What is a complex adaptive system?

Complex adaptive systems (sometimes abbreviated CAS) are all around you every day.

Nature is full of complex adaptive systems.

  • The city you live in is a complex adaptive system.
  • The internet which you are using is a complex adaptive system.
  • Your immune system is a complex adaptive system.

In fact, you participate in innumerable complex adaptive systems, and you yourself are a complex adaptive system!

Complex adaptive systems are defined as systems that are made up of many independent agents, each behaving in accordance with their own internal rules. Agents are like cells in your body, or microorganisms in a pond, or people in a community.

Agents in a complex adaptive system interact with one another and with their environment, and through iteration and feedback, the agents can learn, evolve and complicated behaviors and patterns can emerge.

By studying complex adaptive systems, you can develop a deeper understanding of the world around you.

On this site, you can learn what constitutes a CAS, you can see examples of complex systems in the world, and you can even play with a simple complex adaptive system simulator!

Start out by watching the video on the intro page, and then try out the CAS simulator on the demo page. When you're done, check out the research and applications pages to see examples of how scientists are using complex adapative systems to learn about our world. Finally, check out the links page for pointers to more information about complex adaptive systems.

On this site:

  • Learn what complex adaptive systems are, and why they are important.
  • See examples of complex adaptive systems in nature.
  • Discover how scientists are using models of complex adaptive systems to understand the world.
  • Play with a simple complex adaptive system simulation
  • Find more information and resources for learning about complexity and multi-agent systems.