»Complexity in Science, Culture and Society«
For the past four years, scientists and scholars from the natural and life sciences, the humanities and social sciences at Goethe University have been conducting joint research on the question of what constitutes »complex systems« and how »systems« that we deem to be »complex« can be understood more precisely. Such systems pose challenges to every discipline because although they can be analyzed scientifically, their behavior and development cannot be reduced to the sum of the systems’ parts. Instead, they generate entirely new phenomena and properties that are fundamentally unpredictable. This is described by the concept of emergence, and such phenomena can be found in very different forms in every academic discipline: in historical breaches and seminal events over the course of history, in the emergence of species and their evolution, or in the folding of proteins during biosynthesis, which determines their function and functionality.
Engaging with these systems also leads to self-reflection within the academic disciplines, whether with regard to their approaches to complex systems and phenomena or their established methods and ways of thinking. In a cross-disciplinary exchange, the researchers in the »Complexity in Science, Culture and Society« project have been developing a common theory of complexity in which the analysis of complex systems is the starting point for general reflections on the philosophy of science.
However, the results of this research do not only lead to new insights into the research subjects and methods in the respective disciplines because, in the background, the observation persists that our era is perceived as complex due to globalization, digitalization and an increasing sense of acceleration. In addition, wicked problems are emerging, i.e. problems for which there is not only no simple solution, but possibly no solution at all. This is true, for example, of climate change, which must be solved by those who create it. Complexity research can contribute to dealing with such problems as well as to understanding our complex present times by elucidating and revealing strategies for dealing with complexity.
The project, which was initially funded by the Aventis Foundation, is being led as of this year by the historian Professor Andreas Fahrmeir (Goethe University/FKH), the chemist Harald Schwalbe (Goethe University) and the biologist Julia Sigwart (Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum), with the collaboration of Professor Matthias Lutz-Bachmann (director of the FKH/Goethe University).
The fact that complexity also plays an important role in the arts is demonstrated by the CD of the piano duo Roelcke & Gremmelspacher, which was recorded as part of the project. It was produced in cooperation with the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts and Deutschlandfunk. The effect of complexity in music can be experienced directly in the works for two pianos by Debussy, Ligeti and Messiaen. The CD was featured on December 5 in the program »Die besondere Aufnahme« on Deutschlandfunk Kultur The broadcast is available here.
Further information about the project »Complexity in Science, Culture and Society« is available from project coordinator Dr. Thomas Schimmer (firstname.lastname@example.org; 06172 / 13977-14).
(FKH - 18.01.2021)
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