The Fundamentals of Complex Adaptive Systems

  • Ted CarmichaelEmail author
  • Mirsad Hadžikadić
Part of the Understanding Complex Systems book series (UCS)


Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) is a framework for studying, explaining, and understanding systems of agents that collectively combine to form emergent, global level properties. These agents can be nearly anything, from ants or bees, to brain cells, to water particles in a weather pattern, to groups of cars or people in a city or town. These agents produce emergent patterns via correlated feedbacks throughout the system, feedbacks that create and fortify a basin of attraction: a persistent pattern of behavior that itself is outside of equilibrium. There is also an ever-growing understanding that similar features in complex systems across a diversity of domains may indicate similar fundamental principles at work, and as such there is often utility in using the key features of one system to gain insight into the workings of seemingly distinct fields. Here we also include a brief review of multiple models that attempt to do exactly this, including some of our previous work. Though there is not complete agreement on all aspects and definitions in this field, this introduction also summarizes our understanding of what defines a CAS, including the concepts of complexity, agents, adaptation, feedbacks, emergence, and self-organization; and places this definition and its key features in a historical context. Finally we briefly discuss two of the common biases often found that the tools of CAS can help counteract: the hierarchical bias, assuming a strong top-down organization; and the complexity bias, the tendency to assign complicated features to agents that turn out to be quite simple.



Some of this material appeared previously, in a slightly changed form, in Managing Complexity: Practical Considerations in the Development and Application of ABMs to Contemporary Policy Challenges [2].


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Software and Information SystemsUniversity of North Carolina at CharlotteCharlotteUSA
  2. 2.TutorGen, Inc.Fort ThomasUSA

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