Editor’s introduction (6.4)

Jeffrey A. Goldstein
Adelphi University, USA

“In science one becomes enlightened not by discovering ways to believe things that make no sense but by identifying things that one does not understand and doing experiments to clarify them.”

Robert Laughlin - Nobel Laureate in Physics and author of 'A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down.'C

This fourth issue of Emergence: Complexity and Organization demonstrates once again our journal’s commitment to address the frontier between theory and practice and between mathematical idealizations and the living and changing organizations and societies we actually inhabit. Our Theory Section opens with an article putting forth a powerful argument against outmoded mathematical models in favor of the agent-based computational models that have been offering so many critical insights into the ‘order generation’ or emergence perspective at the heart of the sciences of complex systems; a perspective in drastic contrast with the hoary stance of equilibrium-seeking systems. Yet, there are important carryovers from early systems theories, an exploration of which is taken-up, but from a historical and ideational angle in another paper placed in the Forum Section.

Theory, though, is not confined to these sections but permeates the entire issue for as Kurt Lewin once said, “there is nothing more practical than a good theory.” We can add to Lewin’s sentiment that nothing aids in theory development better than experiments and applications of theory in real world practice. It is this context that we offer the three papers in our Practitioner Section and the one in the Forum Section along with the three commentaries on it. In these papers complexity science is applied to quality management, security issues in knowledge management, how operations research can benefit from insights emanating from the human sciences, and family-based medical care.

Theory in relation to praxis is the theme of our Complexity and Philosophy Section whose paper takes on the critical issue of how the models that guide our everyday actions and thinking as well as the tools coming from these models are neither theory-free nor ideology-free. Rather those innovations in thought and action which will prove to yield social and organizational betterment must first surface the underlying theoretical and ideological assumptions. The quote above from the Nobel Laureate in physics, Robert Laughlin, points to this need to be guided more by experiment and experience of the real world and not our preconceptions. It would seem that it is only then that complexity insights can be put to practical use in improving our social and institutional lives.

Theory again shows up in the Classical Paper Section where the idea of emergence is explored, in both its more classical manifestations as well as in the way it is being understood in the recent resurgence of interest in the idea. At the core of this section is the debate between the emergentist and the reductionist perspectives, a debate becoming ever more important as our tools for exploring emergent phenomena advance. By the way, both theory and practice are discussed in the three book reviews towards the end.

Talking about theory, I don’t want to leave out our closing article which offers a unique and unprecedented new theory of the social ties that bind! A big lesson of the School of Thought informing E:CO certainly is the need to have some fun and laugh at ourselves! As we stated in our opening editorial in the first issue, there would be surprises in store!

Finally, I want to reiterate our promise to be inclusive of plurality in perspectives and the countries of origin of our authors. The descriptions of our authors and the places from which they are working cut across three continents and two hemispheres and so do the numerous conference announcements on the last pages, conferences on complexity which literally are taking place all over the world! Complexity is not the province of any one country or even continent, but is being embraced East and West and all points Between, a fact that E:CO celebrates.