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Type: Thesis
Title: A multidisciplinary approach to complex systems design
Author: Ryan, Alex J.
Issue Date: 2007
School/Discipline: School of Mathematical Sciences : Applied Mathematics
Abstract: The design and management of organised systems, comprised of dynamic interdependent collectives of autonomous agents, is the kind of problem that the discipline of complex systems is intended to address. Nevertheless, conventional model-based applications of complex systems may be of limited utility when the problem is also data-poor and soft. In this case, a quantitative model may be at best meaning-less; at worst harmful. Systems approaches, such as soft systems methodologies, have been developed that provide some guidance in this domain. However, these alternatives do not utilise the exact techniques of complex systems, preferring to abandon mathematical representations altogether. It is the aim of this thesis to advance a “conceptual analysis" approach to complex systems design that exploits deep insights from the mathematics of complex systems, without building explicit models of the underlying system. It is argued that this approach can extend the domain of applicability of the discipline of complex systems into situations where quantitative data is unavailable, and human and social factors are significant. Conceptual analysis of complex systems is inherently multidisciplinary, because it is broader than the foundations of any single conventional discipline. This is reflected in the structure of this thesis, which spans the philosophy, theory and application of complex systems. Part I on systems philosophy develops an understanding of representation, which sheds light on the utility and limitations of models. The history of the systems movement is then surveyed, systemism is distinguished from both individualism and holism, and `system' is defined. Complex systems is contrasted with both early systems theory and contemporary systems approaches. Part II on complex systems theory firstly relates the major theoretical concepts within a rigourous information theoretical framework. They include complexity, edge of chaos, self-organisation, emergence, adaptation, evolution and self refer- entiality. The central systems concept - emergence - is then examined in depth beyond its information theoretic interpretation, leading to a concise definition of emergent properties and emergence. A new framework for understanding emergence in terms of scope, resolution and state yields substantial novel insights. It is shown that emergence is coupled to scope, in contrast to the conventional explanation that relates levels of description. Part III applies the preceding philosophical and theoretical framework to real-world problems in the defence and security arena. In the first example, the theory of multi-scale complexity reveals structural impediments to success for conventional force structures in asymmetric warfare, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom. The second example analyses the capability development process, which is responsible for transforming the security needs of Government into equipment purchasing decisions. The analysis produces practical recommendations for improvements that address the underlying complexity of the problem. Reflections in the conclusion of this thesis focus on the interrelations between philosophy, theory and application. As the individual contributions of this thesis are woven into a single tapestry, they demonstrate the utility of a multidisciplinary approach to complex systems design.
Advisor: Bean, Nigel Geoffrey
Dissertation Note: Thesis(PhD) -- University of Adelaide, School of Mathematical Sciences, 2007
Subject: Mathematical models
Keywords: Mathematics; Mathematical models; Complexes (Mathematics)
Provenance: Copyright material removed from digital thesis. See print copy in University of Adelaide Library for full text
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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