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Complexity and EvolutionToward a New Synthesis for Economics$
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David S Wilson and Alan Kirman

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035385

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035385.001.0001

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Two Meanings of Complex Adaptive Systems

Two Meanings of Complex Adaptive Systems

(p.31) 3 Two Meanings of Complex Adaptive Systems
Complexity and Evolution

David S. Wilson

The MIT Press

In complex systems theory, two meanings of a complex adaptive system (CAS) need to be distinguished. The first, CAS1, refers to a complex system that is adaptive as a system; the second, CAS2, refers to a complex system of agents which follow adaptive strategies. Examples of CAS1 include the brain, the immune system, and social insect colonies. Examples of CAS2 include multispecies ecosystems and the biosphere. This chapter uses multilevel selection theory to clarify the relationships between CAS1 and CAS2. The general rule is that for a complex system to qualify as CAS1, selection must occur at the level of the complex system (e.g., individual-level selection for brains and the immune system, colony-level selection for social insect colonies). Selection below the level of the system tends to undermine system-level functional organization. This general rule applies to human social systems as well as biological systems and has profound consequences for economics and public policy.

Keywords:   Strüngmann Forum Reports, complex adaptive systems, cultural group selection, functional organization, multilevel selection theory, super-organism

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