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Benjamin Christensen

PhD Student

Benjamin Christensen


My main research topic is the philosophical implications of complexity.

Complexity has received only limited attention from philosophers in spite of wide-spread influence in other fields. To name just a few, mathematics, physics, chemistry, ecology, biology, neuro-science, and sociology have all increasingly been engaging with complex phenomena during the preceding fifty years.

We commonly assume some things to be more complex than others. Humans more than ants, Beethoven’s 9th symphony more than run-of-the-mill elevator music, performing brain surgery more than doing the dishes. But what exactly do we consider these commonsense intuitions to entail?

One pertinent locus for philosophical research into the subject is the persisting cross-disciplinary disagreement concerning the most appropriate definition of complexity itself. Is it primarily an epistemic phenomenon, that is, a measure of our own cognitive limatations? Or are physical systems more and less ontologically complex relative to each other? Can we even evaluate what is more or less complex, or is the concept simply too dependent on how we individually experience the world? Precisely such questions are customary for philosophical investigation.

Overall, I hope to contribute to the clarification of three main questions:

1. What are the most apt criteria for considering a phenomenon complex?

2. What are the ontological, epistemological, and phenomenological implications of complexity?

3. What are the practical consequences of complexity (e.g., in epistemic terms, for risk assessment, or, in ethical terms, for policy makers)?

One contemporary issue for which the answers to such questions may have wideranging ramifications is that of climate change. How do we best construe the epistemic challenges of modelling highly complex climate systems? What is the relation between our models and the reality we model? How do we best communicate this to the wider public? Are more complex entities, such as human beings, more morally significant than less complex ones?

These and other contemporarily noteworthy issues may benefit from philosophical research into the topic of complexity.

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