Carlos Gershenson (image: Katherine Mast)

When political decision-makers confront the hardest problems that human communities face — climate change, political polarization, pandemics, for example — they often face challenges that emerge from complex systems. Yet many helpful conceptual frameworks from complexity science do not circulate in public forums. For SFI Sabbatical Visitor Carlos Gershenson, the time is ripe to bring complexity science to public life. 

Gershenson, a research professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, has come to SFI to finish work on a book ten years in the making. Called Balance, it will bring some of the most salient concepts from complexity science to a broader public audience. 

Each of the book’s 10 chapters will elaborate on one concept or framework from complexity science, including synchronization, antifragility, criticality, and the slower-is-faster effect. 

To make these concepts accessible to a broad audience, Gershenson discusses them through familiar illustrations. For example, to describe the slower-is-faster effect, he invites readers to imagine runners in a marathon. If they start too quickly, runners will use up their energy, but if they go too slowly, they won’t achieve their best times. Finding optimal speed is a matter of balance. 

“By generalizing the slower-is-faster effect,” Gershenson says, “scientists can apply the framework to problems in traffic flow, crowd control, and resource management.” 

As he works on each of the chapters, Gershenson is offering seminars at SFI to engage with scientists and refine his explanation of each core concept. 

So far, when he’s had a chance to work with SFI scientists, Gershenson has found the process immensely helpful. Since he’s interested more in testing presentations for the public than sharing new research, he anticipates that the community will “help tell the story by pointing out holes in the narrative or unnecessary detours.” 

Ultimately, Gershenson anticipates that his work will help “decision-makers of the future take complexity into account in their decisions.” He also hopes that, with the discussions at SFI, he will help scientists translate their work to the world.