:
  • You said here When I originally wrote this..., I guess you refer to the rewritting you did between 13 and 18 september 2005. After this makeover [1] the article kind of got his current form.
  • In the comment you gave 13 september 2005 on this talk page [2], you also stated. "Complexity" is a buzzword at the moment, and unfortunately many are confused over what is entailed.
  • Now the scholarpedia article you mentioned introduces complex systems as a "paradigm" (a set of common beliefs & fundaments shared in the group of scientists), further jumps from complexity research to aspects of complex systems.
  • ... and in your comment here you focuss very closely to those "complex systems (that can be) are described by predictive models that use the maths of non-linear dynamics"
  • Now I myselve have mentioned in this last talk item here, that a better organization is needed between the articles Complexity, Complexity theory, Complexity theory and organizations, Complex adaptive system and this Complex system.
Now in these five findings I see a common underlaying problem, that the buzzword "complex system" is not unraveled. The term "complex systems" has at least three meanings:
  • A specific kind of system
  • A field of science studying these systems
  • A paragdigm, that complex systems have to be studied with non-linear dynamics
The biggest problem (in my opinion) with the current article is, that I speaks of all these three meanings. I think it would be much better, if those three meanings would be explained in three different articles... Or at least in different sections, with a clear overview. - Mdd 21:04, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
These are good points, well met. But I think it should remain a single article and here's why: What is happening in the field right now is that complex systems has turned into an important branch of physics. The paradigm is best exemplified by Haken and Prigogine. Let's say you wanted to do an article on "massive things". Would you argue that it should be split into three articles? 1) things that are massive. 2) the field that studies them (physics) and 3) a paradigm (e.g. newton's, or aristotle's)? That would seem odd. Why? Well, the theories of Newton and Einstein kind of *define* massive things. I'd argue that, at this point, we're getting there in terms of defining complex systems. It's not *only* about non-linear math - but in large part it is the link between that math and the phenomena. The math can describe the behavior of emergent phenomena! that is an amazing thing. And it can derive those dynamics from the micro-level structures below. It's very cool. But it's not just the math - the math is there to describe physical phenomena - specifically, self organization (== emergance). What I'm saying is I'm not sure how you could write a *good* article that talked about these system without bringing in the physical/mathematically based theories of what they are. It would be hand waving - and it's not even necessary. Moreover, I'm not sure that the "field" and the "paradigm" are separate. I think they are the same thing at this point.
Duracell 21:31, 21 August 2007 (UTC)
Thanks for this feed back. I agree with your last remark. But I do believe that the current article has to be split in two... for the same reason there is a separate system and systems theory article. You have said it yourselve: This article has become a mess. To avoid this a more solid ground has to be shapen.
I've been working rather intens in this field lately. And much of the work I do is creating the (article) space in such a way that others can further contribute. I wikify a lot and bring articles up to one standard lay out. But in between I'm trying to thinking a lot about the obvious. I ask myselve the question: What is the first thing people need to know to get a little understanding about the subject? That should be a basic element of any article. The next question is: In what sequence, does those people should be further introduced into this subject matter?. That is one of my mayor concerns.
Now I have experiences more then a dozend times, that splitting the object of study from the study in seperate articles clearifies and creates space. I believe you also want to do something about it. Why not give it a try? - Mdd 21:56, 21 August 2007 (UTC)

A new design in two seperate articles[edit]

I have made a first draft for a separate article about complex system, see User:Mdd/Complex system. This gives a first impression on what I intend to do. Of cause a second article about complex systems theory is missing, but this will contain all the information from the current article which is not in the new complex systems article. - Mdd 23:25, 21 August 2007 (UTC)

I just can't see what an article on complex systems that ommitted all theory would have to offer - it might even stoke the fires of confusion in that it would just be a list of "complicated things", which is not the same as a complex system. Morevoer, the scholarpedia article is an excellent introduction. At the moment I'm busy researching the brain as a complex system, for my PhD in "complex systems", and if I took time to write something as I did in 2005, I reckon it would just end up deleted. Duracell 01:46, 22 August 2007 (UTC)

I have recreated the second article User:Mdd/Complex system (study). And I think I am going to implement this sone. I'm not so sure any more that the scholarpedia article is an excellent introduction... of complex systems. It's probably an excellent introduction of complexity. But since when are complexity and complex systems one and the same thing? I think that if you name an article complex system and then write about complexity... you don't make a contribution to society. It mistifies instead of clearifies things. - Mdd 13:32, 22 August 2007 (UTC)

Both these terms have multiple meanings in the English language. But as far as technical, scientific meanings go, "complexity" and "complex system" are so close in meaning that they are effectively the same thing. All complex systems exhibit complexity. All things that exhibit complexity are complex systems. Duracell 16:14, 22 August 2007 (UTC)

Thanks for this explaination. I have just recreated the complexity article, and I have come to the point that I have three designs:

Now I'm trying to compare these with scholarpedia article!? That article on first hand is far more impressive then the three (what you already called) listings. I have faith however that the three related article can and will also grow.

It remains clear to me that something has to been done with the current situation... If you have no really big objections I like to give it a try to split this article in two. - Mdd 17:30, 22 August 2007 (UTC)

I'll just implement it. Then people can really see what happens and respond anyway. - Mdd 18:55, 22 August 2007 (UTC)

I made one more step. I changed the articles name complex systems (study) into complex systems. - Mdd 19:21, 22 August 2007 (UTC)

The Concept[edit]

The main reason for so many misunderstandings about complex systems and complexity theory are ambiguous and overcomplicated explanations. People seem to think that words “complexity” and “complex” justify complicated explanations in which even “explanators” (coined word) cannot find their way.

As any other entry in any other encyclopaedia, the explanation needs to be simple, easy to follow and with examples to support the explanation. It needs to satisfy readers of all possible profiles: experts and non-experts.

It always helps to start with a bit of history (George Henry Lewes and Jules-Henri Poincaré) and example like emergent property saltines of salt (NaCl). Here we see that the first notions of complexity were based upon observations of natural phenomena. The math (theory) that followed is still having some issues to match itself with observations, mainly because of linear thinking. (See complexity theory bible: Thinking in Complexity by Klaus Mainzer.)

The concept is, however, clear and supported by numerous examples. (Market Equilibrium, planetary systems, molecules, bees, ants, us, culture etc. each describing interactions of agents (oscillators) and result of these interactions called emergent property.) I think that I have managed to explain the concept clearly enough on my web pages: Imagination is Greater than Knowledge. However, I can surmise it here:

  • A limited number of agents (closer to each other than to other agents - horizontal relationships) impact each other with each of them modifying its impact on others (its behaviour) depending on how it was impacted by others.
  • The whole group (system) is initially unstable (while individual agents are modifying their behaviour - see above), but with few possible outcomes that will stabilise the system as a whole. (In case of some carbohydrates we can have two such outcomes or emergent properties: “left” or “right” orientation of the molecule.)
  • Once the system is stabilised (symmetry splitting), it, as agent (oscillator), enters into interplays with other, stable systems on the same or different “level”. And the same story repeats itself.

It is interesting to note that unstable system is in a higher energy level than stable system and we need to introduce energy into stable system if we do not like the outcome of the previous symmetry splitting.

As for this whole entry: It is much better and more competent than previous one. (Scrapped, I guess.) However, when I consider that previous one listed attributes and this one is listing seemingly different meanings of word complexity - I’m not so sure. There is one, and only one, meaning of complexity in all listed (and some non-listed) disciplines and this meaning needs to be articulated before we get into different aspects of it.

Damir Ibrisimovic 08:27, 25 August 2007 (UTC)

You are speaking of "many misunderstandings about complex systems and complexity theory" and those "being ambiguous and overcomplicated explanations". I just created a new structure here with a simplification, with:
a complex system is a specific form of system
and complex systems is a field of study
and complexity is a (new) paradigm in science.
I'm wondering what you think of this new situation? I'll really like some feed back on this subject, because I'm having some discussion about this at Wikitionary as well. - Mdd 16:10, 25 August 2007 (UTC)
The trouble is that "complex systems", "the complexity theory" and "complexity" got their names from people originally working (and thinking) within "ordinary systems" (input -> processing -> output) areas. And using "ordinary systems" methodology made descriptions of natural phenomena ("complex systems") extremely complex. Although a new, more appropriate methodology is far from being articulated, there is growing realisation that natural systems are far from being complex. So we could say that (according to complexity theory):
  • All (natural) systems (or observations of them) are "complex", i.e. there are no "complex systems" as a subset of "systems".
  • A description of a system could be complex or simple depending on methodology used.
It could be said that components of "ordinary", man made systems (input -> processing -> output) are constructed so that a "noise" from neighbouring components does not interfere. In essence, the complexity of a natural (complex) system is eliminated to "keep the system under control i.e. in the framework of theoretical (input -> processing -> output) concept.
Since we are stuck with "complexity", as a concept, we are compelled to use it, but we need to be aware of the fact that "complexity" refers to "methods of description" rather than to nature of natural phenomena. You are right about "complexity" being a (potential) new paradigm in science. But for this potential to be realised we need a new methodology that will SIMPLIFY descriptions of natural phenomena. Just like Kepler's (description of) universe replaced the Ptolemaic one.
I would suggest that such approach will yield much better results in understanding and structuring. Good luck.
The following is my attempt to bridge a physics/chemistry gap in complexity terms:
  • Intraction between an electron and nucleus is stabilised when the electron "drops" to the lowest orbit or energy state. (Let's say: symmetry splitting - level 1.)
  • A molecule formation through interactions between atoms (level 2) seeks a lowest energy level for the whole of the molecule.
  • The impact of level 2 interplays on level 1 interplays results in some electrons jumping from the lowest orbit to a higher energy level to satisfy one of few possible stable states of the molecule as a whole.
This view is quite close to what is known in physics and chemistry. Note that this also explains observed phenomena in a bit different way. It also contributes to a better understanding of why formations of some molecules release energy while other need energy from the environment.
Damir Ibrisimovic 21:46, 25 August 2007 (UTC)

What is required here?[edit]

I've repeatedly stated how I think this article should be done. I greatly improved it in 2005, and would be willing to work on it further. All that is required here is not 3 articles, or impressionistic wanderings, but a simple article after the manner of the article on scholarpedia, as I have said above. - Duracell 00:36, 10 September 2007 (UTC)

I have made this a separate new talk item.
Now I also have explained why I made the changes I made. There are now three article to explain three related subjects:
  1. the concept of a complex system.
  2. the existing of a scientific discipline.
  3. the existing of a phenomenon called complexity.
I still think that most of the things said in the scholarpedia article could fit here (in the wikipedia) in the complexity article. - Mdd 00:51, 10 September 2007 (UTC)
@Duracell. I agree with your comments about chaos theory being over-hyped. I think right now, the biggest problem with this article is that it's a collection of lists and random facts and sections, and does not have a coherent narrative. This is why I created the history section! But I'd like to see the other sections become more unified and read more like an actual article too...not just a collection of random statements. Cazort (talk) 19:30, 17 November 2007 (UTC)

History Section[edit]

I thought there really needed to be a history section on this page. I created one and put a few tidbits there but it's only the beginning. I would be very grateful if anyone could contribute enough material to weave together a coherent narrative. I would be glad to come back and add material on ecology, but I don't know as much about other subjects. Cazort (talk) 19:30, 17 November 2007 (UTC)

I do agree that a historical section can add some coherence to this article. I will give it some thoughts. - Mdd (talk) 20:30, 18 November 2007 (UTC)
There are some remarks in the historical section in the system article which could also fit in here. And you also start looking in the historical sections of other related Wikipedia articles. Now I will leave that you to decide. Good luck. - Mdd (talk) 20:34, 18 November 2007 (UTC)

There used to be relevant info about the origins and early developments of complex systems theory, which was, it seems, deleted during this edit [3]. I would bring back some of this info as the article is pretty "dry" right now. --Childhood's End (talk) 19:17, 20 December 2007 (UTC)

Hi, I guess that section moved towards the complex systems article. -- Mdd (talk) 22:28, 20 December 2007 (UTC)
Oh, so there's two articles now. I see, thanks for the note ! --Childhood's End (talk) 01:34, 21 December 2007 (UTC)
Maybe the first sentence here should be more precise. Maybe the two articles should be merged after all. There are other voices telling, those two articles should be merged with complexity. And an other voice telling ther three articles should be removed and the citizendium article should take their place. These discussions are small in compare to the argumentations you seemed to be in. But if you have other idea's here, please let me know. -- Mdd (talk) 01:41, 21 December 2007 (UTC)
I keep an eye on the complex system(s) articles. Besides, nice work there Mdd, and hats off for all the effort. --Childhood's End (talk) 15:18, 21 December 2007 (UTC)

Non-linear = dependent on initial conditions?[edit]

Regarding the following entry:

Relationships are non-linear In practical terms, this means a small perturbation may cause a large effect (see butterfly effect), a proportional effect, or even no effect at all. In linear systems, effect is always directly proportional to cause. See nonlinearity.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the argument follows. I can envisage a linear system that is ill-conditioned, although I don't know if a non-linear system CAN be well posed. Does Hadamard's definition of a well posed problem apply to non-linear systems too? Or am I completely misguided here? Also I couldn't find any reference to a system being sensitive to initial conditions from the page on nonlinearty that is referenced. Maybe someone with more experience in the field could follow this up?

Maszanchi (talk) 16:55, 21 December 2007 (UTC)

Broadly, non-linear does mean dependent on different initial conditions. in simple (one dimensional) non-linear systems, there are only fixed points in the dynamics, to which trajectories will converge. But there can be more than one fixed point, and which one you end up at is determined by initial conditions. In two dimensions, it gets more complicated, and in 3+ dimensions, you (can) get chaos. In chaotic dynamics, it is impossible to predict where the system will go (as far as is known), even though it is deterministic (i.e. is not random in any way).

A one dimensional linear system could only have one fixed point, at the intersection of the line describing the rate of change, and the line describing the position. Two dimensional linear system can have orbits as well as fixed points, but still just one fixed point. So, in that sense they are not dependent on initial conditions. Strogatz's book is good for all thisDuracell (talk) 23:47, 22 February 2008 (UTC)

Actually, now that I think about it, two dimensional linear systems have orbits, and the amplitude of the orbit depends on the initial conditions. So that is an example of a linear system that depends on inital conditions. but *qualitatively* the dynamics don;t depend in IC. Duracell (talk) 23:50, 22 February 2008 (UTC)

List of organizations[edit]

The following list of organizations is just removed User:Ronz, see here:


I don't think a list likle this is just spam. -- Marcel Douwe Dekker (talk) 12:16, 24 August 2008 (UTC)

Mdd, here I disagree with you - lists suggest a unity of at least some property among the list entries. From just the list by itself, it is far from clear that these particular organizations share anything (other than a vague systems notion in their name). Sure by going to their respective websites you possibly could find out that they share one or more properties. But then, let the WP article demonstrate the particular sharing. Lists without a substantial explanation of a shared property are near-worthless. Wikipedia is not a portal. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16 October 2008 (UTC)

Removed links to Adam M.Gadomski and to Socio-cognitive systems[edit]

I have removed the link to Adam M.Gadomski and to Socio-cognitive systems because:

  • Remarks like this in an overview article in the introduction are generally not accepted.
  • Adam M.Gadomski shouldn't be mentioned here, because he is not considered a notable scientist in Wikipedia (yet??). There are a dozens complex systems scientists who are.
  • Socio-cognitive systems is removed because it hasn't got an article of its own. If you want to add this text this should be done Socio-cognitive article. Or just start an article.

Don't get me wrong here. I don't oppose either Adam M.Gadomski nor Socio-cognitive system. I follow simply a strickt rule here, that an overview article like this in Wikipedia should be based on the current articles in the field. I you have anything reliable to state, you are free to create these new articles articles first. I am simply asking to do tou home work here.

I do know however that the name Adam M.Gadomski is spammed in other articles before, like User:Arthur Rubin has noticed on his talkpage. I will contact him about this incident. -- Marcel Douwe Dekker (talk) 14:32, 16 October 2008 (UTC)

Good for you to delete this drivel. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:34, 16 October 2008 (UTC)
  • Hi Mdd,

OK, I accept your motivations, but, anyway, socio-cognitive systems are really complex systems!

About Gadomski - his socio-cognitive engineering domain with its complexity is an important but narrow and difficult advanced specialization (with the big future, I suppose).

"In this section we discussed different types of bridges. These different perspectives underline the notion that something has to be created (artifact, communication, interface, gatekeepers, relationship) that connects individuals or collective entities. Although these bridging concepts are presented as complex and multidimensional, most of them ignore the socio-cognitive complexity of the two ends of the bridges: the individual." (the ERIM Report Series Research in Management: I. Bogenrieder, P. J. Van Baalen. Multiple Inclusion and Community Networks, 2004)

On the other hand, the Google search: "socio-cognitive complexity", only finds 23 documents.

- Maybe, at present, it is better to wait on a journal publication about systemic socio-cognitive complexity (?) --Overix (talk) 14:10, 19 October 2008 (UTC)

The copied and pasted from various Wikipedia articles into this article[edit]

I have been checking if unintentionally various parts of Wikipedia articles have been copy-paste here without proper attribution. Now it seems:

  • The situation here is actually the other way around
  • Aug 2007 I split this article in two, see here, copy/pasting half it into the new complex systems article.

-- Marcel Douwe Dekker (talk) 22:19, 8 October 2009 (UTC)

Complex structures[edit]

"Structure" is used five times alone in discussion! I attempted to create complex structure, really complex data structure (which is a redundant statement as structured material is, of course, data), but the page got deleted as it took longer than expected to recruit experts.

The point being that the structure is the atomic level, or layer, into which all the data fits. In our environment, I believe we are so familiar with it that we take it for granted: Wikiology. It is the conceptual structure that Carl Rogers describes (cited in Wikiology) in his original "objective" model. It is the structure of object-orientation--and I mean programming here and not "object relations," though that can be included too. It is not hard to locate material; the problem is wrenching out of the minds of those who have possession it, introverted geeks!--John Bessa (talk) 17:25, 14 November 2011 (UTC)

Child Protection and Complex Systems[edit]

I wrote this in relation to complex systems theory and would like for it to be reviewed

IBL3 Final EssayQuestion 2Greg Molineux SID: 200006361

Question 2: “We argue that the current narrow theoretical discourse of child protection is largely failing children and young people, and has embraced a commitment to technocratic risk assessment and a forensic approach to working with families. In pursuing this approach, professional judgement and the application of a combination of analytical and intuitive skills in working with people have been neglected as core practice imperatives. In essence, relationship-based social work has been supplanted by case management–driven proceduralism, which is devoid of meaningful and respectful engagement with children and parents, instead treating them as the ‘Other”’. (Lonne et al.,2009, p. 8) Discuss the authors’ argument about the current state of child protection in Anglophone countries with reference to the situation in New South Wales. What challenges are identified for social work policy and practice?


The narrow theoretical discourse in child protection Lonne is referring to can be seen in the prevalence of general systems theory and ecological theory within social work policy and practice. The assumptions of general systems theory and ecological systems theory facilitate the manifestation of child protection policy and practice. Lonne is concerned that child protection is being forced to work within an environment of technocratic risk assessment and calls for there to be a shift from a “family responsibility” paradigm to a “people” paradigm (Lonne, Parton, Thomson & Harris, 2009, p.110). I will argue that Lonne's statement points to the dominance of linear systems theories within Society. When we are talking about Case management proceduralism what we are talking about is the prevalence of general systems and ecological based theories within the field of social work (Hudson, 2000, p.215). The questions that I want to address here are; what are system and ecological theories? Why are these theories accepted in child protection and social work?, How can we understand the dynamics occurring that systems theories fail to recognise? and how can Complex Systems Theory make child protection more effective? I will look at the NSW governments five year “Keep them safe plan” through the lens of complexity theory with the plan itself being classified as an attractor. Finally I will explore what effect the “Keep them safe” plan will have for social workers and child protection professionals. I will also compare the inclusion of children exposed to domestic violence as a requirement for mandatory reporting in NSW to a similar attempt made in Minnesota in 1999 making a point of comparison the different way that Minnesota dealt with the problems that this caused.

General Systems theory & the Ecological Model

General systems theory is based around the idea that systems can be investigated and described by looking at any group of objects that produce a result. In simplified terms A + B = C. Ecological theory is an extension of general systems theory aimed at understandings of human development. In ecological systems theory four types of environmental systems that influence each other are identified. These four systems are Microsystems which are the immediate environments, Mesosystems which are connections between immediate envronments, Exosystems which are external environment systems and Macrosystems that relate to the larger cultural context. One of the central assumptions of general systems and ecological systems theories is that of equilibrium or the steady state. When applied to the individual level this translates into the belief that a person moves through their life in an attempt to maintain an equilibrium or the succession of one steady state to another. So when there is a disturbing external force a person will seek to re-establish their equilibrium, if the disturbing force is prolonged over time the person will re-establish their balance in accordance with the external force. In the context of child protection we might view this as the normalisation of violence in a child’s life or a belief that removing a child from an abusive environment will lead to the improvement of a child’s situation. A major criticism of the use of general systems theory is that the bias of the theory de-politicises social work policy and practice and reinforces conservative or individualistic tendencies within in the profession (Drover & Shragge, 1977). Drover and Shragge argue further that using systems theory as a generic paradigm model promotes the development of technical practitioners which is the problem that Lonne has identified. Ecological theory adds a human dimension to general systems theory yet continues to explain social dysfunction in terms of a lack of equitable resource exchange between systems and subsystems (Siporin, 1980, p. 512). On a positive level ecological theory has enabled a much more holistic and dynamic understanding of humanity within society (Siporin, 1980, p.516). A major limitation of ecological theory however is the assumed level of rationality of human beings and the decision making and problem solving capabilities of organisations. Organisational decision making often involves intense negotiations between opposing interest groups who may be unwilling to recognise a subordinate interest group or accept common interests and objectives (Siporin, 1980, p. 519). The most concerning aspect of the systems based paradigm is that agents of change are seen to be external to the children undergoing protective intervention. The harshest criticism of this assumption is that it enables social Darwinism to be present within this linear system paradigm. By believing that change and development of a child is based on an individual’s ability to negotiate and compromise within their social system focuses on a power dynamic that points towards survival of the fittest (Hudson, 2000, p. 217). When applying this perspective to the field of social work and child protection, intervention becomes justified to redress a power imbalance for the child to ‘survive’. Extrapolating this further our ability to achieve this requires social workers to be powerful enough enforce the intervention to occur within a social environment where other interest groups are competing for resources. Once we have entered into the framework of social Darwinism, social workers become obligated to provide scientific proof of the effectiveness of our methods, A + B = C where A = resources allocated to child protection, B = social problem being addressed and C = the outcome. If we accept and work within this framework the danger exists that social work loses the ability to engage in relationship based social work in favour of case management proceduralism. Complexity theory and Social Work

Complexity theory has its basis in the mathematics of chaos theory and is characterised by open systems that are reliant on non-linear relationships (Hudson, 2000, pp.219-220 & Stevens & Cox, 2007, p.1324). In mathematical terms linear systems theories present equations of A + B = C whereas nonlinear complexity theory indicates that due to the chaotic nature of open systems A + B may equal C, D, E, F etc. This is not to say that complexity theory implies that 1 + 2 may equal 3, 78, 5 or 12, rather that due to the complex and chaotic nature of society the equation A = A does not exist because it is an abstract ideal that does not represent reality. Complexity theory is indicative not predictive, this means that the occurrence of an event can be indicated as “a child within the child protection system will die”, however where, when and how the event will occur cannot be predicted (Stevens & Cox, 2007, p.1324). Emergence

One of the key concepts in complexity theory is that of emergence. Emergence is the idea that group behaviour reflects the social conditions within which it occurs. In essence emergence acknowledges that outcomes cannot be predicted by examining the component pieces. Stevens and Cox argue that two teams of interdisciplinary child protection workers made up of the same numbers of specialists looking after the same number of children and covering the same area in terms of population will feel and act in very different ways. This occurs because each team of child protection workers emerges within its own complex system. Efforts should be diverted away from attempting to control emergence in favour of facilitating the emergence of safe conditions for children (Stevens & Cox, 2007, p.1326). Despite coming from a systems based perspective, Munro argues that in instances where the death of a child is assigned to human error the recommendations invariably tend towards automating procedures (Munro, 2005, p.533). The effect of these recommendations is the de-skilling of child protection workers who become less aware of the systems within which they are working. When the automated procedures in place fail the child protection workers have less awareness of what is going wrong and therefore less ability intervene. Munro’s observation in the context of emergence indicates that in the attempt to control predictability, by automating procedures, there is a negative effect on the emergence of safer conditions for children. The attempt to control the emergence of child protection professionals facilitates the emergence of more automated procedures and less skilled child protection workers. Attractors

Within Child protection a child in need of care is already within a complex system and any intervention is going to add further complexity to an adaptive environment. Margot discussed the idea of “lighthouses” within the community and within the context of complexity theory these ‘lighthouses’ are a good example of an attractor within a complex system. However an attractor does not have to be a person it can be a policy. In these terms the NSW’s five year “Keep them Safe” plan is an attractor for all children within NSW with the NSW government stating that the goal of the action plan is that "all children within NSW are healthy happy and safe"(NSW Govt, Keep them Safe Summary) A complex system is a dissipative structure where an attractor pulls an individual towards a certain condition which is unique to each individual. within this dissipative structure attractors pull individuals towards points of bifurcation. Imagine bifurcation as the point where a twig reaches a fork in the stream, there are attractors pulling the twig towards both streams, the twig can only go in one direction and once that point the event has occurred (Stevens & Cox, 2007, p.1326). Applying the concept of attractors to social work policy and practice would emphasise the importance of introducing attractors that would have a positive effect, i.e. improve the conditions in which a child is likely to exist in a safe environment. Hudson (2000, p.222) argues that within the social sciences there is awareness of sensitivity to initial conditions and refers to Krippner (1994, 52-53) suggests that amplifications of small fluctuations can provide natural systems access to novelty and change. Bringing this thought to the level of child protection intervention an attractors strength within a complex system is based on how it enters a complex system. The prevailing belief behind recommendations from child deaths, where child protection services were involved, is that; increasing linear responses will eventually lead to no margin of error on the part of professional child protection workers (Stevens & Cox, 2007, 1329). The modern discourse of 'risk' is based on the belief that harm to children can be prevented (Gillingham, 2006, p.88). This ignores the dysfunctional attractors effecting the emergence of child protection workers implementing automated processes. If child protection workers are limited by automated processes they become at best weaker attractors and at worst fail to emerge as an attractor. In both cases the conditions under which a child will emerge away from harm when child protection risk based procedures have failed are reduced. Complexity theory and Social Work Practice

The recognition that child protection operates in a complex environment led to an action research project in Queensland aimed at facilitating improvements in the effectiveness child protection managers (Wilson, 2009, p.64). The aim of the project was to increase the capacity of direct service staff to undertake effective service activities such as building relationships, participative planning, interagency collaboration and tenacious casework (Wilson, 2009). One of the findings from this research was that generally front line child protection managers came from professional practice backgrounds with tertiary educations in the fields of Social Work and Psychology (Wilson, 2009, p.65). It was found that the management teams felt that it would be difficult to maintain capacity building without a facilitator as the management teams were generally inexperienced and lacked adequate training (Wilson, 2009, p. 77). The importance of Intuition to Complexity theory

Intuition is the ability of an individual to gain understanding of a situation by the fluency of events around them without being consciously aware of the specific parts that make up the event (Topolinski, Strack, 2009, pp.1465-1466). If it is acknowledged that complex systems are dynamic then the role of intuition becomes important for the successful application of child protection practice through the professionals ability to pick up fluency or incoherence within the system. Automated systems by their nature are linear and logical and only pick up on problems if they are precisely programmed into the processes. Child Protection within NSW

NSW is one of three states within Australia that recognise exposure to domestic violence as constituting child abuse (Nixon, Tutty, Weaver-Dunlop & Walsh, 2007, p.1476). Within NSW this is covered in The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act (1998) where it states that children are considered to be at risk of serious physical and psychological harm if they are living in a household where there have been incidents of domestic violence (Chapter 3, Part 2, Section 23 [d]). The state of Minnesota attempted to broaden child protection in 1999 by including Domestic violence into child protection. The result was a 100% increase in the reports of risk of harm within the state and with no additional funding allocated, child protection agencies diverted resource to assessment and investigation leaving fewer resources to serve children at risk (Nixon, Tutty, Weaver-Dunlop & Walsh, 2007, p.1477). It was estimated that full implementation of the policy would have increased the total reports of domestic violence by 500%. The inclusion of domestic violence in child protection was dropped in 2000. After repelling the reforms to child protection, it was reintroduced in 2001. This time the terms of what type of domestic violence included was broadened and the legislation was only to come into effect when enough funding was granted. If we look at the statistics in NSW of the increase since the changes made in the 1998 there has been an increase of reported cases from approx 85 000 reports in 2000 up to 300 000 in 2008 (Lynch & Waugh, 2010, Week 3 Lecture). This is an increase of 350%. Conclusion

The high levels of technocratic risk assessment are the result of the systems based paradigms that are in action within the field of child protection. In order to redress the high levels of technocratic risk assessment resulting from general systems and ecological systems theories a paradigm shift must be made toward complexity theory. Linear systems based theories tend towards finding the point within child protection where an intervention can be made and the assumption exists that these interventions will follow a predictable course leading eventually to the point where children are no longer harmed. This is incorrect because it is not possible to know what all of the effects will be within a dynamic environment, such as the world in which a child lives. The complexity paradigm changes this view by recognising that social worlds are dynamic and non-linear. Theories of complexity look at ways of facilitating the emergence of more effective child protection professionals who work towards allowing the conditions where functionally positive attractors emerge. Being conscious of the scope of complex systems allows social workers to realise that by attempting to control a complex system they are facilitating less effective child protection practice. Complexity recognises that automated procedures and the experience and intuition of professional child protection workers operate as attractors that facilitate positive outcomes both functional and dysfunctional. Our role as social workers is to conduct and promote the research, policy development and practice that increases the conditions in which children will emerge into a safe environment through the facilitating the emergence of attractors. It was suggested in the week three lecture that the reason that there had been such an increase in child protection reports was due to penalties being introduced for not reporting and perhaps this did play a role. I argue based on the Minnesota example that the inclusion of children exposed to domestic violence into mandatory reporting requirements is a primary contributing factor to the increase in reports being made to DoCS. There is no easy answer to this problem as a large amount of information exists demonstrates the harm that children are subject too while exposed to domestic violence. Perhaps the best course of action would have been to follow the Minnesota example where the inclusion of Domestic violence into mandatory reporting is reliant on funding being granted by government beforehand.


Drover, G., & Shragge, E. (1977). General systems theory and social work education: a critique., In Canadian Journal of Social Work Education 3 (2) (pp. 28-39). Gillingham, P. (2006). Risk Assessment in Child Protection: Problem Rather than Solution?. In Australian Social Work 59 (1) (pp. 86-98). Hudson, C. (2000). At the Edge of Chaos: A New Paradigm for Social Work?, In Journal of Social Work Education 32 (2). (pp. 215-230). Krippner, S. (1994). Humanistic Psychology and Chaos Theory: The Third Revolution and the Third Force. In Journal of Humanistic Psychology 34 (3) (pp.48-61) Lonne, B., Parton, N., Thomson, J., & Harries, M. (2009). Reforming Child Protection: Principles and Processes. In Reforming child protection. (pp. 99-113). London: Routlage. Lynch & Waugh, (2010). Week 3 Lecture notes IBL3 2010 Munro, E. (2005). A Systems approach to Investigating Child Abuse Deaths. In British Journal of Social 35 (pp.531-546). Nixon, K., Tutty, L., Weaver-Dunlop, G., & Walsh, C. (2007). Do Good Intentions Beget Good Policy? A Review of Child Protection Policies to Address Intimate Partner Violence. In Children and Youth Services Review 29 (pp. 1469 - 1486). NSW Government., (2010) Keep them Safe Summary., Viewed on 21-March-2010 Siporin, M. (1980). Ecological Systems theory in Social Work., In Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 7 (7) (pp.507-532). Stevens, I., & Cox, P. (2007). Complexity Theory: Developing New Understandings of Child Protection in Field Settings and in Residential Child Care. In British Journal of Social Work 38 (pp.1320- 1336). The NSW Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act (1998) (Chapter 3, Part 2, Section 23 [d]) Topolinski, S., & Strack, F. (2009). The analysis of intuition: Processing fluency and affect in judgements of semantic coherence. In Cognition & Emotion 23 (8) (pp.1465-1503) Wilson, S. (2009). Leading Practice Improvement in Front Line Child Protection. In British Journal of Social Work 39 (pp.64-80) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Greg Royston Molineux (talkcontribs) 21:54, 9 May 2010 (UTC)

Complex systems modeling section and WP:SELFCITE[edit]

The author of the source used in this set of diffs added the a bunch of content based on his own article. This appears to give WP:UNDUE weight to this source. Per WP:SELFCITE I have reverted, and have copied the content here for discussion.

Mathematical models of complex systems are of three types:[1][2]

  • grey-box (mixtures of phenomenological and mechanistic models).

In black-box models, the individual-based (mechanistic) mechanisms of a complex dynamic system remain hidden. Black-box models are completely nonmechanistic. They are phenomenological and ignore a composition and internal structure of a complex system. We cannot investigate interactions of subsystems of such a non-transparent model.

A white-box model of complex dynamic system has ‘transparent walls’ and directly shows underlying mechanisms. All events at micro-, meso- and macro-levels of a dynamic system are directly visible at all stages of its white-box model evolution. In most cases mathematical modelers use the heavy black-box mathematical methods, which cannot produce mechanistic models of complex dynamic systems.

Grey-box models are intermediate and combine black-box and white-box approaches. As a rule, this approach is used in ‘overloaded’ form, what makes it less transparent. It was demonstrated that the logical deterministic cellular automata approach allows to create the white-box models of ecosystems.

Creation of a white-box model of complex system is associated with the problem of the necessity of an a priori basic knowledge of the modeling subject. The deterministic logical cellular automata are necessary but not sufficient condition of a white-box model. The second necessary prerequisite of a white-box model is the presence of the physical ontology of the object under study. The white-box modeling represents an automatic hyper-logical inference from the first principles because it is completely based on the deterministic logic and axiomatic theory of the subject.

The purpose of the white-box modeling is to derive from the basic axioms a more detailed, more concrete mechanistic knowledge about the dynamics of the object under study. The necessity to formulate an intrinsic axiomatic system of the subject before creating its white-box model distinguishes the cellular automata models of white-box type from cellular automata models based on arbitrary logical rules. If cellular automata rules have not been formulated from the first principles of the subject, then such a model may have a weak relevance to the real problem.


  1. ^ Kroll, Andreas (2000). Grey-box models: Concepts and application. In: New Frontiers in Computational Intelligence and its Applications, vol.57 of Frontiers in artificial intelligence and applications, pp. 42-51. IOS Press, Amsterdam.
  2. ^ Kalmykov, Lev V.; Kalmykov, Vyacheslav L. (2015), "A white-box model of S-shaped and double S-shaped single-species population growth", PeerJ, 3:e948, doi:10.7717/peerj.948 

Thoughts on that section by other independent editors? 13:39, 13 June 2015 (UTC)

It's an interesting take on the subject but I doubt the taxonomy has universal acceptance. I haven't seen it in other literature but its pretty recent so not many citations yet. Given its recent I think you are right to delete it - good catch I missed that and its one of the pages I monitor ----Snowded TALK 13:56, 13 June 2015 (UTC)

Features of a complex system[edit]

This whole section appears to be lifted from a PhD thesis: Low Frequency Electromagnetic Field Induction of Heat Shock Gene Expression By Paul H. Frisch (2008)

Of course, vice versa could be possible - looking back through the history, this text seems to have appeared around 2005.

PennyDarling (talk) 16:21, 11 August 2015 (UTC)

The whole article is a mess! It might be better to tale the list from Cilliers which is often quoted? But overall it needs a rewrite ----Snowded TALK 19:43, 11 August 2015 (UTC)

Yes, you're right, but the aim seems unclear to me - is this a math entry with applications to other fields (which seems to be the case from reading the text) or is it a Systems entry or a Computer Science entry (as listed in the projects, above).
As another example, the Wiki Disambiguation says one thing, yet the intro text another:
In Complex Disambiguation it's listed under mathematics: "Complex system, a system of interconnected simple parts that together exhibit a high degree of computational complexity from which emerges a higher order behaviour"
- and the Complex system intro (sans citations) says: "A complex system is a damped, driven system (for example, a harmonic oscillator) whose total energy exceeds the threshold for it to perform according to classical mechanics but does not reach the threshold for the system to exhibit properties according to chaos theory."
So, I'd like to help with one but I am at loss to understand it's direction. Ideally I think that we should start at the math end and then mention its applications? Like you say, start with Cilliers or Ladyman, Lambert, Wiesner and work up? PennyDarling (talk) 08:03, 12 August 2015 (UTC)


The definition of a complex system was appallingly wrong. I now fixed it to give the current accepted general definition with a reference to a peer-reviewed article. Clearly, a great deal of additional work is necessary on this article. --Skater00 (talk) 22:32, 6 September 2015 (UTC)

Hyper Emotional Society[edit]

I removed this link because: 1. it didn't exist any longer. 2. there seems to be nothing about it 3. it has seemingly nothing to do with complex systems.--Skater00 (talk) 17:40, 7 September 2015 (UTC)

Should this page be deleted or combined with the content of the Complex Systems page? Both pages clearly cover the same topic, although this page focuses more in complex systems properties and the Complex Systems seems to focus more on complex systems applications. I see in the talk comments below, that they were once one page. However, I don't understand the logic for this. To me, the split seems to make things more confusing.

I'm a wikipedia noob, so I apologize if this isn't the correct way to frame this question.


HariSeldon11988 (talk) 22:09, 17 February 2016 (UTC) Hari.


I propose a merge with the Complex systems page. It does not make much sense to have these two separate pages pretending they are in any way different. Skater00 (talk) 12:26, 24 August 2016 (UTC)

I'd strongly support this. The complex systems page is much more detailed, and most of the interesting content is mirrored over there. This page reads very much like a definition of the term itself, which isn't the point of WP. RealityApologist (talk) 20:14, 1 March 2017 (UTC)

I agree. (Clauariel (talk) 18:58, 21 April 2017 (UTC))

Agree, just do it ...----Snowded TALK 05:46, 22 April 2017 (UTC)