1Complexity and Systems Thinking

1.1. Introduction: complexity as a problem

Perception of the world brings about the feeling that it is a giant conundrum with dense connections among what is viewed as its parts. As human beings with limited cognitive capabilities, we cannot cope with it in that form and are forced to reduce it to some separate areas which we can study separately.

Our knowledge is thus split into different disciplines, and over the course of time, these disciplines evolve as our understanding of the world changes. Because our education is conducted in terms of this division into different subject matters, it is easy not to be aware that the divisions are man-made and somewhat arbitrary. It is not nature that divides itself into physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, psychology and so on. These “silos” are so ingrained in our thinking processes that we often find it difficult to see the unity underlying these divisions.

Given our limited cognitive capabilities, our knowledge has been arranged by classifying it according to some rational principle. Auguste Comte (1880) in the 19th Century proposed a classification following the historical order of the emergence of the sciences, and their increasing degrees of complexity in terms of understanding their evolving concepts. Comte did not mention psychology as a science linking biology and the social sciences. He did not regard mathematics as a science but as a language which any science may use. He produced a classification ...

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