About complexity

What does complexity mean?

Historically the word complexity has been applied to natural and social phenomena in a generic way with meanings depending on the context. However, in the last decades inside the natural and social sciences this word has begun to assume a technical meaning which has been defined precisely in the course of the years. We will try to describe in short this meaning.

Since Galileo’s work, the reductionism has been the dominant paradigm inside the natural sciences: according to this way of looking at the world,phenomena appear complex because we don’t consider them in the right manner. Nevertheless if we free ourselves from our prejudices and we are able to read the great book of nature, complexity is nothing else than appearance and, at least in theory, few simple laws (mathematical equations) are enough to explain the complexity of the universe. This vision of nature has brought to the reductionist methodwhich has contributed fundamentally to the development of modern science.

The olistic paradigm is in opposition to the reductionist one. According to this way of looking at phenomena, “the whole is more than the sum of parts“: it’s impossible to understand a living being only knowing how every single cell works; and it’s impossible to understand the market functioning only knowing the behaviour of single business agents; etc.

With the beginning of modern science (17th century) the olistic vision of phenomena has been relegated outside the science domain. However just the science growth reintroduced this paradigm, probably on account of the two following reasons:

  • the necessity and the ambition of studying phenomena which in the past were not even accessible;

  • the development and the scientific use of calculators.

Then we can now formulate what complexity means.

The Science of Complexity studies those phenomena which it’s impossible to understand if they are analysed dividing their single parts.

On account of itself nature, the study of the complexity is inter-disciplinar and needs a different organisation of scientific work. Because of that, the preexistent structures are not enough and new way of organizing the work need to be created.

In the world there are already several examples of this new method of working. We cite the most important example: the Santa Fe Institute (New Mexico).This institute gets several researchers together, some of which won the Nobel prize; even if these researchers continue their research in their respective seats, they meet regularly for working together at the study of those complex phenomena which have got a heavy inter-disciplinar nature .