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Chapter Five

Complexity, Chaos, and Challenges in Modeling the Complex Systems

5.0 A Road Map

We concluded the last chapter with something of a cliff-hanger: I argued that while the classical scientific method of decomposing systems into their constituent parts and studying the behavior of those parts in isolation has been spectacularly successful in the history of science, a number of contemporary problems have forced us to look for tools to supplement that approach. We saw that both biology and climate science have begun to explore more holistic models, with the hope that those perspectives will shed some light on issues that have stymied the decompositionalist approach. The bulk of the last chapter was dedicated to exploring a simplified climate model—the zero-dimensional energy balance model—and to articulating the physical intuitions behind the mathematics of that model. Near the end, we discussed the highly heterogeneous family of models called “Earth models of intermediate complexity,” and thought about the relationship between those models and the concept of dynamical complexity. I suggested that while EMICs shouldn’t be thought of as inferior imitations of more comprehensive models, the project of getting a clear understanding of the patterns that underlie the global climate will involve recruiting all available tools. To that end, I would like to spend this chapter discussing cutting-edge, high-level climate models, with particular attention to the computer simulations in which many of these models are implemented. This chapter will be the first to engage with some of the more controversial aspects of climate science, and will constitute a direct response to the critique of climatology as a “cooked up” enterprise—a “science by