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Complexity beteween hype and history – Arianna Borrelli

05-07-2023 @ 17:00 - 18:30

“Complexity beteween hype and history” by Arianna Borrelli (TU Berlin).


Speaking about the history of computing, Michael Mahoney stated  that “hype hides history” (2005) and, indeed, the same could be said of the history of complexity. Between the 1980s and the early ’90s the study of complex systems and related areas (deterministic chaos, nonlinear systems) established itself as a new disciplinary field, and did so amid a sweeping wave of consensus that this development represented both a breakthrough for and an epochal break in the sciences. These claims originated from the academic community, but reached well beyond it and were supported and expanded by successful popular science books published at the same time as the first scientific journals devoted to the new field appeared. Both academic and popular discussions supported the claims of novelty by offering reconstructions of the history of the field rich in stories of forgotten classics, chance discoveries and parallel developments which suddenly converged. Hype and history were closely bound right from the beginning and, rather than attempting to unravel them, in my presentation I will take a closed look at the way in which earlier and later historiography might have shaped the complexity hype, and possibly the notion of complexity itself.

Arianna Borrelli is a historian and philosopher of natural philosophy and modern science. Her overarching research interest is the relationship between scientific knowing and the strategies employed to mediate it, like words, images, formulas or code. Her fields of research include medieval cosmology, early modern meteorology, natural magic and quantum physics, with current work focusing on the historical-epistemological premises and implications of the increasing use of computational tools in science. She holds degrees in both physics and philosophy and a PhD and habilitation in history of science, the latter with the thesis: Formulating phenomena: concept formation and the materiality of theory in the early modern and modern period (TU Berlin 2018). Borrelli held research positions in physics (Rome, CERN) and in history and philosophy of science (MPIWG, Wuppertal, TU Berlin, Lüneburg). She is currently President-Elect of the Commission on History and Philosophy of Computing (HaPoC).

This event is part of our summer semester 2023 lecture series “Complexity“.


17:00 - 18:30
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