Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Criteria For Conceptual And Operational Notions of Complexity

By Dominique Chu


While complex systems have been studied now for more than two decades, there still is no agreement on what complexity actually is. This lack of a definition might be a problem when asking questions about the evolution of complexity. In this article criteria against which candidate measures of complexity can be assessed are discussed. The main conclusion of this article is that because of the absence of a basic consensus on what complexity is, there is no criterion that can be used to decide whether or not a proposed measure actually measures complexity. The main recommendation is to abandon complexity as a formal notion; instead, research into the evolution of complexity should use well-understood proxy notions (as is sometimes done in the literature). For the time being complexity should remain an informal notion. Research into evolutionary trends of these proxy notions might eventually lead to an emergent community consensus on what complexity is

Topics: QA76
Publisher: MIT Press
Year: 2008
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (2006). A category theoretical argument against the possibility of artificial life. doi
  2. (2002). A complexity drain on cells in the evolution of multicellularity. doi
  3. (1980). Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Boston studies in the philosophy of science. doi
  4. (1974). Autopoiesis: The organisation of living systems, its characterization and a model. doi
  5. (2004). Autopoietic and (M,R) systems. doi
  6. (2000). Can agent-based models assist decisions on large-scale practical problems? A philosophical analysis. doi
  7. (1998). Complexity—a philosophical overview.
  8. (1997). Complexity: Hierarchical structures and scaling in physics. Cambridge, UK: doi
  9. (1997). Dynamics of complex systems. doi
  10. (1994). Emergent complex systems. doi
  11. (1999). Essays on life itself.
  12. (2000). Evolution of biological complexity. doi
  13. (1999). Evolution of complexity in paleozoic ammonoid sutures. doi
  14. (1995). Hidden Order. doi
  15. (1995). Hidden Order. Reading: Addison-Wesley. Criteria for Conceptual and Operational Notions of ComplexityD. ChuAu tho r P roo f---no t fi na l v ers ion .18.
  16. (1997). How nature works. doi
  17. (2006). In defense of mechanism. doi
  18. (2006). In defense of mechanism. Ecological Psychology, 18(1), 39–65.Artificial Life Volume 14, Number 3 11 Au tho r P roo f---no t fi na l v ers ion .
  19. (2004). Information theory in molecular biology. doi
  20. (1998). Introduction to artificial life. doi
  21. (2000). John von Neumann and the evolutionary growth of complexity: Looking backwards, looking forwards. doi
  22. (1991). Life itself. doi
  23. (1996). Metazoan complexity and evolution: Is there a trend? doi
  24. (2002). On complexity and emergence. doi
  25. (1986). On the nature and origin of complexity in discrete, homogeneous, locally-interacting systems. doi
  26. Please check if the proposed running head is okay.
  27. (1999). Some techniques for the measurement of complexity in Tierra. doi
  28. (1999). Syntactic Measures of Complexity.
  29. (2005). The evolution of complexity without natural selection, a possible large-scale trend of the fourth kind. doi
  30. (2003). Theories of complexity. doi
  31. (1965). Three approaches to the quantitative definition of information. doi
  32. (1990). Uncertainty and quality in science for policy. doi
  33. (1994). Uncertainty, complexity and post-normal science. doi
  34. (2002). What is complexity? doi
  35. (1997). Would-be worlds. doi

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.