Self-organised criticality—what it is and what it isn’t

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Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, ISSN: 0039-3681, Vol: 34, Issue: 3, Page: 613-632

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Roman Frigg
Elsevier BV, Elsevier
Arts and Humanities, Medicine
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The last decade and a half has seen an ardent development of self-organised criticality (SOC), a new approach to complex systems, which has become important in many domains of natural as well as social science, such as geology, biology, astronomy, and economics, to mention just a few. This has led many to adopt a generalist stance towards SOC, which is now repeatedly claimed to be a universal theory of complex behaviour. The aim of this paper is twofold. First, I provide a brief and non-technical introduction to SOC. Second, I critically discuss the various bold claims that have been made in connection with it. Throughout, I will adopt a rather sober attitude and argue that some people have been too readily carried away by fancy contentions. My overall conclusion will be that none of these bold claims can be maintained. Nevertheless, stripped of exaggerated expectations and daring assertions, many SOC models are interesting vehicles for promising scientific research.

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