Ad Hoc: Complexity in Science, Culture and Society

The research group Complexity met on April 1st of 2019 at the Research College for Human Sciences (Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften) in Bad Homburg, Germany to participate in a discussion with the South African cosmolgist George Ellis. His recent work The Dynamical Emergence of Biology From Physics: Branching Causation via Biomoleculeswas the basis for the workshop held throughout the day.

Complexity Workshop April 2019 Bad Homburg

Research group on Complexity in Science, Cuture and Society at Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften in Bad Homburg, Germany.

The increasing complexity in research and society is accelerating with new phenomena such as big data, digitization, migration flows, technologisation or even automation. As a result, science has an obligation to identify strategies for successfully dealing with complexity and solving complex problems. Examining these expectations is one of many starting points of the research project.

The overarching goal is to investigate different concepts of complexity and their theoretical justification from an interdisciplinary perspective and thus not only show new patterns for the practical handling of complexity, but also to gain new insights for the scientific research itself. A starting point of the project is the scientific-philosophical definition of complexity as a property of systems that show unexpected and unpredictable behavior due to the interaction of their elements, Interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary cooperation between the natural sciences and the humanities explores questions as to whether and how such a definition can apply and be applied to scientific systems as well as to cultural and social systems.

Development and operation of the project

Since the beginning of 2017, researchers from various disciplines at the Goethe University have collaborated in the project ┬╗Complexity in Science, Culture and Society┬ź. After a successful pilot phase funded by the Aventis Foundation , the project was headed by Prof. Dr. med. Harald Schwalbe (chemistry) and Prof. dr. Matthias Lutz-Bachmann (Philosophy) another funding commitment from the Aventis Foundation for the period from 2019 to 2020.

The research group consists mainly of natural and life scientists from the Goethe University and the University of Darmstadt, but also from humanities scholars from other institutions in Germany and abroad. She meets regularly at the Research College Human Sciences of Goethe University (FKH), where the project is administratively located. In addition, joint workshops and lectures are organized, to which internationally renowned scientists are invited to discuss with the research group different aspects and topics in the context of the complexity question.

An important part of the project work are the Complexity Fellowships , in which international guest scientists are invited to the FKH. There, they will be given the opportunity for their own research and active participation in the questions and events of the project.

The Economics of China’s New Era – Prof. Lin from Peking University

Prof. Justin Yifu Lin from Peking University delivered a lecture to a full auditorium at Goethe University (Frankfurt, Germany) on the new Era of the Chinese Economy, on this Jan. 21st. The event was made possible by IZO, the Interdicsciplinary Eastern Asian Studies, on its 10th year aniversary. Professor Lin acquired his PhD from the University of Chicago, and was the Chief Economist of the World Bank between the years of 2008 and 2012, currently working as a professor at Peking University.

Prof Lin started his talk by reminding us of how, 40 years ago, China started its reforms and openned up to the global economy. In 1978, China’s GDP per capita was 156 USD a year, according to the World Bank. Back then, 90% of its production was not linked to global production. However, nowadays, China is considered to be the second largest economy in the world, the largest exporter, and the largest trading country in the world. In 2018, the country reached 9.740 USD GDP per capita.

“China has entered a new era”, stated Prof. Lin, questioning about the implications of such transformation. According to him, people will have different interpretations, but his talk was to give voice to his own. He continued by acknowledging that the Chinese growth in recent decades was very impressive, especially if you compare it to other traditional economies in the Western world, that collapsed with the forces of the global crisis. Meanwhile, China mantained its stability and continues presenting itself as the only country in the world that did not experience a financial crisis in the last 40 years.

Prof. Lin considers this phenomenon a result of a pragmatic gradual reform in the Chinese economy, and he believes that these reforms will continue to be taking form on the long run, in order to maintain stability. He also believes that the secret behind the the country’s economic stability was its competitive advantage in specific sectors of the economy.

But China also paid some costs. The Chinese economy grew alongside with widespread corruption and income disparity in the country, and the Chinese people are not happy with these two factors, creating great social discontent.

But even after 40 years of continuous economic growth, China still has huge potential. According to him, developing countries have the “late comers advantages” – you can input technology by buying new technology from developed countries. This explains why China could achieve the high growth rates. A high income country already has the highest income, productivity and technology in the world. They would have to invent the new technologies. But new inventions require huge capital input, and are of high risk.

He mentioned that a study done in 2010 showed that there’s a potential for China to achieve 8-9% growth until 2028. Now it’s 2019, so there’s still 10 years of this potentil growth. But in a scenario where the global economy doesn not pick up from the 2008 crisis (which most countries have not yet recovered completely (US, Japan and countries in Europe), China can still mobilize resources internally and achieve 6% growth, continuing to be a major driver of economic growth in the world.

Closing his talk, Prof. Lin sounded very optimistic, mentioning that China serves as an inspiration for other developing countries. The experience of China demonstrates that once you have the right policy and ideals, a country can be changed. The country will have to continue deepening its reform, and though it has huge potential for growth, the external situation will be very challenging. The country will also have to show more responsibility for the world (i.e. developing international aid programs). Its growing economic significance implicates greater political significance as well.

Author’s note: My observation is that Prof. Lin failed to address the issues of environmental and health impact that the economic growth brought to its country. He was very enthusiastic about presenting China as this growing economic and political force at global scale, but his analysis – at the event – lacked some of the emerging reflections over the importance of performance indicators other than capital in a country’s development initiatives. This stagnant mindset seems to be leading to the same problems of traditional development policies, which can be only be accentuated by China’s worrying demographics.