Foundations of Science

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 757-780

First online:

On the Import of Constraints in Complex Dynamical Systems

  • Cliff HookerAffiliated withSchool of Humanities and Social Sciences, McMullin Bld, University of Newcastle Email author 

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Complexity arises from interaction dynamics, but its forms are co-determined by the operative constraints within which the dynamics are expressed. The basic interaction dynamics underlying complex systems is mostly well understood. The formation and operation of constraints is often not, and oftener under appreciated. The attempt to reduce constraints to basic interaction fails in key cases. The overall aim of this paper is to highlight the key role played by constraints in shaping the field of complex systems. Following an introduction to constraints (Sect. 1), the paper develops the roles of constraints in specifying forms of complexity (Sect. 2) and illustrates the roles of constraints in formulating the fundamental challenges to understanding posed by complex systems (Sect. 3).


Complexity Complex systems Dynamical constraints Lagrangian dynamics Organization Dynamical understanding