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ackground Observations on Emergence and Complexity Theory

Courtesy of the Society for Chaos Theory in Psychology & Life Sciences:  An Introduction to Nonlinear Dynamics prepared for the 1997 SCTPLS Conference by Keith Clayton. (In Acrobat PDF Format).


N. Kathrine Hayles (1990):

Distinguises between two general emphases in chaos theory. “In the first, chaos is seen as order’s precursor and partner, rather than its opposite. The focus here is on the spontaneous emergence of self-organization from chaos; or, in the parlance of the field, on the dissipative structures that arise in systems far from equilibrium, where enthropy production is high” (p. 9).  According to Hayles, this emphasis is associated with Ilya Prigogine (cf. Prigogine & Stengers, REF).  The second branch emphasizesthe hidden order that exists within chaotic systems.  Chaos in this usage is distinct from true randomness, because it can be shown to contain deeply encoded structures called “strange attractors.”” (p. 9). This emphasis is associated with Edward Lorentz, Mitchell Feigenbaum, Benoit Mandelbrot, and Robert Shaw. She also notes that James Gleick’s narrative history of chaos theory ignores the first of these branches in favor of the ‘strange attractor branch’.

Another interesting observation made by Hayles is that “fewer connections have been forget between the two branches than one might expect” (p. 10). Also, “the order-out-of-chaos branch has more philosophy than results, the strange attractor branch more results than philosophy.” (p. 10) 

It is fair to say that the present website emphasizes the former account, i.e., the order-out-of-chaos branch. This is not only closely linked with the concept of emergence, it is also my belief that e.g. specifying complex systems, in which the emergence of order can be studied, is more compatible with social/real world research as envisioned here.