Complexity is uncertainty about order and explanation.

Although nothing in the universe is certain, some phenomena appear with sufficient regularity that we understand them as so. It is always possible that the sun won’t rise tomorrow, that time will reverse direction or that my arm won’t rise when I intend to lift it. But mostly, we have learned not to worry about such possibilities.

Many attempts have been made to define complexity. The context in which complexity arises is the human search for order. Order means a satisfactory arrangement of things in space, time and cause. Since the beginning, humans have searched for order in the natural world, and created order in the human-made world. Many believe that the creation of life itself was a search for order.

A type of dynamical behavior in which many independent agents continually interact in novel ways, spontaneously organizing and reorganizing themselves into larger and more complicated patterns over time. (Williams 1997)

How complex or simple a structure is depends critically upon the way in which we describe it. Most of the complex structures found in the world are enormously redundant, and we can use this redundancy to simplify their description. But to use it, to achieve the simplification, we must find the right representation. (Simon 1962)

In complex situations there is a high probability of making erroneous knowledge claims. Extensive assumptions and limitations have to be included to create a systemic representation that allows us to understand the real domain. (Kovacic 2005)

Yates stated this more precisely but provocatively in saying “complexity is a euphemism for ignorance: what we do not understand is complex” (Yates 1978, p. R201).

It is an intuitive notion that certain processes and systems are harder to describe than others. Complexity tries to capture this difficulty in terms of the amount of information needed for the description, the time it takes to carry out the description, the size of the system, the number of components in the system, the number of conflicting constraints, the number of dimensions needed to embed the system dynamics, etc… Complexity [is] the amount of information needed to describe a process, a system or an object. This definition is computable (at least in one of its forms), is observer-independent (once resolution is defined), applies to both data and models and provides a framework within which self-organization and emergence can also be consistently defined. (Prokopenko, Boschetti, and Ryan 2007)

One way to identify a complex task is as a problem where the number of distinct possibilities that must be considered, anticipated or dealt with is substantially larger than can be reasonably named or enumerated. Intuitively, the complexity of a task is the number of wrong choices for every right choice. We can casually consider in an explicit way tens of possibilities, a professional will readily deal with hundreds of possibilities, and a major project will deal with thousands, the largest projects deal with tens of thousands. For larger numbers of possibilities we must develop new strategies. Simplifying a complex task by ignoring the need for different responses is what leads to errors or failures that affect the success of the entire effort, leaving it as a gamble with progressively higher risks. (Bar-Yam 2003)

Many people will be surprised by the assertion that some things cannot be understood. These people inhabit what I will call the “culture of certainty,” who imagine that science proceeds by totally mastering some particular aspect of reality before moving on to the next bit in the way an army conquers foreign terrain. The “army” in this case would be rationality itself. If some aspects of reality cannot really be grasped, then science never conquers any territory. It explores territory, but even a territory that has been well understood may yield additional surprises if it is approached from a novel point of view—everything can potentially be understood at a more profound level. (Byers 2011)

Complexity is the property of a real world system that is manifest in the inability of any one formalism being adequate to capture all its properties. It requires that we find distinctly different ways of interacting with systems. Distinctly different in the sense that when we make successful models, the formal systems needed to describe each distinct aspects are NOT derivable from each other. (Mikulecky 2006)


There is no absolute definition of what complexity means; the only consensus among researchers is that there is no agreement about the specific definition of complexity. Read More


Something complex. The quality or state of being complex.

Thesaurus the state or quality of having many interrelated parts or aspects
Synonyms complexness, complicacy, complicatedness, complication, elaborateness, intricacy, intricateness, involution, knottiness, sophistication
Related Terms diversity, heterogeneity, heterogeneousness, multifariousness; impenetrability, incomprehensibility, inexplicability
Antonyms plainness, simpleness, simplicity



Order means some sort of regular arrangement of things in space or time. It is an arrangement that follows a pattern or purpose that we come to understand and may find useful.

Our minds are full of words used describe concepts that think we understand, but whose nature transcends normal understanding. These include space, time, and order – concepts which are deeply embedded in our nature.

According to Immanuel Kant, space and time are pure forms of intuition which come before, and then structure all of our experiences. On top of these, Kant also suggested we all come into existence with the common approaches to understanding the world around us: for example, we count things, we prefer one thing over another, and we look for relationships between things.

Order means some sort of regular arrangement of things in space or time, an arrangement that follows a pattern or purpose that we come to understand and may find useful.

So, the human mind “boots up” with common framework for perceiving and potentially understanding what we thereafter experience. This human “operating system” provides the basis for logic, mathematics and explanation through which we reason about the outer world (space), the inner world (time) and the relationships between all that we experience in life.


The cosmos (UK /ˈkɒzmɒs/, US /ˈkɒzmoʊs/) is the universe regarded as a complex and orderly system; the opposite of chaos. Read More


To put in order arrange. To give an order to command. Destine ordain. To command to go or come to a specified place. To give an order for. To bring about order regulate. To issue orders command. To give or place an order. A group of people united in a formal way as. A fraternal society. A community under a religious rule. One requiring members to take solemn vows. A badge or medal of such a society. A military decoration. Any of the several grades of the Christian ministry. The office of a person in the Christian ministry. Ordination. A rank, class, or special group in a community or society. A class of persons or things grouped according to quality, value, or natural characteristics as. A category of taxonomic classification ranking above the family and below the class. The broadest category in soil classification. Rank level. Category class. The arrangement or sequence of objects or of events in time. A sequential arrangement of mathematical elements. Degree 12a b. The number of times differentiation is applied successively. The order of the derivative of highest order. The number of columns or rows or columns and rows in a magic square, determinant, or matrix. The number of elements in a finite mathematical group. A sociopolitical system. A particular sphere or aspect of a sociopolitical system. A regular or harmonious arrangement. A prescribed form of a religious service rite. The customary mode of procedure especially in debate. The state of peace, freedom from confused or unruly behavior, and respect for law or proper authority. A specific rule, regulation, or authoritative direction command. A style of building. A type of column and entablature forming the unit of a style. State or condition especially with regard to functioning or repair. A proper, orderly, or functioning condition. A written direction to pay money to someone. A commission to purchase, sell, or supply goods or to perform work. Goods or items bought or sold. An assigned or requested undertaking. Order of the day. Appropriate desirable. For the purpose of. In the process of being ordered. After the fashion of like. About approximately. According to the specifications of an order. A command to return the rifle to order arms from present arms or to drop the hand from a hand salute. A position in the manual of arms in which the rifle is held vertically beside the right leg with the butt resting on the ground. The disposition of troops or ships ready for combat. A tabular compilation of units, commanders, equipment, and their locations in a theater of operation. A matter which must be dealt with task. A range of magnitude extending from some value to ten times that value. The business or tasks appointed for an assembly for a given day. The characteristic or dominant feature or activity. A business order yet to be fulfilled because stock is unavailable. To assign to the status of back order. An order from an administrative agency to refrain from a method of competition or a labor practice found by the agency to be unfair.

Thesaurus the way objects in space or events in time are arranged or follow one another
Synonyms arrangement, array, disposal, disposition, distribution, ordering, sequence, setup
Related Terms continuity; precedence, priority; chain, procession, progression, succession; series; aligning ( alining), alignment ( alinement), lining up; design, layout, pattern, structure, system



Reductionism refers to several related but different philosophical positions regarding the connections between phenomena, or theories, “reducing” one to another, usually considered “simpler” or more “basic”.

Reductionism argues that from scientific theories which explain phenomena on one level, explanations for a higher level can be deduced. Reality and our experience can be reduced to a number of indivisible basic elements. Also qualitative properties are possible to reduce to quantitative ones. (Skyttner 2005)

Epistemological reductionism is the practice of using theory from a lower level of complexity to help us to understand what is going on at higher levels of complexity. Ontological reductionism claims that complexities in nature are merely piled-up simplicities. The idea is that the parts of a complex whole are more real than the whole, or that the whole really is “nothing but” the parts. (Rue 2007)

Ontological reduction is concerned with the nature of reality and posits that everything in the universe consists of the fundamental constituents of reality, some basic particles or entities, or is determined by them.  In ontological reduction, the things that need to be related are real-world items such as entities, events, and properties. Epistemological reduction is concerned with descriptions of reality and posits that scientific theories or common sense conceptions can be reduced to other scientific theories or conceptions about the fundamental features of the world. In epistemological reduction, the things that are being related or reduced are representational items like theories, concepts, models, frameworks, and schemas. Inherent in the notion of reductionism is the idea of levels of analysis. (Friedenberg 2009)


Reductionism refers to several related but different philosophical positions regarding the connections between phenomena, or theories, “reducing” one to another, usually considered “simpler” or more “basic”. Read More

Other References
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Explanation of complex life-science processes and phenomena in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry. A theory or doctrine that complete reductionism is possible. A procedure or theory that reduces complex data and phenomena to simple terms.



Awareness is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns.

The main purpose of awareness is either to manage tasks too new or complex for our simpler unconscious mind or to innovate, to find patterns in our working memory, so that we can optimize and automate biologically relevant goals. It’s very much as if we had two modes: a slow, deliberative, highly conscious system, there to detect novel or ever more complex forms of patterned information, to find its structural essence, which we use to build chunks; and a fast, automatic, barely conscious system, which takes advantage of the well-honed chunks that consciousness has previously formed. Our ability to consciously apply our chunking skills, both by detecting crucial regularities in a sudden burst of insight and by more patiently, steadily building up layers of structured knowledge over months or years, is essentially responsible for every human advance and every intellectual achievement in our history (Bor 2012)


Awareness is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns. Read More

Dictionary Aware

Watchful wary. Having or showing realization, perception, or knowledge. Characterized by self-awareness.

Thesaurus having specified facts or feelings actively impressed on the mind
Synonyms alive, apprehensive, aware, cognizant, mindful, sensible, sentient, ware, witting
Related Terms alert, attentive, careful, cautious, heedful, observant, open-eyed, regardful, safe, vigilant, wary, watchful, wide-awake; hyperaware, hyperconscious
Antonyms insensible, oblivious, unaware, unconscious, unmindful, unwitting



Causality is the relation between one process (the cause) and another (the effect), where the first is understood to be partly responsible for the second.

A system is said to be a causal if it’s output at anytime depends upon present and past inputs only. A system is said to be non-causal system if its output depends upon future inputs also.

Every effect is preceded, not followed, by a cause. Causal explanations – Goals, intentions and purpose are irrelevant. (Skyttner 2005)

By giving causal explanations we are automatically ordering events in space and time, and the causal relation itself is intrinsically temporal. (In general, causes precede or are simultaneous with their effects.) (Scruton 1996, 81)

Aristotle suggested four types of cause: Material cause stems from the presence of some physical substance that is needed for a particular outcome. Formal cause – the material necessary for some particular outcome must be available the appropriate form. Efficient cause – for something to happen, there must be an ‘agent that produces the effect and starts the material on its way’. Final cause – Events may come about because they are desired by some intentional organism. (Scott 2004)

[Aristotle] An adequate explanation of anything, he claimed, must identify those causes responsible for the phenomenon being explained. Aristotle’s four causes are final cause (the goal or purpose toward which something aims), formal cause (that which makes anything that sort of thing and no other I), material cause (the stuff out of which it is made), and efficient cause (the force that brings the thing into being). …philosophers concluded that deduction from timeless and contextless laws is the ideal, not only of science, but of any legitimate form of reasoning. A law of nature- at worst statistical, but ideally strictly deterministic – combined with statements specifying initial conditions must allow that which is being explained (the explanandum) to be inferred. Implicit in Aristotle’s account of cause and crucially influential in the history of action theory, however, is another of Aristotle ‘s claims: that nothing , strictly speaking, can move , cause, or act on itself in the same respect. This principle has remained unchallenged throughout the history of philosophy and, as we shall see, has caused many problems for the theory of action. Understanding all cause as collision-like, and the explanatory ideal as deduction from deterministic laws, are two examples of a trend that has characterized the history of philosophy for over two thousand years: the progressive elimination of time and context from metaphysics and epistemology. (Juarrero 1999, 2)

These causes can be easily understood by the example of a meal. The material cause for example breakfast would be the ingredients (things). The efficient cause would be the cooking (process). The formal cause would be the recipe (design). And the final cause would be one’s hunger and desire to eat (purpose). Aristotle provided a means for understanding natural systems in terms of four kinds of causes. Modern science has focused on the first two of these, material and efficient, roughly corresponding to the Newtonian view of objects in space (material) and processes (efficient). The laws governing transformations in this view are not themselves considered to be part of realized nature, but part of a Platonic realm analysis. Complexity can be understood in a deep sense with regard to Aristotle’s original causal structure, readmitting the second two causes, formal and final, which were eliminated from mechanistic science to make it computationally simple. (Kineman 2003)

Reductionism is about direct causality; complexity is systemic causality (based on functional components which capture the organization). Reductionist thinking leads to a need for God – an intelligent machine designer. On the other hand, organisms are closed to efficient cause – no need for a designer. Direct causation has almost no use in evolutionary theory. (Mikulecky 2014)

Deterministic causes are necessary and sufficient; probabilistic causes are necessary but not sufficient. Note that whether a phenomenon is or is not a deterministic cause depends on how we define or construct it and its environment. (Ackoff 1967)

Goal-directed behavior characterizes the changes observed in the state of the system. A system is seen to be actively organized in terms of the goal and, hence, can be understood to exhibit “reverse causality.” (D. Chen and Stroup 1993)


Causality (also referred to as ‘causation’, or ’cause and effect’) is the relation between one process (the cause) and another (the effect), where the first is understood to be partly responsible for the second. Read More


A causal quality or agency. The relation between a cause and its effect or between regularly correlated events or phenomena.

Thesaurus someone or something responsible for a result
Synonyms antecedent, causality, causation, occasion, reason
Related Terms consideration, determinant, factor; alpha and omega, be-all and end-all; impetus, incentive, inspiration, instigation, stimulus; mother, origin, root, source, spring
Antonyms aftereffect, aftermath, consequence, corollary, development, effect, fate, fruit, issue, outcome, outgrowth, product, result, resultant, sequel, sequence, upshot



The science of control and communication, in the animal and the machine.

Cybernetics was defined by Wiener as “the science of control and communication, in the animal and the machine”. Cybernetics, too, is a “theory of machines”, but it treats, not things but ways of behaving. It does not ask “what is this thing?” but “what does it do?” It is thus essentially functional and behavioristic. Cybernetics deals with all forms of behavior in so far as they are regular, or determinate, or reproducible. The materiality is irrelevant, and so is the holding or not of the ordinary laws of physics. The truths of cybernetics are not conditional on their being derived from some other branch of science. Cybernetics has its own foundations. Cybernetics typically treats any given, particular, machine by asking not “what individual act will it produce here and now?” but “what are all the possible behaviors that it can produce?” Cybernetics might, in fact, be defined as the study of systems that are open to energy but closed to information and control (Ashby 1955)

In cybernetics, living systems are studied through analogy with physical systems. (Skyttner 2005)

Cybernetics is the science that studies the abstract principles of organization in complex systems. It is concerned not so much with what systems consist of, but how they function. Cybernetics focuses on how systems use information, models, and control actions to steer towards and maintain their goals, while counteracting various disturbances. Being inherently transdisciplinary, cybernetic reasoning can be applied to understand, model and design systems of any kind: physical, technological, biological, ecological, psychological, social, or any combination of those. Second-order cybernetics in particular studies the role of the (human) observer in the construction of models of systems and other observers. GST studies systems at all levels of generality, whereas Cybernetics focuses more specifically on goal-directed, functional systems which have some form of control relation. (Heylighen and Joslyn 2001)


Cybernetics is a transdisciplinary approach for exploring regulatory systems, their structures, constraints, and possibilities. Read More

Other References
Principia Cybernetica Web

The science of communication and control theory that is concerned especially with the comparative study of automatic control systems (as the nervous system and brain and mechanical-electrical communication systems).


General Systems Theory

The transdisciplinary study of the abstract organization of phenomena, independent of their substance, type, or spatial or temporal scale of existence.

As a basic science, it deals, on an abstract level, with general properties of systems, regardless of physical form or domain of application, supported by its own metaphysics in Systems Philosophy. GST provides a way to abstract from reality; simplifying it while at the same time capturing its multidimensionality. As an epistemology it structures not only our thinking about reality but also our thinking about thinking itself. (Skyttner 2005)


Systems theory is the interdisciplinary study of systems in general, with the goal of discovering patterns and elucidating principles that can be discerned from, and applied to, all types of systems at all nesting levels in all fields of research. Read More

Other References
Principia Cybernetica Web


System Dynamics

System dynamics is a computer-aided approach to policy analysis and design. It applies to dynamic problems arising in complex social, managerial, economic, or ecological systems — literally any dynamic systems characterized by interdependence, mutual interaction, information feedback, and circular causality.

Uses dynamic computer models which change in a network of coupled variables. (Skyttner 2005)

Focus on feedback-driven, mainly internally generated dynamics. The model systems are networks of closed loops of information. However, they are not limited to the representation of ”closed systems,” in that (a) flows can originate from outside the system’s boundaries, (b) exogenous factors or systems can be incorporated into any model, as parameters or special modules, and (c) new information can be accommodated via changes to a model. Neither are they deterministic; stochastic variables and relationships have been a standard modeling feature since Forrester’s Industrial Dynamics was published. (Schwaninger 2001)


System dynamics is an approach to understanding the nonlinear behaviour of complex systems over time using stocks and flows, internal feedback loops and time delays. Read More

Other References
System Dynamics Society



Determinism is the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.

The belief in the orderly flow of cause and effect. (Skyttner 2005)

Something is deterministic when it follows a rule. Deterministic: (a) Completely and exactly specified (at least to within measuring accuracy) by one or more mathematical equations and a given initial condition; (b) said of a system whose past and future are completely determined by its present state and any new input. (Williams 1997)

The world of nature is governed by laws, but no scientific law, however deep, is more than a statement of probability. Of nothing in the natural world can it be said that it must be so, but at best that it is highly likely to be so. (Scruton 1996)

All mechanisms are deterministic systems. The behavior and properties of deterministic systems are determined by their structure, causal laws, and—if they are open systems—by other systems in their environments. The more functions a deterministic system performs, the more complex it is. The measure of complexity of a system is the number of variables and their interactions required to explain the behavior of the system. (Ackoff and Gharajedaghi 2014)


Determinism is the philosophical position that for every event, including human interactions, there exist conditions that could cause no other event. Read More

Other References
The Information Philosopher

A theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws. A belief in predestination. The quality or state of being determined. A doctrine that the actions of a self are determined by itself.



Lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern

(a) Based strictly on a chance mechanism (the luck of the draw), with negligible deterministic effects (the definition used in this book); (b) disorganized or haphazard; (c) providing every member an equal chance of selection; (d) unlikely repeatability of any observation; (e) unpredictability of individual events to within any reasonable degree of certainty; (f) difficult to compute. (Williams 1997)


Randomness is the lack of pattern or predictability in events. Read More


A haphazard course. Without definite aim, direction, rule, or method. Lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern. Made, done, or chosen at random. Relating to, having, or being elements or events with definite probability of occurrence. Being or relating to a set or to an element of a set each of whose elements has equal probability of occurrence. Characterized by procedures designed to obtain such sets or elements. In a random manner. Permitting access to stored data in any order the user desires. Ram. A variable that is itself a function of the result of a statistical experiment in which each outcome has a definite probability of occurrence called also variate. A process (as Brownian motion or genetic drift) consisting of a sequence of steps (as movements or changes in gene frequency) each of whose characteristics (as magnitude and direction) is determined by chance.

Thesaurus lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern
Synonyms aimless, arbitrary, catch-as-catch-can, desultory, erratic, haphazard, helter-skelter, hit-or-miss, scattered, slapdash, stray
Related Terms accidental, casual, chance, chancy, contingent, fluky ( flukey), fortuitous, inadvertent, incidental, lucky, unconsidered, unintended, unintentional, unplanned, unpremeditated; scattershot, shotgun; irregular, odd, sporadic, spot; directionless, objectles
Antonyms methodical ( methodic), nonrandom, orderly, organized, regular, systematic, systematized



Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.

Knowledge is the human explanation of order.

Knowledge is not of predetermined events and states of affairs, but knowledge of how to interfere with and divert the natural course of events so as to improve our subjective well-being. Knowledge does not help us predict an unalterable course of events but is a tool of purposefully changing and hope-fully bettering future outcomes and events. Our actions, unlike the operations of an automaton, are not a series of predetermined events which the knower cannot influence and with respect to whose outcome he is indifferent. Rather, our actions are sequences of decisions (choices) of altering the predetermined course of events to our advantage. We are never neutral or indifferent toward the course of future events. Instead, we always prefer one course of events over another, and we use our knowledge to bring about our preferences. For us, knowledge is practical and effective, and while it is imperfect and subject to error, it is the only means of achieving human betterment. (Hoppe 1997)

The capacity to take effective action in variable and uncertain situations. Capacity means the potential and actual ability. Thus, we tie knowledge directly into action or changes in the world. (Bennett 2014b)

Plato: justified true belief.

Sources of knowledge: Experience (perception, memory, introspection) and reason. A Priori knowledge is absolutely independent of experience – Kant: (Moser 2002)


Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning. Read More

Other References

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Cognizance. The fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association. Acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique. The fact or condition of being aware of something. The range of one’s information or understanding. The circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning cognition. The fact or condition of having information or of being learned. Sexual intercourse. The sum of what is known the body of truth, information, and principles acquired by humankind. A branch of learning. A branch of artificial intelligence that emphasizes the development and use of expert systems. Knowledge or understanding of one’s own capabilities, character, feelings, or motivations.

Thesaurus a body of facts learned by study or experience
Synonyms lore, science, wisdom
Related Terms dope, information, intelligence, know, lowdown, news, skinny []; data, evidence, facts; acquaintance, awareness, familiarity, literacy; erudition, learning, scholarship; expertise, know-how


Complexity Science

The study of systems that produce global behavior that cannot easily be explained by classical or statistical methods. Also known as complex systems theory and complexity theory.

The roots of the complexity movement are diverse, including: non-linear dynamics and statistical mechanics—two offshoots from Newtonian mechanics—which noted that the modelling of more complex systems required new mathematical tools that can deal with randomness and chaos; computer science, which allowed the simulation of systems too large or too complex to model mathematically; biological evolution, which explains the appearances of complex forms through the intrinsically unpredictable mechanism of blind variation and natural selection; the application of these methods to describe social systems in the broad sense, such as stock markets, the Internet or insect societies, where there is no predefined order, although there are emergent structures. What distinguishes complexity science is its focus on phenomena that are characterized neither by order—like those studied in Newtonian mechanics and systems science, nor by disorder—like those investigated by statistical mechanics and Postmodern social science, but that are situated somewhere in between, in the zone that is commonly (though perhaps misleadingly) called the edge of chaos. (Heylighen, Cilliers, and Gershenson 2006)

Order is simple to model, since we can predict everything once we know the initial conditions and the constraints. Disorder too is simple in a sense: while we cannot predict the behavior of individual components, statistical independence means that we can accurately predict their average behavior, which for large numbers of components is practically equal to their overall behavior. In a truly complex system, on the other hand, components are to some degree independent, and thus autonomous in their behavior, while undergoing various direct and indirect interactions. This makes the global behavior of the system very difficult to predict, although it is not random. (Heylighen, Cilliers, and Gershenson 2006)


Complex systems present problems both in mathematical modelling and philosophical foundations. Read More

Other References

Complexity Science Map
Introductory Video



Any structure that exhibits order, pattern, and perhaps purpose. A way of looking at the world.

A system is not something presented to the observer; it is something to be recognized by him. It is a way of organizing our thoughts about the real world. A system cannot be understood by analysis of the parts because of their complex interactions and because purpose or meaning can only be imminent in the whole. A system is in itself always an abstraction chosen with the emphasis on either structural or functional aspects. This abstraction may be associated with, but must not be identified with, a physical embodiment. Anyhow, the relationship between the elements should have as much attention as the elements being related.

An often used common sense definition is the following: ‘A system is a set of interacting units or elements that form an integrated whole intended to perform some function’. Reduced to everyday language we can express it as any structure that exhibits order, pattern and purpose. This in turn implies some constancy over time. A system’s purpose is the reason for its existence and the starting point for measuring its success. (Skyttner 2005)

A system is something of interest that we are trying to describe or predict. (Shankar 2003)

In the most basic definition a system is a group of interacting components that conserves some identifiable set of relations with the sum of the components plus their relations (i.e., the system itself) conserving some identifiable set of relations to other entities (including other systems). In the words of Macy (1991, p. 72), a system is less a thing than a pattern.(Laszlo and Krippner 1998)

”A system is a family of relationships between its members acting as a whole.” (Schwaninger 2001)

(a) An arrangement of interacting parts, units, components, variables, etc. into a whole; (b) a group, series, or sequence of elements, often in the form of a chronological dataset. (Williams 1997)

The term “system” is comprised of two roots, one of which means “together” and the other “to cause to stand.” In the original Greek, “systematic” referred to things combined in one whole. (Pearce 2002)

“system is an entity composed of elements and relations among them and interacting with its environment from which it is separated in a more or less fuzzy way” (Mesjasz 2010)

A set of interacting components having well-defined (although possibly poorly understood) behavior or purpose; the concept is subjective in that what is a system to one person may not appear to be a system to another. (Magee and de Weck 2004)

Weinberg: “as any fool knows, a system is a way of looking at the world.” (Ola Larses and Jad El-khoury 2005)

“A system is a set of variables sufficiently isolated to stay constant long enough for us to discuss it”. (Ron Ashby, quoted in Skyttner, 2005)



A system is a set of interacting or interdependent component parts forming a complex/intricate whole. Read More


A regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole as. A group of interacting bodies under the influence of related forces. An assemblage of substances that is in or tends to equilibrium. A group of body organs that together perform one or more vital functions. The body considered as a functional unit. A group of related natural objects or forces. A group of devices or artificial objects or an organization forming a network especially for distributing something or serving a common purpose. A major division of rocks usually larger than a series and including all formed during a period or era. A form of social, economic, or political organization or practice. An organized set of doctrines, ideas, or principles usually intended to explain the arrangement or working of a systematic whole. An organized or established procedure. A manner of classifying, symbolizing, or schematizing. Harmonious arrangement or pattern order. An organized society or social situation regarded as stultifying or oppressive establishment 2 usually used with the. The basic system of antigens of human blood behaving in heredity as an allelic unit to produce any of the ABO blood groups. A part of the vertebrate nervous system that innervates smooth and cardiac muscle and glandular tissues and governs involuntary actions (as secretion and peristalsis) and that consists of the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. A system for identifying persons based on bodily measurements, photographs, and notation of data (as markings, color, and thumb line impressions). Binary star. A similar system containing bodies (as black holes) other than stars. An arrangement in which two individuals are paired (as for mutual safety in a hazardous situation). A system of teaching law in which instruction is chiefly on the basis of leading or selected cases as primary authorities instead of from textbooks called also case method. The part of the nervous system which in vertebrates consists of the brain and spinal cord, to which sensory impulses are transmitted and from which motor impulses pass out, and which coordinates the activity of the entire nervous system compare peripheral nervous system. The system of blood, blood vessels, lymphatics, and heart concerned with the circulation of the blood and lymph. A number system that uses a notation in which each number is expressed in base 10 by using one of the first nine integers or 0 in each place and letting each place value be a power of 10. A system of measurement or currency in which the basic units increase by powers of 10.

Thesaurus something made up of many interdependent or related parts
Synonyms complex, network
Related Terms interlacement, mesh, meshwork, net, plexus, web; aggregate, conglomerate, totality, whole; sequence, series; supersystem


Systems science

Finding underlying patterns and principles which can be applied across a range of different systems. A counterpoint to classical science (reductionism). Also known as systems theory.

Generally, systems science is about finding underlying patterns and principles which can be applied across a range of different systems. It focuses on the connections and interactions between the parts, rather than just analyzing the parts themselves. Moreover, systems science seeks to avoid disciplinary fragmentation and over-reliance on reductionist dependency among its practitioners.

As an applied science, GST became Systems Science, a metadiscipline with content capable of being transferred from discipline to discipline. As such, it is knowledge regarding knowledge structures and attempts to add and integrate those aspects that seem not to be adequately treated in older science (but also to engage in continuous cross-fertilization of various disciplines). Systems science became the science of synthesis and integration. Its aim was to compliment not replace traditional science. (Skyttner 2005)

Systems science strives towards a unification of all the scientific disciplines—from physics to biology, psychology and sociology—but by investigating the patterns of organization that are common to different phenomena rather than their common material components. (Heylighen et. al. 2006)

General systems theory was first articulated by organismic biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1981) as a counterpoint to classical science’s mechanistic understanding of human beings and nature. Its fundamental claim is that when living things are embedded in a orderly context , properties emerge that are not present when the things exist as isolated individuals.(Juarrero 1999, 108)

Quotations from Weinberg: The GS movement has taken up the task of helping scientists to unravel complexity, technologists to master it and others to learn to live with it. Physics does not Endeavour to explain nature … it endeavors to explain the regularities in the behavior of objects … called the laws of nature. Science is unable to cope with MNS , though its success with systems of its own choosing mislead many into thinking of science as a way of dealing with ALL systems. Perhaps we are reaching the useful limits of science and technology whose philosophical underpinnings are techniques restricted to systems of small and large numbers (Ola Larses and Jad El-khoury 2005)

Systems versus Science: The etymological root of “science” is to cut apart or separate; it is the process of identifying a thing in terms of its parts. The word itself is kin to schism and schizophrenic, both of which refer to “splitting apart.” On the other hand, the term “system” is comprised of two roots, one of which means “together” and the other “to cause to stand.” In the original Greek, “systematic” referred to things combined in one whole. The term “system” was first used in English in 1619 to refer to “an arrangement” and “systemic” was first used in 1803, in a medical dictionary, with the meaning of “belonging to, supplying, or affecting the body as a whole.” (Pearce 2002)


Systems science is an interdisciplinary field that studies the nature of systems—from simple to complex—in nature, society, and science itself. Read More

Other References
Principia Cybernetica Web


Integral Theory

Integral theory is Ken Wilber’s attempt to place a wide diversity of theories and thinkers into one single framework. It is portrayed as a “theory of everything” trying “to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching.”

I will acknowledge that Ken Wilber’s writings stimulated my interest in philosophy, and that his Integral Theory is a very useful pathway for expanding your thinking and developing multiple perspectives. Two things that always bothered me about Wilber were the reliance on spirituality (perennial philosophy) and all of the assumptions that went into the Gebser-Graves-Beck spiral dynamics model. Nevertheless, there is still much to be admired and learned from Wilber’s massive and integrating effort.



Integral theory is Ken Wilber’s attempt to place a wide diversity of theories and thinkers into one single framework. Read More

Other References
Overview of Integral Theory
Dictionary integral

Essential to completeness constituent. Being, containing, or relating to one or more mathematical integers. Relating to or concerned with mathematical integration or the results of mathematical integration. Formed as a unit with another part. Composed of constituent parts. Lacking nothing essential entire. The result of a mathematical integration compare definite integral indefinite integral. A branch of mathematics concerned with the theory and applications (as in the determination of lengths, areas, and volumes and in the solution of differential equations) of integrals and integration. A mathematical ring in which multiplication is commutative, which has a multiplicative identity element, and which contains no pair of nonzero elements whose product is zero. The difference between the values of the integral of a given function f(x) for an upper value b and a lower value a of the independent variable x. A definite integral whose region of integration is unbounded or includes a point at which the integrand is undefined or tends to infinity. Any function whose derivative is a given function. A definite integral defined as the limit of sums found by partitioning the interval comprising the domain of definition into subintervals, by finding the sum of products each of which consists of the width of a subinterval multiplied by the value of the function at some point in it, and by letting the maximum width of the subintervals approach zero.

Thesaurus being a part of the innermost nature of a person or thing
Synonyms built-in, constitutional, constitutive, essential, hardwired, immanent, inborn, inbred, indigenous, ingrain, ingrained ( engrained), innate, integral, intrinsic, native, natural
Related Terms basic, deep-rooted, elemental, fundamental; congenital, hereditary, inherited, inmost, inner, interior; internal; characteristic, distinctive, peculiar; habitual, inveterate; normal, regular, typical
Antonyms adventitious, extraneous, extrinsic



Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature and organization of reality. In short, what can we know and understand?

What is real? What exists?

Metaphysics is the attempt to say what reality is. Cosmology, or how we think the most real things have come into being, is one of the components of metaphysics; another is ontology, the study of what is. In developing an ontology, as part of our attempt to formulate our metaphysics, we have to evaluate the different entities in the world, picking out those that are most basic. But we have already anticipated two of the tests that are usually imposed on this notion of what is “most real.” First, that which is most real is that upon which all else is dependent. For a religious person, God is most real because all else depends on him; for a scientist, what is most real are the principles and particles on which all of reality can be reasoned to be based. Second, that which is most real is that which itself is not created or destroyed. (Solomon, Higgins 2010)

Materialists believe that matter is primary; matter is the only substance, and reality is identical with the actually occurring states of energy and matter. Idealists believe that mind is primary; reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial.


Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Read More


A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being. A particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence.



Epistemology is the philosophical study of how we acquire knowledge. In short, “How do we know?”

The theory of knowledge and how we acquire it.

Knowledge is about truth. Something may be true because of the facts – empirical truth based on experience. Or something may be true because of our reasoning  – necessary truth is best illustrated by 1+1 equals 2; it can be nothing else. After thousands of years of humans collecting facts and thinking, you would think we would have this one nailed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Complexity itself intervenes.



Epistemology (/ɨˌpɪstɨˈmɒlədʒi/; from Greek ἐπιστήμη, epistēmē, meaning “knowledge, understanding”, and λόγος, logos, meaning “word”) is a term first used by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier to describe the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge and is also referred to as “theory of knowledge”. Read More

Other References

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


The study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity.



Entropy is a measure of disorder.

This is the amount of disorder or randomness present in any system. All non-living systems tend toward disorder; left alone they will eventually lose all motion and degenerate into an inert mass. When this permanent stage is reached and no events occur, maximum entropy is attained. A living system can, for a finite time, avert this unalterable process by importing energy from its environment. It is then said to create negentropy, something which is characteristic of all kinds of life. (Skyttner 2005)

A probabilistic measure of variety. (Heylighen and Joslyn 2001)

Applying the thermodynamic interpretation (as defined by Rudolf Clausius), entropy reveals the extent to which the energy in a closed system is available to do work (as defined in a somewhat sloppy manner). The lower the entropy level is, the more there is free energy. In statistical mechanics (by Ludwig Boltzmann and Willard Gibbs), and analogously in information theory (by Claude Shannon), entropy is related to probability: More probable states (observations) reflect higher entropy than less probable ones. In a sense, entropy is the opposite of information — less probable observations contain more information about the system state. (Heikki Hyötyniemi 2006)


In thermodynamics, entropy (usual symbol S) is a measure of the number of specific ways in which a thermodynamic system may be arranged, commonly understood as a measure of disorder. Read More

Other References
Shannon entropy

A measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system’s disorder, that is a property of the system’s state, and that varies directly with any reversible change in heat in the system and inversely with the temperature of the system. The degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system. The degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity. A process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder. Chaos disorganization randomness.



Generally, objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside of a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings.


Objectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to reality and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Read More

Other References
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Relating to or existing as an object of thought without consideration of independent existence used chiefly in medieval philosophy. Of, relating to, or being an object, phenomenon, or condition in the realm of sensible experience independent of individual thought and perceptible by all observers having reality independent of the mind compare subjective 3a. Perceptible to persons other than the affected individual compare subjective 4c. Involving or deriving from sense perception or experience with actual objects, conditions, or phenomena. Relating to, characteristic of, or constituting the case of words that follow prepositions or transitive verbs. Expressing or dealing with facts or conditions as perceived without distortion by personal feelings, prejudices, or interpretations. Limited to choices of fixed alternatives and reducing subjective factors to a minimum.

Thesaurus lack of favoritism toward one side or another
Synonyms disinterest, disinterestedness, equity, evenhandedness, fair-mindedness, fairness, impartiality, justice, neutralism, neutrality, nonpartisanship, objectiveness, objectivity
Related Terms apathy, indifference, unconcern; broad-mindedness, open-mindedness, tolerance; fence-sitting, straddling
Antonyms bias, favor, favoritism, nonobjectivity, one-sidedness, partiality, partisanship, prejudice



Relating to the way a person experiences things in his or her own mind.

Subjectivity is most commonly used as an explanation for that which influences, informs, and biases people’s judgments about truth or reality; it is the collection of the perceptions, experiences, expectations, personal or cultural understanding, and beliefs specific to a person. It is often used in contrast to the term objectivity, which is described as a view of truth or reality which is free of any individual’s influence.

Historically, philosophy has differentiated between two worlds: the external world of objects (states, events), and the internal mental world representations (ideas, sensations. In essence, the subject (person) observes objects (reality). In our modern world, we have come to think of subjectivity as relating to personal preferences, and objectivity as relating to things that are independent of personal preferences. So, the temperature today will be 20 degrees, and whether or not this is warm or cold is up to you.


Subjectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to consciousness, agency, personhood, reality, and truth, which has been variously defined by sources. Read More

Dictionary subjective

Of, relating to, or constituting a subject as. Of, relating to, or characteristic of one that is a subject especially in lack of freedom of action or in submissiveness. Being or relating to a grammatical subject. Nominative. Of or relating to the essential being of that which has substance, qualities, attributes, or relations. Characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind phenomenal compare objective 1b. Relating to or being experience or knowledge as conditioned by personal mental characteristics or states. Peculiar to a particular individual personal. Modified or affected by personal views, experience, or background. Arising from conditions within the brain or sense organs and not directly caused by external stimuli. Arising out of or identified by means of one’s perception of one’s own states and processes compare objective 1c. Lacking in reality or substance illusory. Something that is subjective (see subjective). Nominative. A grammatical complement relating to the subject of an intransitive verb (as sick in “he had fallen sick”).

Thesaurus of, relating to, or belonging to a single person
Synonyms idiomatic, individualized, particular, patented, peculiar, personal, personalized, private, privy, separate, singular, subjective, unique
Related Terms characteristic, distinctive, intimate; identifying, idiosyncratic; especial, express, special, specific; independent, nonconformist, self-directed, self-sufficient; custom, customized, specialized
Antonyms general, generic, popular, public, shared, universal



Philosophy is the study of the general and fundamental nature of reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

Philosophy is all about our beliefs and attitudes about ourselves and the world. Doing philosophy, therefore, is first of all the activity of stating, as clearly and as convincingly as possible, what we believe and what we believe in. (Solomon 2006)

A basic function of philosophy is to analyse and criticize the implicit assumptions behind our thinking, whether it is based in science, culture or common sense. As such, philosophy can help us to clarify the principles of thought that characterize complexity science and that distinguish it from its predecessors. Vice versa, complexity theory can help philosophy solve some of its perennial problems, such as the origins of mind, organization or ethics. Traditionally, philosophy is subdivided into metaphysics and ontology—which examines the fundamental categories of reality, logic and epistemology—which investigates how we can know and reason about that reality, aesthetics and ethics. Aesthetics and ethics link into the questions of value and meaning. (Heylighen et. al. 2006).

Philosophical problems tend to have three special features. First, they tend to concern large frameworks rather than specific questions within the framework. Second, they are questions for which there is no generally accepted method of solution. And third, they tend to involve conceptual issues. (Searle 1999)

The word “philosophy” carries unfortunate connotations: impractical, unworldly, weird. I suspect that all philosophers and philosophy students share that moment of silent embarrassment when someone innocently asks us what we do. I would prefer to introduce myself as doing conceptual engineering. For just as the engineer studies the structure of material things, so the philosopher studies the structure of thought. Understanding the structure involves seeing how parts function and how they interconnect. It means knowing what would happen for better or worse if changes were made. This is what we aim at when we investigate the structures that shape our view of the world. Our concepts or ideas form the mental housing in which we live. We may end up proud of the structures we have built. Or we may believe that they need dismantling and starting afresh. But first, we have to know what they are. (Blackburn 1999)


Philosophy is the study of the general and fundamental nature of reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Read More


All learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts. The sciences and liberal arts exclusive of medicine, law, and theology. The 4-year college course of a major seminary. Physical science. Ethics. A discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. Pursuit of wisdom. A search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means. An analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs. A system of philosophical concepts. A theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought. The most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group. Calmness of temper and judgment befitting a philosopher. An overall vision of or attitude toward life and the purpose of life. Any of various philosophies that emphasize human life or life in general. A philosophical movement that seeks the solution of philosophical problems in the analysis of propositions or sentences called also philosophical analysis compare ordinary-language philosophy. Ethics. The study of human conduct and values. Natural science. Physical science. A trend in philosophical analysis that seeks to resolve philosophical perplexity by revealing sources of puzzlement in the misunderstanding of ordinary language.

Thesaurus the basic beliefs or guiding principles of a person or group
Synonyms credo, doctrine, dogma, gospel, ideology ( idealogy), philosophy, testament
Related Terms manifesto; metaphysic, theory; axiom, tenet, watchword



Science is the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

The founding motto of the Royal Society, Nullius in verba, is Latin for “Take nobody’s word for it”. It was adopted to signify the fellows’ determination to establish facts via experiments.

The is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.

We, however, are beset by the need to explain. Faced with something unusual, our thought is not ‘What next?’ but ‘Why?’ By answering the second of those questions, we can answer the first. And this, in brief, is the scientific method. (Scruton 1996)

The etymological root of “science” is to cut apart or separate; it is the process of identifying a thing in terms of its parts. (Pearce 2002)

Life is lived from the inside out as our subjectivity reaches out, as it were, to the objective world. Science goes in the opposite direction. It brings the outside world into our subjective comprehension. Science is a description of reality. Reality is not a data bank, nor can it be reduced to a finite set of laws or to a deductive axiomatic system. Any system inevitably misses something. Words, symbols, and systems are all incomplete. Modern science contains a new way of looking at reality, and what is distinctive about the new view is the emergence of these limits—limits to reason, to deductive systems, to certainty, and to objectivity. (Byers 2011)


Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe. Read More

Other References
Science Council

The state of knowing knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding. A department of systematized knowledge as an object of study. Something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge. Knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method. Such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena natural science. A system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws. Christian science. A competitive exhibition of science projects usually carried out by schoolchildren. Fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals or having a scientific factor as an essential orienting component. A branch of science (as psychology, sociology, or anthropology) that deals primarily with human action and often seeks to generalize about human behavior in society. Large-scale scientific research consisting of projects funded usually by a national government or group of governments. A religion founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866 that was organized under the official name of the Church of Christ, Scientist, that derives its teachings from the Scriptures as understood by its adherents, and that includes a practice of spiritual healing. An interdisciplinary science that draws on many fields (as psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, and philosophy) in developing theories about human perception, thinking, and learning. A branch of science that deals with the theory of computation or the design of computers. Creationism. Scientific evidence or arguments put forth in support of creationism. Home economics.

Thesaurus a body of facts learned by study or experience
Synonyms lore, science, wisdom
Related Terms dope, information, intelligence, know, lowdown, news, skinny []; data, evidence, facts; acquaintance, awareness, familiarity, literacy; erudition, learning, scholarship; expertise, know-how



Uncertainty is something that people feel, and is subjective. For most, uncertainty is the absence of doubt.

Human beings have a basic need for certainty. Yet since things are ultimately uncertain, we satisfy this need by creating artificial islands of certainty. We create models of reality and then insist that the models are reality. It is not that science, mathematics, and statistics do not provide useful information about the real world. The problem lies in making excessive claims for the validity of these methods and models and believing them to be absolutely certain. It is the claim that the current theory has finally captured the definitive truth that leads to all kinds of difficulties. (Byers 2011)

Any deviation from the unachievable ideal of completely deterministic knowledge of the relevant system. (Walker et al. 2003)

Uncertainties are things that are not known, or known only imprecisely. (McManus and Hastings 2006)

van Asselt defines uncertainty as the entire set of beliefs or doubts that stems from our limited knowledge of the past and the present -uncertainty due to lack of knowledge – and our inability to predict future events, outcomes and consequences – uncertainty due to variability. (Pruyt 2007)

“All I can say is beware of geeks bearing formulas” Warrant Buffett – Interviewed on PBS’s Charlie Rose program, quoted in Dennis Overbye, “They Tried to Outsmart Wall Street,” The New York Times, March 10, 2009.


Uncertainty is the situation which involves imperfect and / or unknown information. Read More


The quality or state of being uncertain doubt. Something that is uncertain. A principle in quantum mechanics it is impossible to discern simultaneously and with high accuracy both the position and the momentum of a particle (as an electron) called also Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Uncertainty principle called also Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.

Thesaurus a feeling or attitude that one does not know the truth, truthfulness, or trustworthiness of someone or something
Synonyms distrust, distrustfulness, dubiety, dubitation [], incertitude, misdoubt, misgiving, mistrust, mistrustfulness, query, reservation, skepticism, suspicion, uncertainty
Related Terms disbelief, incredulity, unbelief; anxiety, concern, paranoia, wariness; compunction, niggle [], qualm, scruple, tremor
Antonyms assurance, belief, certainty, certitude, confidence, conviction, sureness, surety, trust



A realm of negotiated understanding between ourselves. In its weakest sense, intersubjectivity refers to agreement. There is intersubjectivity between people if they agree on a given set of meanings or a definition of the situation.


A realm of negotiated understanding between ourselves. (Bowers 2010)


Intersubjectivity is a term used in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and anthropology to represent the psychological relation between people. Read More

Other References

Standford Encyclopedia of Psychology
Exploring Consciousness from the Second Person Perspective


Involving or occurring between separate conscious minds. Accessible to or capable of being established for two or more subjects objective.