Edgeware - Primer


Definition of Complex Adaptive System

The next two sections of the paper need a "warning to reader" label. They are filled with the new jargon of complexity science. Each new term is a quick brush stroke in this primer but is explained in greater detail in other sections of this resource kit. For the reader new to the field of complexity, read the next two sections to get the overall sense of complexity science. You do not need to understand every term at the outset to start the journey into understanding complexity.

Complex adaptive systems are ubiquitous. Stock markets, human bodies, forest ecosystems, manufacturing businesses, immune systems and hospitals are all examples of CAS. What is a complex adaptive system (CAS)? The three words in the name are each significant in the definition. 'Complex' implies diversity - a great number of connections between a wide variety of elements.i_6.gif (5460 bytes) 'Adaptive' suggests the capacity to alter or change - the ability to learn from experience. A 'system' is a set of connected or interdependent things. The 'things' in a CAS are independent agents. An agent may be a person, a molecule, a species, or an organization among many others. These agents act based on local knowledge and conditions. Their individual moves are not controlled by a central body, master neuron or CEO. A CAS has a densely connected web of interacting agents each operating from their own schema or local knowledge. In human systems, schemata are the mental models which an individual uses to make sense of their world.

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All Components of Edgeware Primer Copyright 2000, Brenda J. Zimmerman.
Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto, Canada.
Permission to copy for educational purposes only. All other rights reserved.