“What do complex systems scientists do?” – Notable points offered by John Bragin of UCLA

What is complexity? That is our question today. I am fortunate to throw that ball squarely in the court of John Bragin. He graciously accepted. He is a Lecturer (periodic) in Complex Systems Science at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He is well accomplished in the field of complexity and it is BEYOND an immense honor to be able to include his work on Orgcomplexity.

Bio: From 1995 to 2005 John Bragin was Senior Education Coordinator for the UCLA Center for the Study of Evolution & the Origin of Life where he designed & co-taught a dozen continuing education courses and co-convened four conferences. In 2005 he joined the UCLA Human Complex Systems Program as part-time Academic Coordinator, where he also established a Graduate Certificate Program. He began teaching courses for the Program in Fall 2007. The Program was disestablished in December 2011, but Mr Bragin continues to teach complexity science periodically at UCLA. He graduated UCLA cum laude in 1965 with a Major in Motion Picture Production and a Minor in Art History. Among his awards and honors, he is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship, CINDY award (from the Association of Visual Communicators), Distinguished Teacher Award from UCLA Extension, the UCLA Faculty Recognition Award, and a UCLA Professional Development Award. He first encountered complexity issues during his production of two video instruction series in Artificial Intelligence that he made for UCLA in the early 1990s. His main areas of complexity interest are the origin & evolution of life, analytical sociology, and urban planning & design. He also maintains an active interest in the history and philosophy of science. He is Assistant Editor (with Bill McKelvey of UCLA’s Anderson Management School, as Editor) of the Routledge five-volume anthology Complexity: Critical Concepts (2012).

Email: jbragin-at-ucla-dot-edu. Personal Website: http://ucla.academia.edu/JohnBragin


Bragin (2013): “What do complex systems scientists do?”

 We all know it’s tough to define complexity, just like it’s tough to define justice. So some seek to define complex systems instead. Given the present state of the art, I prefer to try to say what complex systems scientists do. Perhaps I’m being disingenuous and there is no difference among the three attempts.


Complex systems scientists explore how self-organization happens dynamically among the individual, local interactions of numerous interdependent (often heterogeneous) entities, without overall design or central control. The resulting emergent order (where the qualities, patterns and processes of each emergent level are different from and not reducible to those of more basic levels) is ubiquitous in biology and society: from the machinery of the cell to the global economy. This emergent macroscopic order then provides both constraints and opportunities (as downward, formal cause) for the actors whose self-organizing, bottom-up activities generated these macroscopic patterns and processes. These spiraling, reciprocal processes can continue indefinitely. This self-organization also exists in a range of physical and chemical processes, such as convection currents in Earth’s atmosphere and self-catalyzing chemical reactions. Complexity science deals as well with how such systems undergo sudden changes including catastrophic breakdowns (earthquakes, stock market crashes, and revolutions for example), also in the absence of external or central forces.


Biological and social collectives are by nature complex adaptive systems, where individuals and groups adjust their behavior (through learning and evolution) to their environment, and in turn modify that environment. Complex adaptive systems (from plant and animal cells to human socio-economic systems) are open to the inflow of matter, energy and information that they use as resources for the most fundamental processes of self-organization, and to maintain themselves in stable and continuous (yet far-from-equilibrium) states. They dissipate/outflow at least some degraded matter and energy which is the inevitable result of the 2nd law of thermodynamics whenever any order-generating work is done by self-organizing systems.

For these biological and social systems complexity scientists extend traditional mathematical and statistical methods with the use of agent-based models. These computer simulations of the behavior of large numbers of networked, heterogeneous entities provide generative, evolutionary explanations for the emergent patterns and processes of complex, adaptive and self-organizing individuals and groups.


Any reference to this paper must be attributed to John Bragin. Please use the following credit line: John Bragin, UCLA Lecturer in Complex Systems Science. Retrieved from http://ucla.academia.edu/JohnBragin.


About Michele Battle-Fisher

This is an archive of the Orgcomplexity Blog. Please follow me at the following sites: mbattlefisher.wix.com/orgcomplexity Michele Battle-Fisher (Facebook author page) www.linkedin.com/in/mbattlefisher mbattlefisher (Twitter) michele.battle.fisher (Skype) Author Website http://amazon.com/author/michelebattlefisher