A Collaboration:

Center for Culture and Communication (C3), Budapest
Center for Complex Adaptive Systems (CCAS)
Central European University, Budapest

Jack Corliss

Staff Member - C3
Director - CCAS

There is this much connection certainly between scientific truth, on the one hand, and beauty and morality, on the other: that if a man entertain false opinions regarding his own nature, he will be led thereby to courses of action which will be in some profound sense immoral or ugly.
(Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, 1972, p. 265)

Three Complex Adaptive Systems

Taken out the window of the Research Submarine ALVIN at a deep-sea hot spring vent along the Galapagos Rift at 2500 meters deep in February, 1977.

Biosphere 2 in Arizona, a closed ecological system providing a unique opportunity to study a complex ecosystem under conditions which constrain the transfer of matter, energy and information across its boundaries.

The logistic lattice within the edge of chaos. The emergence of order from chaos in a collection of entities, or agents (very simple ones in this case) with rules for behavior and rules for communication with their environment.

The systems portrayed in the first two photos are very complex, the third is fairly simple - but there is an underlying unity. All three systems can be characterized as collections of entities, or agents, which have rules for their behavior and rules about communication with their environment. Subject to a flow of energy, and given appropriate rules, these collections of entities can behave in coherent patterns, creating new structures at this higher hierarchical level of the collective. The flow of water molecules or the chemical trajectories of carbon atoms in the hot spring , the response of the plants and soil bacteria in the Biosphere to sunlight and the resultant fluctuation of the composition of the atmosphere, and the emerging wave-like patterns in the cellular automata all represent collective coherent behavior. It is relatively easy to create complex systems in a computer, provided we can define the agents and characterize the nature of the communication among them and with their environment. We can map systems like the hot springs and the biosphere into a computer model by creating collections of agents with appropriate rules and boundary conditions, and letting them interact as they would in the hot spring or the biosphere, and visualize the behavior of the this system within the computer with graphical displays. Understanding the nature of communication in real systems is the role of the scientist - the modeling environment which allows the mapping is the key.


Our collaboration - C3 and CCAS - will be a unique experiment in combining scientific exploration and artistic creativity. We will bring together the talents of programmers who create computational environments which allow this mapping of real systems on to model systems with programmers who create visual representations of this mapping process which allow the richness of the models to be comprehended by the human participant in the process. The purpose of the CCAS is to make accessible, to the faculty and students of the social sciences of CEU, the power of new computational approaches to the study of social systems. We will use the SWARM modelling environment for complex adaptive systems created by Chris LangtonŐs group at the Santa Fe Institute as a tool for exploration. Our research programmers will create new graphical human-computer interfaces to massively-parallel modelling environments using the architecture-adaptive parallel extensions to the C language created by John Dorband at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center . Much of the focus of our effort will be on the characterization of human agents, the key to creating meaningful models of social systems. Visualization is the key to making our work meaningful. We seek to use these models to extend the human intellect, to make the typically non-intuitive behavior of complex social systems more intuitive to human observers. Artistic experiences connect with the human intellect in powerful unconscious ways. The maps our models create can be visualized as changing patterns of shapes and colors which will employ these unconscious qualities of artistic experience to imprint this intuitive understanding. The artists of C3 and the research programmers of CCAS bring the necessary skills to the collaboration. In turn, we will extend our reach to social scientist faculties throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (CEE and the fSU). They will come to Budapest to workshops and take back with them the access to the tools to spread to their students and colleagues. These people will form our distance learning network, utilizing newly established network links to communicate and collaborate, sharing models and ideas. The staffŐs experience with global networking at C3 will be invaluable in turning this interesting idea into a functioning reality.

C3, the Center for Culture and Communication, is located on Orszaghaz utca (State House Street) on the ancient Castle Hill of Buda, overlooking the Duna (the Danube River) which collects the flow of water from the north slope of the Alps and pours it into the Black Sea. C3 is a place which seeks to to nurture part of the culture of the new millenium - the electronic arts, and at the same time to nurture the human society of the new millenium by providing the totally new and unprecendented connections between people of the World Wide Web.

And this happens in a place where old societal structures have disappeared and new structures are being created. Budapest is Jump City.

The Center for Complex Adaptive Systems is in a building

to seek to illuminate those false opinions of humankind regarding our own nature. Anyone who thinks can see that our collective behavior often falls far short of the potential for wisdom which our intellect makes possible.

CCAS seeks to shine the light of human intellect coupled with the power of our mind's creation - these engines of computation which are changing human society in ways which are totally unpredictable, because we can choose how to use them.

Some time ago someone said to me that she did not want to be part of the revolution if it wasn't going to be fun. For a process to be fun it must engage our senses, and provide surprise.

This "self-organization" of collections of agents with rules for behavior and communication is a metaphor for real-world systems ranging from collections of molecules in a hot spring, to collections organisms in an ecosystem, to collections of people in a social systems. At the Santa Fe Institute <www.santafe.edu> they call them Complex Adaptive Systems. Phil Agre has described

Computer technology has brought a revolution to mathematics. The power of this revolution to change the way we think about the world can be compared to the impact on human society of the introduction of the calculus by Newton. The world as a mechanism, implied by Newtonian mechanics, gives way to the world as an organism; a world which includes unpredictability, chaotic behavior, the destruction of old order and the emergence of the new. agents that collaborate, agents that have choice.

To create computer models of human systems is to explore in a rigorous way the relationship between the way we think about the world and the way things are.

The kind of models we will create are mathematical descriptions of the systems that surround and include us. They are tools for thinking, spring-boards for our intuition and imagination. They enhance the power of human cognition as it seeks to understand the implications of the past and present behavior of these systems and design the set of constraints which guide their future evolution.

The central task of the Central European University/Center for Complex Systems is to work with CEU scholars in the economic-ecologic-social-historical-political system sciences to create user-friendly interfaces for the creation of computer models of these complex human systems.

Our approach is that of complex adaptive systems - exploring the behavior of collections of autonomous agents, their rules for behavior and their communication, the emergence of their collective structures. We seek to create collections of agents that communicate and collaborate, remember their history, and come to have choice.

Our purpose is not to produce models as a product. We focus instead on the learning process, the interactions of the human mind and the computer which occurs during the creation of models. The computer does not substitute for the mind; the model-making system is the coupled mind-of-the-scholar system plus hardware-software system. This coupled system draws on the experienced minds' intuition, its ability to see and recognize patterns of behavior in the systems which surround and include it.

These recognized patterns exist in the mind. Creating the computer model gives them a physical reality outside of the mind. The process we are interested is the progressive feedback/adaptation in which the mind compares its perception of the world and its perception of the computer model and brings the two closer together by revising both of them.


The purpose of our collaboration with C3 is to enhance the meaning of our work.

For this modeling process to have meaning - that is to say if it is to lead to changes in our collective consciousness of the nature of the complex systems which surround and include us in our world - the process must have an aesthetic as well as an intellectual appeal. In other words - it must engage both the "left-brain" and "right-brain" aspects of human mind.

We also seek to enhance the meaning of our work by extending the creative process beyond the University - to engage interested scholars in the process wherever the World Wide Web reaches them.