Systems Thinking

Complexity: Top 10 Quotes

“In general, complexity and precision bear an inverse relation to one another in the sense that, as the complexity of a problem increases, the possibility of analysing it in precise terms diminishes. Thus ‘fuzzy thinking’ may not be deplorable, after all, if it makes possible the solution of problems which are much too complex for precise analysis.” (Lotfi A Zadeh, “Fuzzy languages and their relation to human intelligence”, 1972)

“Heavy dependence on direct observation is essential to biology not only because of the complexity of biological phenomena, but because of the intervention of natural selection with its criterion of adequacy rather than perfection. In a system shaped by natural selection it is inevitable that logic will lose its way.” (George A Bartholomew, “Scientific innovation and creativity: a zoologist’s point of view”, American Zoologist Vol. 22, 1982)

“Nature is disordered, powerful and chaotic, and through fear of the chaos we impose system on it. We abhor complexity, and seek to simplify things whenever we can by whatever means we have at hand. We need to have an overall explanation of what the universe is and how it functions. In order to achieve this overall view we develop explanatory theories which will give structure to natural phenomena: we classify nature into a coherent system which appears to do what we say it does.” (James Burke, “The Day the Universe Changed”, 1985)

“The hardest problems we have to face do not come from philosophical questions about whether brains are machines or not. There is not the slightest reason to doubt that brains are anything other than machines with enormous numbers of parts that work in perfect accord with physical laws. As far as anyone can tell, our minds are merely complex processes. The serious problems come from our having had so little experience with machines of such complexity that we are not yet prepared to think effectively about them.” (Marvin Minsky, 1986)

“Crude complexity is ‘the length of the shortest message that will describe a system, at a given level of coarse graining, to someone at a distance, employing language, knowledge, and understanding that both parties share (and know they share) beforehand.” (Murray Gell-Mann, “What is Complexity?” Complexity Vol. 1 (1), 1995)

“The more complex the network is, the more complex its pattern of interconnections, the more resilient it will be.” (Fritjof Capra, “The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems”, 1996)

“Perhaps we all lose our sense of reality to the precise degree to which we are engrossed in our own work, and perhaps that is why we see in the increasing complexity of our mental constructs a means for greater understanding, even while intuitively we know that we shall never be able to fathom the imponderables that govern our course through life.” (Winfried G Sebald, “The Rings of Saturn”, 1998)

“Complexity is that property of a model which makes it difficult to formulate its overall behaviour in a given language, even when given reasonably complete information about its atomic components and their inter-relations.” (Bruce Edmonds, “Syntactic Measures of Complexity”, 1999)

“[…] most earlier attempts to construct a theory of complexity have overlooked the deep link between it and networks. In most systems, complexity starts where networks turn nontrivial.” (Albert-László Barabási, “Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life”, 2002)

“Evolution moves towards greater complexity, greater elegance, greater knowledge, greater intelligence, greater beauty, greater creativity, and greater levels of subtle attributes such as love. […] Of course, even the accelerating growth of evolution never achieves an infinite level, but as it explodes exponentially it certainly moves rapidly in that direction.” (Ray Kurzweil, “The Singularity is Near”, 2005)

More quotes on “Complexity” at



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IT professional/blogger with more than 19 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management