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[Insight] Cheng Siwei and Complexity Science—Condolence of Cheng Siwei
2016-01-15
Di Zengru

 

Cheng Siwei is undoubtedly a visionary scholar and leader, being magnanimous, amiable and full of wisdom. He made great contribution to economics, management and many other academic fields, which set up a good academic platform for the following scholars. One of Cheng’s academic contributions is that he had begun to promote the study on complexity science since the 1990s. 

 

Complexity science, receiving more and more attention of domestic and international scholars since the 1980s, is a discipline that studies complexity and complex system. Cheng Siwei, with broad academic vision and keen insight, believed the rise of complexity science was going to be an interdisciplinary and discipline-integrating revolution. Therefore, he did his best to promote the development of the study on complexity science in China. From March 18th to 20th, 1999, Cheng Siwei, as the executive chairman, initiated and hosted the 112th Xiangshan Science Conference themed as “Complexity Science”. This conference was aimed at exchanging the foundation and achievement of complexity study at home and abroad, communicating on the understanding of complexity science among scientists in various fields, analyzing crucial frontier scientific questions and key technology and method, as well as discussing the direction, emphasis and approach of developing complexity science study in China. Therefore, it became a landmark of the expansion and deepening of complexity science study in China.

 

At the 112th Xiangshan Science Conference, Cheng Siwei gave a lecture titled “Complexity Science and Management” to elaborate complexity science’s background, current situation, and its application prospect in management. Cheng believed transition of human civilization from industrial-machine civilization to informational-ecological civilization must be accompanied by a transition of science. And the traditional science that based on reductionism, empiricism and “pure science” was developing to a new science—complexity science, by absorbing system theory, rationalism and humanism. He also emphasized that science was at a new turning point, namely the rising of complexity science.

 

In the lecture, Cheng Siwei elaborated the main manifestations of system complexity, including network association, multi-level, learning and adaptation, openness and dynamics, etc. He also pointed out 3 main features of complexity science: its study object was the complex systems in various fields. Its study method combined reductionism and holism, microanalysis and macro-synthesis, as well as qualitative judgment and quantitative calculation. Its objectives were not limited to the description of objective matters but focused more on exploring why and how objective matters are constituted, so to predict their future development as accurately as possible. Furthermore, Cheng predicted the complexity science’s application prospect in management and expounded approach and potential problems of developing complexity science in China. Decade later, when we are learning and understanding Cheng’s idea and thinking of complexity study again, we can find that it is accord with the reality of complexity development. Today, his forethought is still of guiding significance for the discipline construction of systems science.

 

After the 112th Xiangshan Science Conference, Cheng Siwei, as editor in chief, compiled scholars’ reports at the conference into a book. Published by Democracy and Construction Press, Exploration on Complexity Science becomes a landmark of the promotion and development of complexity science study in China. Cheng Siwei pointed out in the postscript of the book that the rising of complexity science marked the deepening of human’ understanding on objective world. He believed that human had been getting closer to the nature of the world with spiral development of understanding, from perceptual to rational, from individual to general, from specific to common, from simple to complex. And with more and more refined division of disciplines, we could understand and uncover the secrets of the components, parts and matters of objective world from different perspectives. However, “science is an internal ensemble. And it was the limitation of human cognition that disassemble it into single entities, not the matter itself.” He believed the systematization of objective world decided that “there [were] continuous chain from physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology to sociology, which cannot be break in any link”. Therefore, as he said, comprehensive and systematic understanding of objective world required the integration of disciplines. Cheng Siwei’s argument further emphasized on the significance and value of complexity science and defined its developing direction and approach.

 

With the active promotion by Cheng Siwei, National Natural Science Foundation of China decided to set up a special fund for complexity science study since 1999 to encourage scientists of different disciplines to explore in this field. The application instruction reflected once again Cheng Siwei’s understanding and thinking of complexity science study, for it further defined the main fields of complexity science study: theories and methods of complexity science, complex systems in physics, complex systems in biology, complex systems in sociology, etc. According to the application instruction, complexity science mainly studied: the mechanism study on the evolution, emergence, self-organizing, self-similarity of complexity science, financial hedging and economic dynamics, complexity of higher brain functions, disaster system, typical methods of complex system and complexity study, such as evolutionary computation, cellular automaton, multi-agents, etc. The establishment of complexity science study fund provided a platform and support for scholars who set their sights on complexity science study, expanded the influence of complexity study, and greatly promoted the further development of complexity study in China. Till 2006, driven by the fund, different schools started to support complexity study in their fields. School of Management set a course code for complexity study on management, which is G0116, so to develop general theories and methods of complexity study and the complexity study on management. I believe that G0116 is the best monument of Cheng Siwei.

 

On the bases of the discipline construction of systems science, Beijing Normal University approved to establish School of Systems Science. While preparing for the establishment of our school, all of us were thinking of inviting Cheng Siwei as our special guest, for he had always been supporting and promoting complexity science. We invited him through Dr. Guo Kun and he agreed to attend though he was extremely busy, which touched and encouraged us a lot. On September 17th, 2013, on the founding conference of our school, I gave a report about our work and academic development. In the report, I mentioned a detail: in 2002, both Professor Li Honggang and I got our first NSFC projects in our academic career. And our projects were both on complexity study, one on the distribution of enterprises’ production scale, the other on the volatility of financial markets. These two projects were of significance not only for Professor Li and me, but also for the whole scientific research team. Today, on the anniversary of the founding of our school, Professor Li and I are the dean and party branch secretary of our school. Cheng Siwei smiled with satisfaction after hearing it.  

 

 

Professor Di Zengru

 

 

School of Systems Science, Beijing Normal University Copyright
Mailbox : sss@bnu.edu.cn Zip code : 100875 Address : YINGDONG Building, Beijing Normal University Telephone : 58804138
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