Complexity, Chaos and Emergent Order

* deJouvenal, Bertrand . Order vs. Organization, On Freedom and Free Enterprise: Essays in Honor of Ludwig von Mises, Princeton, NJ: D, Van Nostrand, 1956. 41-51.

DeJouvenal discusses our commonsense concept of order as determined by configurations obvious to our minds. Such conceptions cannot grasp complex orders where order is operational rather than perceived through intuitive seemliness. We are predisposed to see order in this latter sense, yet the most important orders, such as life itself, are operational in character.

* Hayek, F. A. The Theory of Complex Phenomena, Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967. 22-42.

Hayek discusses degrees of complexity. In particular, determining the minimum number of variables needed to reproduce characteristic patterns within different structures demonstrates “increasing complexity as we proceed from the inanimate to the . animate and social phenomena . . .” (26) Truly complex phenomena allow only for “pattern predictions.” The theory of evolution and valid social theory both can only offer predictions of this sort due to the complexity of their subjects.

Kellert, Stephen H. In the Wake of Chaos, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. 158 pp.

One of the best introductions to chaos theory which, in his words, “provides an understanding of the appearance of unpredictable behavior by constructing models which reveal order.” (79) Kellert’s focus is primarily on chaotic physical systems which are distinct from living systems, but which share interesting similarities with them. Chaos theory involves a departure from mechanistic kinds of understanding towards what Kellert terms “qualitative understanding” through discovering patterns and connections rather than prediction of detailed outcomes. The point echoes Hayek’s argument for “pattern prediction” in his essay on complex phenomena, also listed on this site. One interesting part of the book is his careful discussion of what determinism means in the context of chaotic systems. Perhaps of particular interest is his final chapter, which asks why chaos theory took so long to interest modern science. He suggests it was due to science’s interest in controlling nature, leading to disregarding systems not amenable to control and exploitation. In this way it suggests a common theme with similar problems faced within the social sciences, when they have argued against the possibilities of political and technocratic control. The chapter examines technological, institutional and ideological factors that account for the long term neglect of chaotic phenomena in the sciences, providing empirical support for some feminist accounts of science. (Interestingly, Evelyn Fox Keller, a feminist theorist of science, has also provided important research in the character of biological emergent phenomena. This research is described in Steve Johnson’s Emergence. Some of her relevant work is also on this site.)

* Lewin, Roger. Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos, New York: Macmillan, 1992. 200 pp.

A popular but not simplistic account of complexity and its relationship to systemic adaptation primarily focused on biological systems, with suggestive discussions of social systems and computer modeling. A final chapter discusses its role in the study of consciousness. He distinguishes chaotic phenomena from “emergent global order” where stability itself is an emergent property. The author interviews many leading people in these fields, particularly at the Santa fe Institute and in biology. While aware of similarities in economic phenomena – Adam Smith is referred to repeatedly – oddly absent is any attention to how his subject interacts with the Hayekian tradition. Pages 137-9 are particularly suggestive as to one way the connection could be made, however, especially when related with the emphasis of both traditions on how simple rules generate complex orders.

Titles not yet annotated:

Briggs, John and F. D. Peat. Turbulent Mirror, New York: Harper and Row, 1989. (

Casti, John. Complexification, New York: Harper Collins, 1994. (

Coveney, Peter and Roger Highfield, Frontiers of Complexity: The Search for Order in a Chaotic World, New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1995. (

Cronbach, L. J. Playing With Chaos, Educational Researcher, 17:6, 1988. 46-49. (

Gleich, John. Chaos: Making a New Science. New York: Viking, 1987. (

Kauffman, Stuart A. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-organization and Complexity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 304 pp. (

Kauffman, Stuart A. The Origins of Order, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. (

Marion, R. The Edge of Organization: Chaos and Complexity in Social Structures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, in press. (

Sterman, J. D. Deterministic Chaos in Models of Human Behavior: Methodological Issues and Experimental Results, System Dynamics Review, 4:1-2, 1988. 148-78. (

Waldrop, M. M. Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992. (