The Santa Fe Institute (SFI) is a research and education centre aiming to contribute to a better understanding of adaptive complex systems. Established in 1984 and located in New Mexico, the U.S, the institute brings together scholars, practitioners, and the larger society around themes such as invention and innovation in evolutionary processes, mental models of complexity, and intelligence in artificial, natural, and collective forms. SFI projects differ in focus and scope from a cell to the universe, but all of their work explores potential commonalities and general principles applicable to complex systems.
During summer, the institute offers courses for graduate and post-graduate students, as well as people in industry and others in academia. Three of the AdaptEcon fellows applied to the program: two of them took part in the “Graduate Workshop in Computational Social Science” and one of them joined the “Complex Systems Summer School”. Over 90 students from all over the world joined forces at the SFI campus for an intense training over the course of four weeks.
As part of the graduate workshop, each participant had the opportunity to define and develop an individual project. For the summer school, collaborative interdisciplinary projects were set up.
Marie analysed the value of environmental variables for conflict risk modelling by comparing an existing linear regression model with complexity based models like a neural net and a random forest model. Thanks to the good support of SFI researchers John Miller and Scott Page and peer learning from the group of PhD students, she was able to present this early work later that summer at the Resilience Conference.
Therese used System Dynamics modelling to capture the emergence of industrial symbiosis on a regional scale. The final model contains three modules, integrating the dynamics of population growth, the energy sector, and the forestry sector. The model may be used to test the impact of disturbances in the system, as well as to create scenarios for the future development in the region.
Maartje participated in a group project on the complex interlinkages between seafood trade and marine population status. The project finished with an exploratory analysis on the development of exports and marine stock status as well as the development of seafood trade networks around the globe.
Afterwards we agreed that this summer school had been a great experience in all aspects: scientifically enriching and socially engaging, while very well organized. One of the organizers encouraged us to think about what worked so well in Santa Fe and made us reflect on what it takes to replicate that experience in our working environments -where and when we needed it. Next to (1) interesting scholars around you for discussion, (2) time pressure for presentations, and (3) a cafeteria providing delicious and healthy energy-boosts 3 times a day, the key component was (4!) time and space to think outside of the box. This felt very natural in the wide-open mountain desert landscapes, the long multicultural history and alternative art scene of Santa Fe, which all together nurtures the freedom for any idea to grow. SFI, as an independent research center for complexity science, can be understood as the extension and establishment of this spirit of intellectual freedom within the scientific domain.
As a conclusion, we can very warmly recommend any of SFI’s summer programs to everyone who would like to breed over some new ideas and learn how to apply complexity tools to their research, no-matter which disciplinary background you come from, and preferably even in an interdisciplinary setting.