Teaching Complexity as Transdisciplinarity

  • Loren Demerath
  • E. Dante SuarezEmail author
Part of the Understanding Complex Systems book series (UCS)


This paper describes how a course in complexity studies can teach the value of a broad education, and the benefits of synthesizing knowledge otherwise acquired in disciplinary silos. For students focused on one field or vocation, understanding complexity may provide the necessary perspective that links their field to other valuable methodologies. Teaching complexity allows both students and faculty to connect disciplinary expertise to a wider range of knowledge on how things work, giving them a more consilient approach to solving real-world problems. The proposed course demonstrates transdisciplinarity across disciplines to identify self-organizing networks and the emergence of bounded systems. Agent-based modeling is used to show students how basic algorithms can create complex orders, and how lower-level orders can give rise to higher levels of order that have new, unpredictable properties. Students are given a grounding in both thermodynamics and information processing to understand how any kind of self-organizing system may evolve according the same generative principles, be it an ecosystem, a stream of consciousness, an industry, or a genre of art. As students see the prevalence of self-organization and emergence across disciplines, they can share with faculty the sense that we are in a special moment where a new, more unified way of seeing things is taking shape. Both authors of this paper have taught several courses on complexity, including one that was taught jointly with faculty from six different disciplines at five different universities. The authors remark on what worked, what did not, and what could be improved, as well as providing a set of recommendations and resources for faculty who may be interested in teaching on this important subject.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Centenary College of LouisianaShreveportUSA
  2. 2.Department of Finance and Decision Sciences, School of BusinessTrinity UniversitySan AntonioUSA

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