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date: 28 February 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Complexity theory attempts to explain, at the most general possible level, the interesting features of complex systems. Two such features are the emergence of simple or stable behavior of the whole from relatively complex or unpredictable behavior of the parts and the emergence of sophisticated behavior of the whole from relatively simplistic behavior of the parts. Often, both kinds of emergence are found nested in the same system. Concerning the emergence of simplicity, this essay examines Herbert Simon’s explanation from near-decomposability and a stochastic explanation that generalizes the approach of statistical physics. A more general notion of an abstract difference-making structure is introduced with examples, and a discussion of evolvability follows. Concerning the emergence of sophistication, this chapter focuses on, first, the energetics approach associated with dissipative structures and the “fourth law of thermodynamics” and, second, the notion of a “complex adaptive system.”

Keywords: complex adaptive system, simplicity, stability, emergence, evolvability, statistical theories, difference-making, dissipative structure

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