Complex systems in natural science and humanities

by Vera Wenzel


It´s a well-known fact, that there is some kind of communication gap between natural scientists and scholars. In particular, this leads to critical situations in case if both sides have to collaborate for a common interdisciplinary research work. Thereby it is quite usual, that original common views and apparent mutual understanding degenerate into confrontation or even hostility. The high explosive field of science and technology research represents a rather typical example for that, where social scientists and scholars are developing chiefly their own views with respect to the activities of their colleagues from natural and technology sciences. Taking into account this already tens of years lasting controversy, I intend to elucidate in the following the integrating function which complex systems may have as subjects of investigation for both natural sciences and humanities. The term "complex system" is more and more recognized as a transdisciplinary matter for research. Selecting the main aspects of the intricated history concerning the treatment of complex systems, I emphasize three topics as most relevant for the relationship between natural sciences and humanities:

  1. What are the prominent properties of complex systems from the perspective of the humanities?
  2. What is a non-classical ideal of rationality in the (post-)modern natural science?
  3. What are the common features of both the natural sciences and the humanities?

In spite of all differences between the two categories of science, one can find certain mechanisms which are developing also common properties of them. Finally, it will be demonstrated by examples how those mechanisms are really working. Some examples show a successful transplantation of certain terms from the natural sciences into the humanities, some others show this transplantation being unsuccessful.

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