Emerging Complexity

Emerging Complexity. The Dynamics of Discipline, Computational Tools, and Virtual Experiment from 1960–2000

Lambert Williams

The years 1960 to 2000 witnessed the emergence and diffusion of the "new sciences" of chaos and complexity. Lambert Williams’ project aimed to provide a historical and epistemological framework for these emergences that operates along three axes of deformation: one structural, one material, and one epistemological-cum-political. Structurally, Williams argued for a partial breaking down of a mode of organizing knowledge (largely inherited from the nineteenth century) that for chaos and complexity is replaced by what he terms a quasi-discipline.

Materially, Williams sought to show why and how this new field of study was accompanied by crucial and surprising innovations in the deployment and use of certain types of computers and computational modeling techniques. Politically and epistemologically, he located chaos and complexity within a broader deformation of the notions of proof and explanation that unfolded over the period of interest. After considering these three ways in which chaos and complexity represent substantially distinctive scientific formations, the project concluded with an analysis of how these "new sciences" nevertheless succeed in inserting themselves into mainstream consciousness—via inventive use of the popular science genre and clever moves in commercializing what is often claimed to be a "basic" science.