CCS2016 Day 1 / by Siobhán Cronin

To paraphrase Dr. Rick Sloot's address at the ceremonial opening of University of Amsterdam's Institute for Advanced Systems - if you put together a philosopher and a theoretical physicist together and ask them to "make something", they may not know where to begin.

That's where complexity science comes in.

This burgeoning research arena, wearing hand-me-downs from theoretical physics and math (probability, graph theory), has been delightfully uprooting classical theory in economics, neuroscience, and biology (amongst other disciplines) for over a decade, calling all scientists to take a deeper look into how network science might apply to their field.

The first day of the Complex Systems Society's 2016 Conference on Complex Systems was filled with over 100 talks, so unfortunately my notes only make up a small sample size.

Here are some key take aways:

The first bullet point in Farmer's talk was "evolution of collective consciousness", which set a nice tone for his examination of trends in complexity economics. He illustrated how economic models must make certain assumptions about the rationality of its agents, discussed DSGE (dynamic stochastic general equilibrium) models, expanded assumptions of complexity economics (e.g. agents have preferences and beliefs), flagged the need for standardized agent based modeling software, and announced his forthcoming launch of an open source library where anyone can join his team and "help build a new economy". And finally, in regards to the temporal market oscillations he demonstrated in his data (pronounced as endogenous to the system), he offered an apt quote from Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, "we need these gales of creative destruction", which I thought set the day up well by flagging the interplay of birth and death in nature's cycles (which we should expect to see reflected in our models of natural systems). 

Hailing from CNRS's Institute of Science and Evolution in Marseilles, Sonia wasted no time in reminding us that our choice of scale in evolutionary observations may contribute to us missing part of the story. She guided us through two key principal foundations: 1) Gause's competitive inclusive principal, and 2) the paradox of plankton (first described in 1961 by Hutchinson). From these she explored the hypothesis that stability should increase as networks links increase, calling forth the work of Robert May as support for the interplay of stability and complexity. The rest of the talk was dedicated to sharing her research paradigm and results, an example of research on multiplex ecological networks.

This was a super fun, super dense (in terms of needing to squint to read equations) talk about B to B firm statistics and dynamics in Japan. I was moved by her presentation of how B to B connections can have dramatic, un-anticipated, effects on the system as a whole, which was particularly visible in her post-tsunami analyses of the Japanese auto industry. She also announced Japan's RESAS society as a source of information on applications of econophysics. 

While somber, this was my favorite talk of the day. The overall theme was connectomics and the tradoffs between neural topological development and energy use. I particularly liked the reminder that the brain uses 20% of our body's energy, yet makes up only 2% of our body's mass. This elevates the need for developmental tradeoffs, which have ramifications that affect the organism's cognition, but could also be abstracted out to networks in other domains (e.g. economics). I can't tell you how refreshing it was to see N=20,000 in his analysis! Big data is here! He effectively demonstrated the presence of the "rich club" of central (network) neural nodes, yet reminded us that there is still a great need in describing the cognitive value of topological integration. This is work I am excited to support, and I left the talk buzzing with research ideas. 

This was a very thoughtful survey of the Subak system of rice field irrigation in Bali, shared by a leading anthropologist with a deep care for traditional Balinese customs, as well as a key leader in complexity theory (a refreshing multi-contextual perspective). It was a brief talk, but showed the presence of a stable equilibrium in the Subak system as a whole, maintained through religious ritual, yet modelable using a series of computation iterations whereby the methods of successful fields are applied in subsequent seasons to neighbors until an equilibrium is reached. Once again, as was the theme of the day, the computational model was tested against field data to pleasing effect.