See my recent article in THEORY, CULTURE AND SOCIETY journal where I reflect on my fifteen years as a complexity scientist.

The article includes my TOP TEN things about complexity you may not know but should!


A Review of Capra and Luisi's The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

As of 2014, there has been much written in the complexity sciences on the all-purpose topics of complex systems and networks and their related scientific methods – I am thinking here, for example, of Byrne and Callaghan’s excellent “Complexity Theory and the Social Sciences” or Mitchell’s “Complexity: A Guided Tour.”

What really hasn’t been written, however, is a cohesive or comprehensive review of the content (the actual empirical outcome) of this cutting-edge research – which, in almost every way imaginable, is creating an entirely new view of human life and the global ecosystem that sustains it.

Enter Capra and Luisi’s new textbook “The Systems View of Life.”

For those new to the complexity science literature (or professors thinking about adopting this book for class), one couldn’t ask for a better writing partnership.  Capra, a physicist by training, is world-renown for this twin books on systems and complexity science (“The Web of Life” and “The Hidden Connections”), as well as his provocative assessment – from a philosophy of science perspective – of the limits of conventional, mechanistic science and the need for a new, holistic, ecologically responsible systems science (“The Tao of Physics,” “The Turning Point” and “The Science of Leonardo”).  In turn, Luisi is an internationally recognized professor of biochemistry and complexity science, having done primary research into such core issues as cellular autopoiesis and synthetic biology.  He is also well known for his in-depth academic books, as well as his two popular works, “The Emergence of Life” and “Mind and Life.”

Divided into three parts, “The Systems View of Life” is a compendium of all-things systems thinking and complexity science:

Part 1 (sections 1 and 2) is devoted to the philosophy of science, focusing on the historical shift from mechanistic thinking (dominated by reductionism, Newtonian mechanics, social physics and a Cartesian view of life) to systems thinking (dominated by the holism, networks, nonlinear mechanics, global network society, and a complex systems view of life).  Capra and Luisi are clear: mechanistic thinking is a victim of its own success, as it was so powerful in solving so many issues over the last hundred or so years that (now) it is simply assumed, almost by definition, that it can solve all current problems, which is wrong, as the problems of today, as Warren Weaver pointed out all the way back in 1948 (Science and Complexity), are complex systems problems.

For professors thinking about this textbook, Part1 is an important addition to the literature – here I am thinking of Hammond’s “The Science of Synthesis” and Klir’s “Facets of Systems Science” – as Capra and Luisi's chapters provide the historical backdrop missing from most introductions to the complexity sciences, helping students, as I already alluded to, understand why the sciences are shifting.

In Part 2 (the third section of the book), Capra and Luisi venture into entirely new territory, doing something (as I have already suggested in my opening remarks) yet to be done in the literature, let alone a textbook: they synthesize the empirical insights of the systems and complexity sciences into a new and cohesive view of life.  As they state in their introduction, “We present a unified systemic vision that includes and integrates life’s biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions.”

The accomplishment of this task cannot be underestimated, as it is significant and should have a lasting impact, demonstrating just how visionary the complexity sciences can be – but only if time is given to their study (I am also thinking of students here) and to collecting and connecting up their insights.

Such a synthesis requires, however, a bit more effort than just connecting the dots – even though Capra and Luisi humbly suggest that this is all they are doing.  Instead, it requires a theoretical frame, which the individual empirical insights often lack.

For Capra and Luisi, the theoretical frame is a network-based view of life.  Networks provide, literally, the links from one topic to the next in their book, in a sort of “scale-free approach to knowledge,” where one moves freely from the human genome and human cognition to social organizations and cities to ecosystems and global society.

But, this is not where things end.  For Capra and Luisi, these links must extend beyond theory and empirical synthesis to application and policy – to helping the world become a better place, to the moral culpability of science and to doing the right thing!

While not by any means unanimously embraced, there is a global morality associated with a significant segment of the systems and complexity science community, which goes by a variety of names, from deep ecology and ecofeminism to post-humanism and global civil society.  Regardless of the term, the view is the same: we face, currently, as a global society, a significant number of complex systems problems, which can be better managed (or even solved) if the political, economic, scientific and public will to employ such a perspective exists!  If not, these problems will most likely be our doom – or, less dramatically, they will result in increased global disparity and inequality and, ecologically speaking, a significantly degraded and decompensated planet.

And so, in the final section of the book – Part 3 – Capra and Luisi employ the complex systems view of life to make sense of and, in turn, address the current list of global social problems we, as a global society, face: from population growth and climate change to economic sustainability and the development of a global civil society.

Again, for a science textbook, this is new territory.  Professors typically do not challenge students to think about the links between their science and the global world in which they live.  But that is, nonetheless, where our immediate future resides: we need our students, as the generation that will inherit all of these problems, to have the tools necessary to address them, and in a way that leads to a sustainable level of economic, political, cultural, and spiritual/existential wellbeing for the greatest number of people possible!  What more, in 500 pages or less, could a professor (or our students) want from a book devoted to making sense of the complex lives we currently live?   And so, whether you are teaching introduction to sociology or macroeconomics, cognitive psychology or cultural anthropology, microbiology or philosophy, it doesn’t matter; make this textbook part of your required reading list.

Our future depends upon it.


"Intersections: Brian Castellani and Dante Rodriguez" Art Show June 20th – July 18th CWAL Gallery, Cleveland

I have an upcoming art show with a colleague of mine at the CWAL Gallery, located in the new 78th Street Galleries – a large space, with over 40 art galleries,  which is part of the newly renovated Gordon Park Art District on the west side of Cleveland http://www.gordonsquare.org/.  

It would be great to get folks to support the Cleveland art scene!!!!!! 
Here is information about the show – in addition, I have attached the show’s flyer to this email
Intersections: A Show by Brian Castellani and Dante Rodriguez
June 20th  – July 18th  CWAL (Cleveland West Art League)
Opening Reception, Friday June 20th – 6pm to 10pm
Closing Reception, Friday July 18th – 6pm to 10pm
and open by appointment
LOCATION: 1305 W. 80th Street, First Floor Suite 110, Cleveland Ohio, 44102
BRIAN CASTELLANI: Here is a link for folks to see some of the art I will be showing:
DANTE RODRIGUEZ: Here is a link for folks to see some of the art by my colleague:


Systems and Complexity Sciences for Healthcare Conference (Nov 13th and 14th, 2014)


Working with Joachim Sturmberg as our lead, my colleagues and I are hosting one of the first international conferences on Systems and Complexity Science for Healthcare this November, the 13th and 14th, at Georgetown University!  -- click here to learn more or to register!!!!!!

It is going to be a fantastic conference, with opportunities for poster presentations and lectures by a handful of the top scholars in the field.  Also, the proceedings will be published by Springer


Early bird registration ends on September 20, 2014
Submission Closure for Abstracts: June 15th 
Full papers need to be submitted by September 15th

The conference is the result of the overwhelmingly positive response that colleagues and readers around the world have had to Sturmberg and Martin's Handbook of Systems and Complexity in Health -- a cutting-edge compendium of chapters on just about every major topic at the intersection of health care and the complexity sciences.

Here is the formal invite for the conference:

The prevailing 20th century explanatory models in health, health care and health professions education are no longer fit for purpose. Simple interventions like antibiotic therapies and vaccination have made significant contributions to reduce the premature mortality rates due to infectious disease.  However, healthcare in the 21st century is confronted with the global systems-based challenges from chronic disease to lifestyle illnesses and global disease transmissions. The etiology of these health problems is complex and simple interventions no longer suffice in dealing with them. Systems and Complexity Sciences offer a different model to understand and manage these emerging challenges.
An international conference will bring together for the first time leading thinkers and researchers to explore and exchange insights under the theme: The value of systems and complexity sciences for healthcare: An imperative for the 21st century.
The conference will offer plenary sessions, oral and poster presentations as well as interactive sessions. All presentations will showcase how systems and complexity sciences contribute to providing better care and achieving more desired patient health outcomes.
The conference will create an active engagement between all participants and foster networking. It will encourage interdisciplinary research and collaboration amongst an international complex systems thinking community.

Conference proceedings will be published by Springer thereby expanding further the reach of the meeting’s shared insights to the broader practice, research, education and policy communities.


The Limits of Social Engineering: A Complexity Science Critique

There is a new book out by Alex "Sandy" Pentland.

As most know, "Pentland directs MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program and co-leads the World Economic Forum Big Data and Personal Data initiatives. He helped create and direct MIT’s Media Laboratory, the Media Lab Asia laboratories at the Indian Institutes of Technology, and Strong Hospital’s Center for Future Health" (Amazon.com).

I locate Pentland and his work on my map of complexity via visual complexity and data science--Click here to See.

The title of Pentland's new book is Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread -- The Lessons from a New Science.

It is a fascinating read and full of very provocative and interesting ideas, to which a number of reviewers have responded very positively.  I agree with these reviews that there is a lot that can be learned from this book  -- but I think these lessons come in the form of both possibility and also humility.

Given that so many reviewers have focused on the possibility component, let me speak to the humility part.

While a bit of history is provided in his book, the term social physics has a much deeper history than Pentland gives credit, going all the way back to the philosopher and scientist August Comte, and even a bit further to the scholar who first coined it, Adolphe Quetelet.  Like Pentland, these figures had similar ambitions for a new science of society.

Of the two, however, the terminology of Quetelet would fall into disuse.  Do not feel bad, though, as his ideas would be revived in the 1940s and 1950s, through the invention of the new fields of systems science and cybernetics, which would lead to second-order cybernetics and such famously exciting and provocative, but disastrously overreaching works of great genius as Norbert Wiener's The Human Use of Human Beings.  

These works were exciting and provocative because they hailed (albeit pessimistically so) the new information-driven, post-industrial, global network society in which we now live, grounded in a complex intersection between humans and machines (cyberinfrastructure)--click here for more!  Wiener states:  "It is the thesis of this book that society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever-increasing part." (p. 16)

But, they were disastrously overreaching, as they placed the future understanding of humans in their own machinery.  In other words, despite their best inventions, which included embracing a complex systems view of life, they failed to recognize, in their hubris, the shear complexity of the human condition, no matter how sophisticated the machinery!

Nothing, however, was going to slow down such technological innovation.  And so the world changed.

In fact, as our information-driven society evolved, the work of Wiener and others would likewise evolve, through their intersections with a wide variety of fields and innovative thinkers, to become the new complexity sciences -- which are fast becoming simply the sciences!!!  Again, the challenge of these new sciences will be, in part, how well they learn the lesson of limits.

Oh, by the way, if Quetelet's terminology evolved (eventually) into the complexity sciences, what happened to Comte?  He went on to invent the other BIG social physics (science) devoted to uncovering the underlying and complex patterns of socio-bio-physical organization that govern the social behaviors of humans, individually and collectively!  We call it SOCIOLOGY!


Unfortunately, such a complex history (including its abject failures and the warnings of limits) is absent from Pentland's book.  But, the same hubris is there.  For example, if one goes back to the writings of Comte and Quetelet, one finds the same sort of over-reach that one finds in Pentland's book, as if these scholars had written the preface to his 2014 work.

Here, for example, is a blab about Quetelet and his new social physics on Wikipedia:
Quetelet was among the first who attempted to apply it [statistics] to social science, planning what he called a "social physics"….  His goal was to understand the statistical laws underlying such phenomena as crime rates, marriage rates or suicide rates. He wanted to explain the values of these variables by other social factors. These ideas were rather controversial among other scientists at the time who held that it contradicted the concept of freedom of choice….  His most influential book was Sur l'homme et le développement de ses facultés, ou Essai de physique sociale, published in 1835 (In English translation, it is titled Treatise on Man, but a literal translation would be "On Man and the Development of his Faculties, or Essays on Social Physics"). 
In 1872, E. B. Taylor wrote a review of Quetelet's work--Click Here.  It is a fascinating review, as it foreshadows many the exaggerated hopes and claims that would be made by the "emerging sciences of the human condition" that came into existence during the 19th and 20th centuries, from psychology and sociology to anthropology and history to cybernetics and systems science to -- today -- complexity science and (once again) social physics.

But, again, what all such claims lack is a sense of humility -- and one grounded, importantly enough, in the capacity for self-critique, which fields like sociocybernetics discovered forty years ago!  As Byrne and Callaghan point out, there are useful and not so useful ways to model social complexity, and an uncritical social physics can fall into the latter.

The need for self-critique and for a thoroughgoing explore of what does and does not work when modeling the complexity of big data, is why I very much enjoyed a recent review of Pentland's new book by Nichlos Carr -- writing for the MIT Technology Review.  Carr's piece is called The Limits of Big Data: A Review of Social Physics by Alex Pentland.

While acknowledging the potential of the-new-yet-not-so-new, in fact not-new-at-all science of social physics,  Carr is skeptical of its claims.  Big Data and Big Science are Big Ideas, that is for sure.  And, we do live in a data saturated present, as Uprichard claims.  But, as Uprichard also points out, Big Data does not necessarily lead to Big Ideas.  Worse, like so many before it, Big Data can lead to Big Bad policy.  In other words, as Byrne and Callaghan point out, while the new tools of data science and computational modeling and complexity science show great promise, there is no guarantee that more data or new fancy tools means better answers -- as, at best, we only study the … traces … of the complex systems we seek to model.

So, yes, we live in a data saturated present, with big data everywhere; and, yes, social scientists, working with interdisciplinary teams, need to find the best and most effective tools for making sense of all this data --which the sociologists, Savage and Burrows, for example, have discussed.  But, for me, it needs to be done in a rigorously critical manner, and with more than a grain of humility.

That is why I like this poster, which my wife, a librarian, is always fond to point out:


The Limits of Statistics, Yet Another Example. Will Anything Chage?

Sometimes it seems that--in contrast to Kuhn and the notion of paradigm shift--no matter what is done to advance the state of things, the aggregate remains entrenched in convention, unable to wiggle free to the better idea.  Case in point: Bayesian statistics, computational modeling, big data science, topographical neural nets, viral computing, network analysis, mutli-agent modeling, complexity methods, applied mathematics -- where are the social sciences?

Anyway, here is yet another excellent thought piece on the limits of statistics for economic inquiry--CLICK HERE.  It is by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Distinguished Professor at NYU.  Disagree or not, it is a good read.


Case-Based Complexity, Nonlinear Statistical Mechanics, and Modeling the Dynamics of Temporal Social Complexity

Check out an EARLY VIEW of our new case-based complexity article in Complexity.  It is third in a series of papers outlining the mathematical and theoretical basis to our development of a case-based density approach to modeling temporal and spatial complexity in social science data--which draws on the latest advances in nonlinear statistical mechanics, deterministic modeling, the advection equation, genetic algorithms, and other computational techniques.



BIG DATA, little questions!

Check out the following article by Emma Uprichard on Big Data! 


It is a great essay, as it points to the important and critical questions that folks, as of late, are not asking in real, sociologically critical ways, about the challenges and dangers of big data!  As always, as we learn in our Researching Methods courses, our modes of inquiry (and, equally important, the data and the frameworks upon which they are based) are only as good as our critical reflection on them, both in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, and in their links to theory and concepts!

The above image (a mapping of Twitter) comes from the Social Media Research Foundation--very cool place.  Click here for an interactive version of this twitter map!


Videos, Videos and More Videos on Complexity, Agent-Based Modeling and All Things Complex

 My colleague, Emma Uprichard, recently sent along the following link to a compendium of videos on all things complexity science and comptuational modeling. 

They are from the MASS website, shown to the right here.  They are fantastic! 

You should check them out.


My only critique is, please get rid of the dark background, as it is a killer on the strained eyes of us old-folks!!!


Big Brains. Small Films. Benoît Mandelbrot, The Father of Fractals

My friend and colleague, Frederic Hafferty (at Mayo) sent me this video on Mandelbrodt.  I very much like it, as it is short and sweet and very inspirational, especially when trying to get my undergraduate students to understand the beauty of mathematics and its scientific application.


Here is what the Youtube Video link said about the interview:

"Published on Nov 18, 2013
IBM and http://IBMblr.Tumblr.com celebrate the life of Benoit B. Mandelbrot, IBM Fellow Emeritus and Fractal Pioneer. In this final interview shot by filmmaker Erol Morris, Mandelbrot shares his love for mathematics and how it led him to his wondrous discovery of fractals. His work lives on today in many innovations in science, design, telecommunications, medicine, renewable energy, film (special effects), gaming (computer graphics) and more."