13 January 2020

Collaboration in complexity:

Emergence of Control in Complex Adaptive Systems

Brian Dermody

Within the research working groups of the Centre for Complex Systems Studies, scientists from different disciplines share ideas and collaborate on both fundamental and applied research questions.

Dr. Brian Dermody chairs the research working group on the theme Emergence of Control in Complex Adaptive Systems, together with Dr. Deb Panja. Brian gives a short introduction on the aims and challenges for this theme.

In many systems, processes which occur at the fine scale bring about emergent higher-level regimes that control what occurs at the fine scale. This is what we refer to as the emergence of control in complex adaptive systems. This control can be seen, for example in social systems where institutions emerge to control the interactions among individuals in society. 

Humans and environment interacting

My personal interests in this theme are many and varied, but all focus on understanding interactions between humans and the environment. For example, we are using game theory approaches linked with biophysical models to understand under what environmental conditions cooperative behaviour is likely to emerge and how this cooperation can in turn feedback to change environmental conditions.

Emergence of control

I am interested in how control emerges and becomes established and under what conditions transitions to alternative controlling regimes occur. There’s a lot in that question, which has relevance across many different disciplines. In this group, we aim to apply a range of approaches from complexity science, including network analysis, agent-based modelling and system dynamics modelling to understand the processes that give rise to the emergence of control.

Societal impact

Controlling regimes may emerge that lock a system into an undesirable state. In such instances, it is desirable to stimulate a transition to an alternative system state. For example, CCSS member Koen Frenken researches how we can develop higher-level policies to stimulate sustainable entrepreneurial activity in society. These fine-scale entrepreneurial activities can in turn help disrupt existing regimes and accelerate the transition to a sustainable development pathway.

Attracting new researchers

This research theme should be of interest to all members of the Centre for Complex Systems Studies, but we also hope to attract researchers who are not presently part of the complexity community. For example, we see clear relevance with research pertaining to institutions, biological systems, economics and ecology. Indeed, we will have several interesting talks followed by discussion on these very topics in the coming months.

Check out the working group Emergence of Control in Complex Adaptive Systems for further details and subscribe to the mailing list.