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Complexity: can it be simplified?

Complexity: can it be simplified?

What do economic crises, traffic jams, consciousness, the climate, immune systems and flocks of birds have in common? They can all be described as complex systems.


These systems are characterized by a certain pattern, or regularity, at the collective level, which is driven by a multitude of interacting components that in their turn are affected by the collective dynamics. In other words, not only is the whole more than the sum of its parts, but changing system behavior also has feedback on the individual components. Complex systems are self-organizing, largely beyond central control, often adaptive but under certain conditions self-destructive.

This course provides a unique opportunity to acquire insights into complex systems, and to learn about the models that are used to represent and examine these systems. It is intended for a broad audience, and shows that a general understanding of complexity is possible without understanding the technicalities of the models. There is also a sense of urgency: given the current problems of our world, it is crucially important that students learn about complexity, and acquire the skills to use its insights in their future professions, be it business, government, journalism or science.

For who?

This is a Bachelors course that Master students can follow by completing a larger assignment.

Lectures, workshops and practical sessions

The program consists of two parts, first a series of lectures of 1,5 hours (including questions and discussion), given by researchers from the natural sciences. The series starts at September 5 with lectures on the general approach and methods, followed by an interim exam.  During the second part, students work in small groups on self-chosen projects, weekly supervised by a teacher. They present their results at the final session, December 12, and in a collective essay.


Melanie Mitchell (2011) Complexity, a guided tour. Oxford University Press.


You can find the timetable via Datanose


Halfway through the course, there will be an interim exam.


Book, approximately 14 euro at online shops


  • UvA-students

Can register until a week before the start of the course (look for code 5512COMP6Y in SIS).

Register in SIS (UvA students only)

  • Other parties

Such as contract students or students from other institutions, interested to follow the lectures only can contact Keuzeonderwijs-iis@uva.nl.

Complexity: can it be simplified?
Vorm Kortlopend
Studielast 6 EC,
Voertaal Engels
Toelatingseisen Open
Start September