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Chapter Two

What's the Significance of Complexity?

2.0 Introduction and Overview

In Chapter One, I presented a general theory about the nature of the scientific project, and argued that this general theory suggests a natural way of thinking about the relationship between (and underlying unity of) the different branches of science. This way of looking at science is instructive but (as I said), doing abstract philosophy of science is not really my goal here. Eventually, we will need to turn to consider climate science specifically and examine the special problems faced by those studying the Earth's climate system. Before we get down into the nitty-gritty concrete details, though, we'll need a few more theoretical tools. Here's how this chapter will go.

In 2.1 I will introduce a distinction between "complex systems" sciences and "simple systems" sciences, and show how that distinction very naturally falls out of the account of science offered in Chapter One. I will draw a distinction between "complex" and "complicated," and explore what it is that makes a particular system complex or simple. We'll think about why the distinction between complex and simple systems is a useful one, and discuss some attempts by others to make the notion of complexity precise. In 2.2, we will attempt to construct our own definition using the framework from the last chapter. Finally, in 2.3, I’ll set up the discussion to come in Chapter Three, and suggest that climate science is a paradigmatic