Capital City Complex Systems Symposium

Fewer is different

Keynote presentation by Nicola Gaston, Waipapa Taumata Rau University of Auckland

Nicola Gaston smiles at the camera in a leather jacket with her arms folded.

The title of this talk is a reference to the famous paper by PW Anderson, which established the concepts of emergence that underpin complex systems research. When we discuss matters of diversity, we are dealing with issues of minoritisation: what it is to be part of the majority or minority population, and the consequent symmetry breaking that affects our interactions with others.

In this talk I will make the case that complex systems researchers are uniquely well placed to understand matters of equity, inclusion, and diversity. The general concepts of symmetry breaking, bifurcation, sensitivity to initial conditions – these things are a solid starting point for understanding. Tipping points, phase transitions, and the idea of critical mass provide the necessary conceptual tools for deeper comprehension of our current challenges.

The mathematical sciences have a natural tendency to focus on general laws. Here I argue that this should not result in a dismissal of other, minoritised perspectives. In contrast, it should enable an understanding of the basic phenomena that lead to problematic exclusion, regardless of the specific details of interpersonal interactions.