CCSS Meeting #50: Complexity: Evolution and a Creative Universe


This lecture will be in a hybrid format. To join online, click this link. We will welcome participants to the CCSS physically to watch the lecture in Minneartgebouw 4.16 and enjoy lunch & refreshments - please signup below. The lecture will be held on Zoom. The theme of this CCSS Lunch Meeting is Evolutionary Systems

Speaker Overview

Professor Allen is Emeritus Professor of Evolutionary Complex Systems at Cranfield University. He has a PhD in Theoretical Physics, and worked with Professor Ilya Prigogine at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles from 1970 - 1987. Since 1987 he has developed and run the Complex Systems Research Centre at Cranfield University which, following his partial retirement is now run by Professor Liz Varga. He is a reviewer for many journals and project evaluator for UK Research Councils as well as for the EU. He has been working on the mathematical modelling of change and innovation in social, economic, financial and ecological systems, and the development of integrated systems models linking the physical, ecological and socio-economic aspects of complex systems as a basis for improved decision support systems. Professor Allen has written and edited several books and published well over 200 articles in a range of fields including ecology, social science, urban and regional science, economics, systems theory, low carbon energy production and supply. He co-edited the Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management and is co-author with Jean Boulton and Cliff Bowman of Embracing Complexity which is just out from OUP.

Lecture Overview

The paper examines the steps necessary for us to ‘model’ problems in the real world and help us make more successful plans and actions.

In the 1970s, scientists started to consider how systems might evolve over time and, in particular my boss Ilya Prigogine wondered how behaviour might be calculated if the system was open to exchanges of matter and/or energy with its environment. Previously most systems were modelled assuming that they were at equilibrium and the first steps away from this was System Dynamics, which considered that the system simply ran mechanically forwards in time. But in 1977 Nicolis and Prigogine started to explore the behaviour of chemical systems that were far from equilibrium. This led to a new science of self-organizing systems and dissipative structures. And this opened up the science of self-organizing, complex systems. What was important was that such systems could spontaneously break symmetry and hence had become creative.

In a universe of interacting elements, with energy and material flows occurring widely, then self-organization and symmetry-breaking events can and will occur. Fluctuations can tip the system to some new, seemingly organized, structure.

Creativity and morphogenesis do not require human activity as our new understanding of the evolution of the universe clearly shows. However, such changes are not necessarily organized for some external purpose, but are simply self-organized. Open systems can create emergent structure and patterns as a result of the feedback interactions between their own internal nature and their particular historical accidents. The future of a system is no longer given by the dynamics of average behaviour, but also ensues from whatever chance fluctuations happens to occur at moments of potential instability. The average behaviours may change and evolve as a result of specific events and non-average fluctuations. At such moments the system can change qualitatively, as new dimensions and behaviours emerge spontaneously.

When a system breaks symmetry, then at that moment nobody can say what new behaviours, characteristics and capabilities may emerge. This brings us to the radical conclusion that, despite the enormous power of science, certainty of prediction is impossible for these systems. This is the underlying force behind the idea of a Creative Universe. We shall briefly look at some of the practical applications that have been made of these ideas in Physics, Ecology and Business and Organizations. We shall also move into the reason why, living in this world, we have evolved brains with two different sides, and the right and left brains allow us to live and learn in this astonishing universe. This links all the domains mentioned above to the extraordinary work and thinking of Iain McGilchrist. We have the astonishing vision of the exciting reality of the creative universe.

Meeting Details

There will be 45-min lecture from the speaker, followed by a 15-min Question & Answer session.

To attend the lecture (physically), please signup below. You can also watch the lecture online by clicking this this link at 12:00 on Thursday 19th May.

Start date and time
End date and time
Physical Meeting >> CCSS Living Room, Room 4.16, Minneartgebouw