Courses One Page Flyer Fall 2011

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 399U, Models in Science

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 513: Systems Approach

Provides a practitioner-oriented introduction to systems, including:

  • observer dependencies & context
  • meta-systems & subsystems
  • value systems and associated optimization/sub-optimization
  • life-cycle project management
  • inquiring systems
  • learning organizations
  • multiple perspectives.

Also explores qualitative aspects systems analysis tools such as graphs, structural modeling, and dynamic modeling.

For more information: Systems Approach Course Description

Courses: 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 concepts, models, and theories of broad generality and philosophical import, which are applicable to the sciences, and which are cast (or capable ultimately of being cast) in the exact language of mathematics.

The course will present a broad range of systems ideas (from information theory, game theory, thermodynamics, non-linear dynamics, decision theory, and many other areas) and attempt 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, groups, organizations, and societies—and to technology which motivates this theoretical/philosophical inquiry. Certain of these ideas pertain also to the arts and humanities.

This 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 continues this program today. While the contemporary renaissance of systems theory has brought major advances, the older "classical" tradition of GST/cybernetics articulated the systems project in a deeper way. Seminal writings of both classical and contemporary systems scientists (e.g., Boulding, Deutsch, Emery & Trist, Jantsch, Laszlo, Bateson, Wiener, Holland, Gell-Mann, Crutchfield, Arthur) will be discussed.

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, (2) a collection of xeroxed articles and selections from books, and (3) a Scientific American Reader in Systems Theory & Complex Systems, all obtainable at SmartCopy, 1915 SW 6th (227-6137).

Course work: term paper (25 dbl.-sp. pages [non-mathematical papers]+ bibl.); class participation; supplementary short writing assignments

Prerequisites: graduate status in Systems Science or permission of instructor. This is a seminar course with limited enrollment, so SySc students have first priority.

Information on Systems Philosophy research

Fall 2006 Syllabus

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: