Over the past quarter century, progress has been made in studying complex systems, from insect colonies to financial markets to the human brain. These advances have often been directly linked to the availability of powerful computational tools that permit researchers to probe vast amounts of data and to run large-scale simulations and models. Intriguing correlations have been discovered across a range of fields.
But the precise meaning of complexity remains elusive. Though we have come to understand some key properties of complex systems, including network structure, robustness, modularity, and adaptive dynamics, we still have few unifying concepts. Nor have we established a precise and universally accepted measure of complexity. Many different measures have been proposed, but all of them have both theoretical and practical limitations. At the same time, the broader conceptual and philosophical implications of complexity remain open to many different interpretations.
One intention of the Foundation’s 2010 Funding Priority on “The Science and Significance of Complexity” is to encourage researchers who are focused on specific levels of the natural hierarchy—classical and quantum physics, chemistry, molecular and evolutionary biology, cognitive science, human societies—to expand the scope of their work and to seek out collaborative opportunities with researchers in other fields. Within and across scientific disciplines, increasing (or decreasing) complexity might be modeled at different scales, including interactions proceeding top-down and bottom-up.
Areas of complexity that might be most fruitfully explored at this juncture in the development of these nascent sciences include neurocomplexity, complex systems in economics and the social sciences, and genetic and quantum mechanical aspects of the origins of life. We are also interested in what new perspectives, methods, and tools might enrich scientific and popular understandings of complexity, especially new ways of representing and visually depicting complex processes. From a philosophical and theological point of view, we wish to encourage scholarship that asks whether the reality of complexity in varied domains might provide insight into an even more fundamental Reality underlying and sustaining existence and life.
Applicants are asked to address their proposals directly to one or more of the following Big Questions:
Budget range and term for individual projects: From $50,000 to $400,000 and for up to two years