Team:ETH Zurich/human/essay/answer


Our reflections

This essay is the third of four pillars towards a better understanding of complexity. It brings elements from the survey, from the interviews, the outreach and from further reading together. Here, we reflect on how our project and science, in general, relate to these topics.

Our human practice project was guided by the following questions:

“How do people experience complexity? Which approaches do exist to approach complexity? How does complexity arise? Should people, scientists in particular, consider that subparts of a complex entity are mixed in a both ordered and unorganized way, and accept uncertainty? If yes, how can the uncertainty be taken into account? Or are simple parts strictly ordered, and complexity arises when these simple parts follow rules?”

This questions splits up into two approaches. The first approach is needed to take into account uncertainty of intrinsic complexity of the parts we consider as of the environment. The second approach is necessary to understand the parts better in order to be able to predict results.

On our way of answering the questions coming along with complexity we focused on four different components: Listening, discussing, sharing and thinking.

The first component of listening was covered by a survey regarding complexity and its emergence. We listened to the public and learned about the existing ideas of complexity and how people relate to it. Something that we have observed is a trend of increasing complexity when going from non-living objects to living beings. A feature of living beings might be that they have emerging properties. This is what we experience as complex. 70% of the participants of our survey have shown an interest to simplify and try to understand complexity instead of avoiding it. Another phenomenon observed was the deviation between languages. Depending on the language spoken, complexity was judged in a different way. This fact may indicate cultural variation. The survey has taught us how complexity is perceived in the public. From our survey we can conclude that in our sample population an interest in complexity exists. A point to consider is that often people are not forced to deal with complexity directly. A cell, a dog and a computer exist as items in our daily lives but most of us do not think about their complexity in relation to other items on a daily basis. Albeit we are surrounded by complexity, it is not easy for us to name and define it.

Our second component involved interviews with experts from different backgrounds. This enabled us to broaden our horizons away from the complexity we are facing in our project to the complexity faced by people of other backgrounds. This exchange has enriched our project, as the professional fields of the interview partners as their approaches to complexity were very diverse. Our human practice has shown us the diversity of approaches of addressing complexity in our daily lives, in our professional fields, in science and when encountering complex situations. From the talk with the priest J. Fuisz we learnt that in his opinion religion and believe help us to find a way away from complexity and towards God. Thus we can live a life in trust instead of confusion and despair. According to K. Chikkadi, a scientist working with mikro- and nano systems, and Mr. Veress, a philosophy teacher, complexity arises from simple phenomena. From D. Garcia we got the following input on the perception of complexity. „Complexity is a property of a system and it can be measured. It can be shown whether a system is complex or not: for a complex system, the sum of its elements is higher than each one of them independently in superposition.“ We learned that it is often useful to simplify the complexity to obtain a more accessible approach. In the process of simplification we should not forget the relationship to reality.

Sharing as our fourth pillar was done in lectures at a high school where we aimed at explaining the fundamentals of synthetic biology and how it can be a way of approaching complexity. A science slam is defined as a scientific presentation competition where scientists present their topics in a predefined timeslot and in a funny, accessible way for the open public. In our outreach part we experienced how important it is to break the complexity of the own down to make it accessible for a broader public. On our way of spreading the word of synthetic biology we had many enriching encounters. We met many different people and encountered the phenomenon already described in our survey. The people we met all showed interest in trying to simplify complex problems and a will to understand what seems complex in first place.

We did not find a universal answer to the question guiding our human practice project. What we found are many different approaches to address complexity arising in many different fields. This project helped us to improve our understanding of complexity as a whole and how we could profit from this profound, interdisciplinary knowledge.