3 min readNov 22, 2020


Systems Thinking

Complex Systems: 10 Quotes

“The complexity of a system is no guarantee of its accuracy.” (John P Jordan, “Cost accounting; principles and practice”, 1920)

“Roughly, by a complex system I mean one made up of a large number of parts that interact in a nonsimple way. In such systems, the whole is more than the sum of the parts, not in an ultimate, metaphysical sense, but in the important pragmatic sense that, given the properties of the parts and the laws of their interaction, it is not a trivial matter to infer the properties of the whole.” (Herbert Simon, “The Architecture of Complexity”, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 106 (6), 1962)

“[…] as a model of a complex system becomes more complete, it becomes less understandable. Alternatively, as a model grows more realistic, it also becomes just as difficult to understand as the real world processes it represents.” (Jay M Dutton & William H Starbuck,” Computer simulation models of human behavior: A history of an intellectual technology”, IEEE Transactions on Systems, 1971)

“Any system that insulates itself from diversity in the environment tends to atrophy and lose its complexity and distinctive nature.” (Gareth Morgan, “Images of Organization”, 1986)

“The impossibility of constructing a complete, accurate quantitative description of a complex system forces observers to pick which aspects of the system they most wish to understand.” (Thomas Levenson, “Measure for Measure: A musical history of science”, 1994)

“Complex adaptive systems have the property that if you run them — by just letting the mathematical variable of ‘time’ go forward — they’ll naturally progress from chaotic, disorganized, undifferentiated, independent states to organized, highly differentiated, and highly interdependent states. Organized structures emerge spontaneously. […] A weak system gives rise only to simpler forms of self-organization; a strong one gives rise to more complex forms, like life. (J Doyne Farmer, “The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution”, 1995)

“Complex systems operate under conditions far from equilibrium. Complex systems need a constant flow of energy to change, evolve and survive as complex entities. Equilibrium, symmetry and complete stability mean death. Just as the flow, of energy is necessary to fight entropy and maintain the complex structure of the system, society can only survive as a process. It is defined not by its origins or its goals, but by what it is doing.” (Paul Cilliers,”Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems”, 1998)

“Falling between order and chaos, the moment of complexity is the point at which self-organizing systems emerge to create new patterns of coherence and structures of behaviour.” (Mark C Taylor, “The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture”, 2001)

“Complexity is the characteristic property of complicated systems we don’t understand immediately. It is the amount of difficulties we face while trying to understand it. In this sense, complexity resides largely in the eye of the beholder — someone who is familiar with often sees less complexity than someone who is less familiar with it. […] A complex system is created by evolutionary processes. There are multiple pathways by which a system can evolve. Many complex systems are similar, but each instance of a system is unique.” (Jochen Fromm, The Emergence of Complexity, 2004)

“Simplicity in a system tends to increase that system’s efficiency. Because less can go wrong with fewer parts, less will. Complexity in a system tends to increase that system’s inefficiency; the greater the number of variables, the greater the probability of those variables clashing, and in turn, the greater the potential for conflict and disarray. Because more can go wrong, more will. That is why centralized systems are inclined to break down quickly and become enmeshed in greater unintended consequences.” (Lawrence K Samuels,”Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action”, 2013)

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