Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking

By Stephen Jay Kline | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
An Index for Complexity
Now that we have a rough picture of the limitations of the human mind and know how the mind works, we can ask, How do the limitations compare to the complexity of the systems we study? Although complexity is a much-discussed subject, we have not had a numerical measure of complexity for various types of systems (except for computer programs). In this chapter we will construct a complexity index, which can provide an estimate of complexity for any system or class of systems. We will then examine the complexity of some typical classes of systems in order to see what the values tell us about the nature of various systems and thus the disciplines that describe them.
An Index for Complexity
We will define a complexity index -- denoted C -- in terms of three other quantities:
V = the number of independent Variables needed to describe the state of the system;
P = the number of independent Parameters needed to distinguish the system from other systems in the same class;
L = the number of control feedback Loops both within the system and connnecting the system to the surroundings.

Since the use of the words "variables" and "parameters" varies from one discipline to another, we will use a simple example of a class of systems to help clarify how we will use them in this discussion. Figure 4-1 shows what I will call a "rectangular room" system. It is a room with all right-angle corners, of length

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