Chaos and Complexity

Here is an extract from a good, concise, blog on issues close to my heart. Even better it is part of a series on related subjects. Worth a look: Chaos and Complexity but DO NOT believe all that you read! Ontonix can provide a verifiable definition.


Complex systems are a special type of chaotic system. They display a very interesting type of emergent behavior called, logically enough, complex adaptive behavior. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. There’s a need to back up a bit and describe a fundamental behavior that occurs at the granular level and leads to complex adaptive behavior. It is self -organization.

Self Organization occurs when the individual components in a chaotic system come together to work as a team to achieve the desired goal. Remember the non-linear component of chaotic systems? This applies during self-organization and means teams may form, work for a while then fall apart and reconstitute in a different form when an obstacle is met to keep on moving forward.

Complex Adaptive Behavior is the name given to this forming-falling apart-reforming-falling apart-… behavior. Specifically it is defined as many agents working in parallel to accomplish a goal. It is conflict ridden, very fluid, and very positive. The hallmark of emergent, complex adaptive behavior is it brings about a change from the starting point that is not just different in degree but in kind. In biology a good example of this is the emergence of consciousness. Another example is the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb.

2 Responses to Chaos and Complexity

  1. John Marke says:

    I am going to have to think about this one, David. I think this may be one way of understanding the phenomena of complex adaptive systems, especially the last part of being different in degree and kind. Also, there are a fair number of complexity scientists who would say complexity exists in that interesting space between the simple/complicated and the chaotic. Scott Page at Michigan would be one reference for that point of view.

    Also, not all complex adaptive systems self-organize – highly connected, interdependent, diverse, adaptive…yes. Not sure about the self-organization part. Schools of fish self-organize (we are not sure exactly how, but they all manage to swim in a very precise formation dependent on a few outliers…or so it seams). The stock market….not sure about that one either. Perhaps, if one were looking at systemic risk and herd behavior, but not sure if that is consistent enough or general enough..

    It seems my watchwords are “not sure” (smile). But the theory you present is, as always, logical and provocative.

    John Marke

    • Thanks John. I really value your feedback.

      I understand exactly where you are coming from but I wanted to draw attention to these items more on the basis that they communicate the “essence” of the subject, which, as we both know, can be difficult to get across!

      I’m sure you are already aware of our definition: “Complexity is the amount of structured information in a system”

      In reality we interpret system “chaos” as [information theory] entropy i.e. Shannon entropy or uncertainty. More data implies more uncertainty with the structure [complexity] emerging where the inter-connections or interdependencies are identified through nodes and hubs. Dependent upon function and time system information switches between varying degrees (Zadeh’s “fuzziness”) of structure [complexity] and entropy [chaos].

      Having said all that John I am certainly not the scholar in the organisation! Although I have developed (and fed) a voracious appetite for knowledge in this and related areas I do, occasionally, fall victim to the, apparently, cardinal sin of using the wrong language when trying to get the message across. But I do get the impression that finding an accepted common language is a barrier to further progress!?



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