This course presents an overview of complex systems theory and concepts. Students learn the fundamental properties of complex adaptive systems and apply that knowledge to meeting many of the biggest challenges facing the modern world including global warming, terrorism, epidemics, and globalization.
Many of the biggest challenges facing the modern world (global warming and sustainability, epidemics, terrorism, and the impacts of technology and globalization) can be formally characterized as complex. They are the product of diverse agents and/or entities that interact in spatial temporal frameworks in which positive and negative feedbacks produce emergent structures (such as epidemics and hurricanes) and path dependent outcomes. Confronting these challenges requires an understanding of the properties of complex systems. The course consists of three parts. First, we provide an overview of complex systems theory and concepts. This material requires familiarity and comfort with some basic mathematics, but nothing beyond basic probability and algebra. Second, we introduce and analyze models. For example, students will learn the SIR model of infectious disease to help them understand relationships between the numbers of susceptible, infected, and recovered in the population network based models of inequality and information spread models of self organized criticality and systems dynamics models of negative and positive feedbacks. Our goal is to present these models three ways: with mathematics, computation, and experimentation. In the experimental setting, students will have to interact within a complex system and attempt to harness its potential. Third, experts present cutting edge research on the aforementioned global challenges, which will be interpreted through the theoretical lenses developed earlier. For example, students will learn about the complex relationship between ecosystem diversity and robustness and relate their theoretical insights to empirical evidence from real ecosystems.
Students will be expected to work with these models and to think critically about how to apply them in the real world. They'll be encouraged to think about potential solutions to these challenges as well as the social, political, and economic implications of their proposed policies. That thinking will be informed by, in fact guided by, the formal models they've acquired during the semester,
Intended audience: Freshmen and sophomores interested in complex systems such as global warming, terrorism, epidemics and globalization,
Course Requirements: The course will have a total of 100 points allocated across five areas: exam(s) on core concepts of complex systems (25 points); exam on course material on substantive problems (25 points); team-based student projects on a complex policy problem (20 points); weekly 1-2 page homework assignments (15 points); one 5-7 page paper, one computer model outline, and one analysis of an existing model (15 points).
Class Format: 3 hours of lecture per week (including several guest lecturers) plus 1 hour of discussion.