Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

The Complexity of Complexity Theory: An Innovative Analysis

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

The Complexity of Complexity Theory: An Innovative Analysis

Article excerpt

As more scholars join the conversation around complexity theory (CT), it seems a useful time to ask ourselves if we are talking about the "same thing?" This concern is highlighted by the present survey, which finds more conflict than agreement between definitions. In contrast to the conflict, a path toward common ground may be found by applying the idea of a "robust" theory. A robust theory is expected to be more effective in application and more reasonably falsifiable. In this paper, Reflexive Dimensional Analysis (RDA) is used to analyze existing definitions of CT. These definitions are deconstructed, redefined as scalar dimensions, combined, and investigated to identify co-causal relationships. The robustness of CT is identified as 0.56 on a scale of zero to one. Paths for advancing the theory are suggested, with important implications for complexity science.

Introduction: Seeking the Core of Complexity Theory

Given the breadth, depth, and growth of the current conversation, it seems reasonable to ask - exactly what is this thing called "complexity theory?" For although there are many definitions of CT, it has been suggested, that there is no unified description (Axelrod 8c Cohen, 2000: 15; Lissack, 1999: 112). While this plurality may reflect the many voices engaged in the conversation, it also calls into question the validity of the theory because there is no common sense as to what the theory "is." Indeed, the general assumption seems to be that we are all talking about the "same thing." Like blind men discussing an elephant, such assumptions may lead to false conclusions and unnecessary conflict.

While the academic process thrives on the differences between points of view, the extent of those differences calls into question whether scholars are, indeed, talking about the same thing. After all, if one author states that CT may be understood through concepts "A, B, and C" while another author states that the relevant concepts are "C, E, and F," there is some conceptual overlap, but there are also inherent contradictions. Although according to their authors, these descriptions fit under the general rubric of CT, these differences may be seen as representing a conflict in the common understanding of CT, and so reflect differences in our understanding of systems from atoms to institutions.

The issue of understanding of a body of theory has been of concern for decades. In one attempt to make sense of the issue, theories are described as having of a "hard core" of unchanging assumptions, surrounded by a more changeable "protective belt" (Lakatos, 1970). When a theory is challenged, a theorist may rise to defend it with a new concept that changes the belt, but presumably leaves the core intact. In the present paper, I seek to identify the core of CT. This effort will provide general and specific support for the continued development of CT.

If the core is defined as "that which is generally accepted," it might be easy to define the core of CT. Unfortunately; no such commonality seems to exist (as will be explored in greater depth below). Some other indicator is then needed for the core.

Where the social sciences might be generally said to have highly variable protective belts of theory, it should be noted that Ohm's I=E/R is a robust theory. I use the term robust in the same way that it is used in physics and mathematics, to describe a theory where each dimension of the theory may be determined by the other dimensions (this will be discussed in greater detail below). In the present article, I will identify how an understanding of CT might be shifted from the shifting obfuscacion of Lakatos's outer belt, toward an enduring and useful law. When our theories attain this level of advancement, we may anticipate meaningful changes in the way we study institutions.

Leaving that lack of effective theory unquestioned is like ignoring our fundamental assumptions. And, as Lichtenstein (2000a: 539) suggests, ". …

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