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Courses One Page Flyer Fall 2013

SYSC 346U (also CS 346U) Exploring Complexity in Science and Technology

Freedom Privacy and Technology Cluster

Much of our scientific knowledge is based on two seemingly reasonable assumptions: 1) if we understand the parts of a system, we will understand the whole, and 2) small changes to a systems will have small effects, and big changes will have big effects. These assumptions turn out to be inadequate for many of the complex systems we interact with everyday (e.g. the weather, the economy, our biological environment, and the many social networks to which we belong). The goal of this course is to explore some of the most interesting and useful concepts behind the behavior of complex systems (without getting too bogged down in the scientific and mathematical details).

SYSC 330U, Models in Science (formerly 399U)

Meets Universitiy Studies Cluster Course Requirements

Science in the Liberal Arts and Knowledge, Reason and Understanding

This interdisciplinary course focuses on the role of models in scientific inquiry. Students explore how scientists from a variety of disciplines use different types of models, including physical (scale), mathematical (analytic and numeric), agent-based, animal, and social network. To facilitate this exploration, the course is divided into three main sections.

  1. Definition: We compare different definitions of "Science," "the Scientific Method," and "model." Here we also look briefly at what philosophers of science have said about how models fit into scientific inquiry.
  2. Analysis: We critically analyze a variety of models used in research from different disciplines. We will play with multiple types of (already constructed) computer simulation models to get a feel for how they can be used scientifically. We will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of modeling (in general) as a tool for posing and answering scientific questions. And we will identify modeling techniques that are best suited for answering different types of scientific questions.
  3. Synthesis: Students write a term paper where they either (1) identify a scientific question of interest and design a research project that uses scientific modeling to test it, (2) identify a field that could be furthered with scientific modeling and describe how this could be done, or (3) describe how scientific modeling is currently being used in a field of interest to relate scientific inquiry to a real-world problem.

The course provides both a conceptual understanding of how models are used in science and "hands on" experience exploring scientific inquiry using models as tools.

SYSC 399U, Decision Making in Complex Environments


SySc 514: System Dynamics

R 6:40-10:00 pm, TBA
Wayne Wakeland 725-4975

A lab and web-based course that introduces the student to the study of the dynamic behavior of continuous systems containing feedback. Vensim is the primary simulation language used in the course.

"Lecture" materials are provided on the web. Class time is used to assist students in carrying out various labs the reinforce the primary concepts. Some students may find that they can take the course almost entirely remotely.

More information:

SySc 521/621: Systems Philosophy

This seminar will consider some philosophical issues central to the systems field. Fundamental to these issues is Bunge's conception of systems science as a research program aimed at the construction of "an exact and scientific metaphysics," that is, a set of transdisciplinary concepts, models, and theories of broad generality and philosophical import, central to the sciences, and cast (or capable ultimately of being cast) in the exact language of mathematics.

The course draws from the literature of general systems theory and cybernetics, which launched the systems research program, and from the literature of chaos, complexity, and complex adaptive systems which constitutes this program today. It presents a broad range of systems ideas (from information theory, game theory, thermodynamics, non-linear dynamics, decision theory and many other areas) and attempts to integrate these ideas into a coherent framework. These ideas will be organized around the theme of fundamental "problems," that is, difficulties (imperfections, modes of failure) encountered by many systems of widely differing types.

While most of these ideas are mathematically-based, they will be approached in this course primarily at a conceptual level (with mathematical details provided as requested). Many of these systems ideas derive from the natural sciences and engineering, but they apply as well to the social sciences and to fields of professional practice (business, the helping professions, etc.). It is primarily their relevance to the human domain--to individuals, organizations, societies, and the global human community--and to technology which motivates this theoretical/philosophical inquiry. Certain of these ideas pertain also to the arts and humanities.

Readings will be from (1) the manuscript of a book (working title: Elements and Relations) being written by the instructor, which attempts the integration spoken of above; this is available from the PSU Bookstore. There is optional supporting material in (2) a Scientific American Reader in Systems Theory & Complex Systems at the PSU Bookstore.

Course work: six mini papers; class participation

Prerequisites: graduate status in Systems Science or permission of instructor.

Information on Systems Theory and Philosophy research

SySc 525/625: Agent Based Simulation

This course focuses on the technical and theoretical aspects of agent-based programming. During this class students will learn how to use StarLogo to create agent-based models and use agent-based simulations in research and education. Reading assignments focus on the history and theories behind agent-based programming and the decentralized perspective.

For more information: