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ABSTRACT


Lightning in a Bottle


Jonathan Lawhead



Climatology is a paradigmatic complex systems science. Understanding the global climate involves tackling problems in physics, chemistry, economics, and many other disciplines. I argue that complex systems like the global climate are characterized by certain dynamical features that explain how those systems change over time. A complex system’s dynamics are shaped by the interaction of many different components operating at many different temporal and spatial scales. Examining the multidisciplinary and holistic methods of climatology can help us better understand the nature of complex systems in general.

Questions surrounding climate science can be divided into three rough categories: foundational, methodological, and evaluative questions. ”How do we know that we can trust science?" is a paradigmatic foundational question (and a surprisingly difficult one to answer). Because the global climate is so complex, questions like “what makes a system complex?” also fall into this category. There are a number of existing definitions of ‘complexity,’ and while all of them capture some aspects of what makes intuitively complex systems distinctive, none is entirely satisfactory. Most existing accounts of complexity have been developed to work with information-theoretic objects (signals, for instance) rather than the physical and social systems