Introduction to Complexity and Applied Complexity

Spring 2021

Purpose and Overview

  • Familiarize and gain intuition in foundations and themes of complexity science. Apply lessons and implications learned to real world problems in business and society. Coverage will be as broad as possible, each topic treated to a “minimal viable depth” to nail down concepts and establish anchor points.
  • Students should expect to leave the course gaining familiarity with the central themes in complex systems science, how they relate to one another, and how they can apply in practice. For those who wish to go into more depth in any of the topics, the course will give a solid jumping off point.
  • Intended for professionals and students that want to build understanding and intuition of the themes and insights of complexity science, and how they can apply this way of thinking to the problems they face.
  • Any formal treatment will be solely in the interest of clarifying and reinforcing intuition. Any math/programming will be introduced gently with only high-school math assumed. (And even some of those basics we will re-cover in order to ensure we are all on the same page. My experience is that going over what you think you already know can be very enlightening).
  • This course is NOT for anyone wishing to take any of the topics to a significant level of technical depth.
  • See below for a list of topics we will aim to cover (it’s a lot, so no guarantee), prioritizing conceptual clarity around central themes


  • Joseph Norman, PhD, Founder and Chief Scientist Applied Complexity Science, LLC
  • Guest lectures: TBD (probably between 2-4, mixed applied and foundational)

Structure and Schedule

  • Remote synchronous: We will meet twice a week for 90 minutes at a time online (lectures will be recorded for missed meetings).


    Section A meetings will be held Tuesday and Thursday 7:00 - 8:30 PM Eastern US timezone.

    Section B meetings will be held Monday and Wednesday 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM Eastern US timezone

  • The course will run beginning on January 11th through April 6th for 25 total sessions.
  • Office Hours: Students will be welcome to schedule office hours to discuss course topics and materials as needed and desired on a one-on-one or small group basis with the instructor. Will remain informal unless requests become overwhelming.
  • Course completion: Upon completion of the course, students will be awarded a certificate and, if desired, become a member of an ACS alumni network that will serve to keep interested students in contact with classmates and future attendees. The alumni network will evolve over time.
  • This is NOT a “MOOC”. In order to facilitate an organic and spontaneous learning environment and direct interaction enrollment will be limited.


  • Self-organization
  • Emergence
  • Reductionism and Irreducibility
  • Phase Transitions
  • Agent-based Models, Networks, and Cellular Automata
  • Graph Theory
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Stability and Instability
  • Ergodicity
  • Chaos
  • Probability
  • Statistics
  • Central Limit Theorem
  • Independence and Interdependence
  • Cascades
  • Tails
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Random Walks
  • Markov Chains
  • Statistical Mechanics
  • Cybernetics
  • Information Theory
  • Constraints
  • Variety and Entropy
  • Multiscale Variety
  • Fractals
  • Scaling properties and relations
  • Pattern Formation
  • Evolution
  • Fragility and Antifragility
  • Biological Development
  • Computation and Formal Systems
  • Syntax and Semantics
  • Embodiment and Heuristics
  • Theoretical Biology
  • Autopoiesis and Relational Biology
  • Anticipatory systems
  • Perception and Affordances
  • Human Organizations
  • Military and Warfare
  • Architecture and Building
  • Software Development and Architecture
  • Systemic Risk and Precaution
  • Pandemic Response
  • Policy and Society
  • Decision-making under uncertainty
  • Agriculture and Land Use
  • Infrastructure
  • Ecology and Climate
  • Localism
  • Trade
  • Economics
  • Innovation Processes
  • Traditional and Complex Systems Engineering

Please make sure to select the section you'd prefer to attend

Sign up for Section A

Sign up for Section B