New England Complex Systems Institute

The Study of Complex Systems

Complex systems are systems with multiple interacting components whose behavior cannot be simply inferred from the behavior of the components.

The study of complex systems spans all scales, from particle fields to the universe. Among the most complex systems with which we are familiar are biological and social systems -- including biological macromolecules, biological organisms, ecosystems, and human social and economic structures.

The field of complex systems research include a number of subfields. Information Mechanics is dedicated to exploring fundamental connections between information and physics. Artificial Life explores the processes of evolution, reproduction and development. Adaptive Systems investigates adaptation, neural systems, learning and consciousness. Emphasis is placed on the applications of quantitative analytic and simulation tools to the study of problems traditionally treated through qualitative analogies. The quantitative tools provide an ability to predict the behavior of complex systems to the extent that this is possible .

Applications of the study of complex systems include: Drug design through applied molecular evolution; design of software agents and self-organizing software systems; time series analysis and prediction; design of distributed databases and information management systems, and the design of corporate structures for networked organizations. One system particularly important for the field of complex systems is human civilization the history of social and economic structures and the emergence of an interconnected global civilization. Applying principles of complex systems to enable us to gain an understanding of its past and future course is ultimately an important objective of this field. We can anticipate a time when the implications of economic and social developments for human beings and civilization will become an important application of the study of complex systems.

The merging of disciplines in the field of complex systems runs counter to the increasing specialization in science and engineering. It provides many opportunities for synergies and the recognition of general principles that can form a basis for education and understanding in all fields.