Some problems can be examined and studied through a reductionist approach – breaking a problem into its components and manipulating the parts to bring about some change or understanding of the whole. This works in systems that are closed, characterized by linear relationships, and tend toward equilibrium. Such systems are sometimes defined as machine-like and are complicated, but not complex.
Complex systems are open, non-equilibrium systems whose relationships are nonlinear. They are characterized by diversity, adaptation, self-organization, and, in some instances, emergence.
The study of complex systems can help us examine some of the most important and vexing issues of our time. Students engaged in the study of biological, ecological, and engineering systems, those examining patterns of language development or the workings of economic and financial systems, and students exploring the impact of networks and big data all benefit from the study of complexity.
University faculty from a wide-array of disciplines have at concluded that our students regardless of disciplinary study can benefit from the study of complexity.