Pattern Formation in Systems – A Complex System Perspective for Discovery

Road to discovery

A pattern from a systems perspective is:

  • A set of relationships that are satisfied by observation of a system or collection of systems
  • A simple kind of emergent property of a system
  • A property of a system that allows its description to be shortened

Patterns vary with the type of system:

  • Simple Systems – linear based on simple Newtonian math and logic
  • Fractal
  • Network
  • Dynamic
  • Chaotic

Most system patterns are highly sensitive to starting conditions. So simple rules can give rise to diverse patterns if there is uncertainty in the starting point. It is possible to understand a variety of patterns in different systems from the same underlying concepts (the universality rule).

Further, to get the emergence of patterns there need so be “conversations” between the elements facilitating self-organisation. Hence, the surprising result that more connection does not create more uniformity e.g. the social networks on the internet are a source of creativity not people simply copying each other, and internet sites can be breeding grounds for diverse ideology and geopolitics.

Fractal patterns are common in nature e.g. coastlines, river networks, fracture networks, but far from universal. For examples tree limbs and branches are not fractal, and nor are mountains. Stochastic fractals have the property of emergence that the whole has the same property as the parts – exactly the same. 

Fractals have no particular scale, so you cannot use Newtonian calculus differentiation or analysis as this assumes smoothness and independencies exist everywhere, which is not the way fractals work. Treating systems with calculus or statistics throws out important discontinuities.

In most systems the whole is not the same as the parts, it much more complex, with many more possible behaviours. . Moreover, there is no macroscopic behaviour that extends to the deeply microscopic where quantum mechanics rules take over.

Complexity is on the road to discovery.