Emergence of Control in Complex Adaptive Systems

In complex adaptive systems, processes occurring at the fine-scale bring about emergent higher-level regimes, that in turn feeds back to control or regulate what occurs at the fine-scale. This is what we refer to as the Emergence of Control. This control can be seen, for example, in ecosystems where the interactions among biota co-evolve to create and maintain a regime which reinforces the system state (this is a phenomenon known as lock-in). Equally, in social systems institutions emerge to control the interactions among individuals in society.  

In certain cases, control mechanisms, which maintain a system in a certain state, may break down and the system may make a transition to an alternative state. For example, the transition from high to low primary productivity in ecosystems. In others, control mechanisms may maintain a system in an undesirable state, and it is desirable to stimulate a transition to an alternative regime state. For example, society’s current lock-in to fossil fuel energy production and a desire to transition to a post-fossil society.

In this research group we aim to explore the dynamics that give rise to these control mechanisms and develop an understanding of how they emerge and how we may (be able to or need to) steer control mechanisms in nature and society.

Research Questions

  • How do control regimes emerge at different scales and co-evolution occur, leading to the selection of a specific locked-in state?
  • Through what mechanisms is control effected?
  • Under what conditions is control hierarchical or distributed?
  • How does control evolve over time?
  • How do transitions from one control regime to another control regime occur?

Method of working

The research group will focus on mechanisms of control across several disciplines (Fig. 1). However, the unifying element are the methods we use to understand these mechanisms. The initial focus of the group will be to develop ideas around submitting a Gravitation proposal in the last quarter of 2020.  

Figure 1. Scope of the research group

Figure 1 shows the mechanisms underlying the emergence of control and methods used to understand it provide a platform for research related to socioeconomic, environmental and biological systems.

We have several upcoming meetings scheduled. Each meeting will begin with a plenary talk on a topic related to the research theme. That is followed by further discussion with the speaker and interested researchers.

Upcoming Speakers/Discussants

  • 8th January: Prof. Rob de Boer: Learning without feedback in vertebrate immune systems (sign up here before 15:00 on Tuesday 7th January)
  • 31st January: Prof. Siebot Nooteboom: Complex adaptive institutions (info & register)
  • 14th Feb: Prof. Andreas Flache: Agent-based modelling of social institutions
  • 21st February: Prof. Franjo Weissing: TBD, Theoretical biology and ecology
  • March: Prof. Bas van Bavel: TBD, Emergence of institutions
  • More events to be announced before summer

For any questions about this group, please contact Dr. Brian Dermody (b.dermody@uu.nl) or Dr. Deb Panja (d.panja@uu.nl)

This group is open to all UU staff who have an interest in understanding "Emergence of Control in Complex Adaptive Systems". If you would like to participate, please subscribe to our mailing list to get notified for more information about upcoming events and the meal plans: