4 - Using complexity science to search for unity in the natural sciences  pp. 68-79

Using complexity science to search for unity in the natural sciences

By Eric J. Chaisson

Image View Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Nature writ large is a mess. Yet, underlying unities pervade the long and storied, albeit meandering, path from the early universe to civilization on Earth. Evolution is one of those unifiers, incorporating physical, biological, and cultural changes within a broad and inclusive cosmic-evolutionary scenario. Complexity is another such unifier, delineating the growth of structure, function, and diversity within and among galaxies, stars, planets, life, and society throughout natural history. This chapter summarizes a research agenda now underway not only to search for unity in Nature but also, potentially and more fundamentally, to quantify both unceasing evolution and increasing complexity by modeling energy, whose flows through non-equilibrium systems arguably grant opportunities for evolution to create even more complexity.


Truth be told, I am a phenomenologist – neither a theorist studying Nature from first principles (I’m not smart enough) nor an experimentalist actually measuring things (although I used to). My current philosophy of approach aims to observe and characterize Nature thermodynamically, seeking to explicate a scientific worldview that chronicles systematically and sequentially the many varied changes that have occurred from the big bang to humankind on Earth. I call that epic worldview cosmic evolution.

Chaisson, E. J. (2001). Cosmic Evolution: the Rise of Complexity in Nature. Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press.
Chaisson, E. J. (2009a). Cosmic evolution – state of the science. In S. Dick and M. Lupisella (eds.). Cosmos & Culture. Washington: NASA Press.
Chaisson, E. J. (2009b). Exobiology and complexity. In R. Meyers (ed.). Encyclopedia of Complexity and Systems Science. Berlin: Springer.
Chaisson, E. J. (2011a). Energy rate density as a complexity metric and evolutionary driver. Complexity, 16, 27–40; .
Chaisson, E. J. (2011b). Energy rate density II: probing further a new complexity metric. Complexity, 17, 44–63; .
Neubauer, R. L. (2011). Evolution and the Emergent Self: the Rise of Complexity and Behavioral Versatility in Nature. New York: Columbia University Press.
Spier, F. (2011). Big History and the Future of Humanity. London: Wiley-Blackwell.