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Alice W. Davidson and Yaneer Bar-Yam

The concept of complexity plays an important role in informal discussions of our environment and in formal arguments in the study of complex systems. We believe it is important to demystify the concept of complexity and develop it as a quantitative measure of systems and environments. A quantitative measure that can be usefully applied in the social sciences must be readily applied to real world observations. A central conceptual difficulty in applying abstract notions of complexity to real world systems is realizing that we must distinguish between unobservable (e.g. microscopic) patterns and observable (e.g. macroscopic) patterns. To evaluate the complexity of a system/environment for a particular observer we must consider only the patterns that the observer can distinguish. A specific approximate measure of the complexity of a visual environment provides a means to examine the human experience of complexity. This measure of environmental complexity can complement measures of time series complexity which have been applied to evaluate the complexity of physiologic time series like heart rate dynamics.

Our immediate research target is to understand the effect of environmental complexity on elderly individuals. A measure of environmental complexity can quantify the notion of sensory stimulation/deprivation and its effects on the maintenance of cognitive function.


A. Davidson, M. H. Teicher, and Y. Bar-Yam: The role of environmental complexity in the well-being of the elderly. Complexity and Chaos in Nursing 3, 5-12, Summer 1997. PDF file

A. W. Davidson and Y. Bar-Yam: Environmental Complexity: Information for Human-Environment Well-Being, InterJournal, Article 370, accepted.

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