Complexity and Systems Primer

Complexity Medicine's System Theory, Complex Adaptive Systems, and Cybernetics Primer

In our pursuit of a Complexity Medicine, we incorporate metaphors in our dialogues and discourse, like an artist with their pallet of pigment and paints, mixing as needed to create a compendium of colours, hues, shades, and tints. In other words, Complexity Medicine embraces a stream of description and distinction of which Complexity is one (for certain, if you are paying attention you will be noticing an Ouroboros is moving about). With this in mind, as it will be structural to many of our discussions – we offer you up a Complexity and Systems Primer by Systems Innovation. 
The following video series are offered up freely by the Systems Innovation platform through their Creative Commons license. If you wish a more formalized certification for these courses, visit Systems Innovation at

This course is a comprehensive introduction to the area of systems thinking and theory that is designed to be accessible to a broad group of people. The course is focused upon two primary achievements; Firstly providing students with the key concepts that will enable them to see the world in a whole new way from the systems perspective, what we call systems thinking.. Secondly the aim is to provide you with the standardized language of systems theory through which you will be able to describe and model systems of all kind in a more coherent fashion whilst also being able to effectively communicate this to others.

This course is an overview of the foundational concepts within system theory, in particular, it is focused on conveying what we call the systems paradigm that is the basic overarching principles that are common to all areas of systems thinking and theory. During the course we will be focused on systems thinking as a way of seeing the whole and the parts, seeing nonlinear causes instead of simple linear cause and effect, seeing dynamic patterns instead of flash shots of events.Systems thinking has been defined as an approach that attempts to balance holistic and analytical reasoning. In systems theory, it is argued that the only way to fully understand something is to understand the parts in relation to the whole.

This course is an introduction to the core concepts of complex systems theory, an exciting new area that is offering us a fresh perspective on issues such as understanding our financial system, the environment and large social organizations. The aim of this course is to bring the often abstract and sophisticated concepts of this subject down to earth and understandable in an intuitive form. After having started with an overview to complex systems this course will focus upon five of the core concepts: Systems:, Nonlinear systems:, Network theory, ,Complex adaptive systems(CAS) and Self-organization.

Complex adaptive systems are all around us from financial markets to ecosystems to the human immune system and even civilization itself, they consist of many agents that are acting and reacting to each other’s behavior, out of this often chaotic set of interactions emerges global patterns of organization in a dynamic world of constant change and evolution where nothing is fixed.. In these complex adaptive systems no one is in control, no one has complete information, patterns of order emerge through self-organization between agents. Individual cells self-organize to form differentiated body organs, ants interact and self-organize to form colonies, and people interact to form social networks. These patterns of global organization emerge out of a dynamic between order and chaos that we are only just beginning to understand but as we do we are finding that these apparently very dissimilar systems share fundamental commonalities.


This course is a voyage into the extraordinary world of nonlinear systems and their dynamics, the primary focus of the course is to provide you with a coherent understanding of the origins and product of nonlinearity and chaos. The course is designed as an intuitive and non-mathematical introduction, it explores a world of both extraordinary chaos where some small event like a butterfly flapping its wings can be amplified into a tornado, but also a world of extraordinary order in the form of fractals, self-similar structures that repeat themselves at various scales, one of nature’s most ingenious tools for building itself.

Emergence is one of the central concepts within systems thinking as it describes a universal process of becoming or creation, a process whereby novel features and properties emerge when we put elementary parts together as they interact and self-organize to create new patterns of organization. Emergence being a highly abstract concept is literally everywhere, from the evolution of the universe to the formation of traffic jams, from the development of social movements to the flocking of birds, from the cooperation of trillions of cells giving rise to the human body to the formation of hurricanes and financial crises.  Although the ideas of emergence have been of interest to many for millennia it has often been seen as something of a mystery, but with the development of complexity theory, we increasingly have the computational and conceptual tools to understand it in a structured, scientific fashion.

Network theory is one of the most exciting and dynamic areas of science today with new breakthroughs coming every few years as we piece together a whole new way of looking at the world, a true paradigm shift that is all about connectivity. The study of network theory is a highly interdisciplinary field, which has emerged as a major topic of interest in various disciplines ranging from physics and mathematics, to biology and computer science to almost all areas of social science.. From the metabolic networks that fuel the cells in our body, to the social networks that shape our lives, networks are everywhere, we see them in the rise of the internet, the flow of global air traffic and in the spread of financial crises, learning to model and design these networks is central to 21st century science and engineering.

This course is an introduction to the area of systems ecology, the application of systems theory to the study of ecosystems. Systems ecology uses mathematical modeling and computation to try and understand the networks of interactions between biotic and abiotic elements that give rise to the complex system of an ecology on all scales, from modeling the flow of energy within a microbial ecosystem to trying to understand the nonlinear dynamics of earth’s entire biosphere. Taking an integrative and interdisciplinary approach it bridges many areas from physics and biology to the social sciences. Whereas traditional ecology has studied ecosystems with little reference to human society, systems ecology breaks down this barrier to include industrial ecologies as an integral part of earth’s systems in the era of the Anthropocene, when understanding the complex interaction between society and ecology is central to gaining traction on major contemporary environmental challenges.

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