What This Website Offers
The ModelingComplexSystems (MCS) website describes a methodology for solving problems that arise in the context of complex systems. We call this methodology the MCS Process and we will give a brief description of that process on this page. A more detailed description can be found in the Introductory Material section of this website. See the Table of Contents (TOC) for the appropriate links.
This website is intended for both students and practitioners. By students we mean those who are just beginning their undergraduate studies. By practitioners we are referring to those who are already working in their field of interest and would like to improve their understanding of a particular topic, or review the problem solving techniques that we propose here. In any case we refer to all users as students of this website.
Problems Needing Solutions
The MCS Process applies to the solution of problems arising in complex systems. We shall have much more to say about the nature of Complex Systems themselves in the Introductory Material, but our intention is to develop techniques to solve problems whose solutions are not intuitively obvious. We find it surprising, and a strong motivation for the development of this site, that so many problems arising in systems of Human Activities are seen as simple cause and effect relations, when emphatically they are not.
Examples of problems, which we believe may be amenable to solutions developed with the MCS process, include many seemingly intractable disorders that arise in the human biosystem. These disorders include cancers that occur in the pancreas or brain, auto immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, bone disorders including osteoarthritis, systemic attacks like those attributed to Lyme disease, and organ breakdowns such as kidney failure that occur typically as one ages. Right away you may see that these are multiscale problems running the gamut from organs and the musculoskeletal system, down to the molecular basis of the participating cells.
Using the MCS Process to solve these problems, we hope to obviate the trial and error approach of drug therapies based on statistical associations: associations that show only statistically significant favorable outcomes regardless of the concomitant side effects. We don't believe that a small decrease in morbidity is necessarily worth an increase in monetary and physical costs, especially those accompanied by an increase in harmful side effects. We are hoping to understand medical problems well enough to eliminate trial and error as a common pharmaceutical research practice.
Other opportunities for the application of the MCS process arise in systems of Human Activities that include education, government, health care, and in particular health care insurance. One interesting problem that requires immediate attention is the distribution of gross domestic products and services where automation has replaced a large segment of the existing human workforce. A world without work so to speak. In the absence of paychecks (money), how do we choose to distribute these goods and services on a national scale for the sake of humanity?
In our geosystems we are faced with pollution in the air, land, and waters, plus an impending crisis with regard to climate dynamics. These are particularly appropriate problem domains that we believe can be addressed with the MCS process.
Current Status of This Website
This site will continue to be a work in progress. This is especially true of the resource databases and educational curricula that we are developing to solve problems that occur in specific complex systems. For several good reasons we have adopted a web format, rather than a textbook, to present our ideas. These reasons include the ability to make rapid changes to this site's content; text and graphic formatting is nearly unlimited; and we can offer this material free of charge to our users. We would like to add that there are no strings attached to using this site: no ads, no data mining, and no malware. In addition, we hope to attract more contributors to this site as we progress; a web format makes this particularly easy.
This site will contain a completely worked out example of the type of educational and research programs we are proposing. This example project will take a number of years to complete; we will carry it out it in real time: one year at a time. We will be designing and redesigning this project as we progress, and use this experience to modify our overall approach to the MCS Process. The timeline for the completion of a project using the MCS process we estimate-to be ten years. You can read an introduction to this process below. The example project has the same time horizon, but may take longer given that it is a prototype.
Since changes to pages on this site are being made on an ongoing basis, you will sometimes find that the information referred to from one page to another will be out of date. We beg your forbearance and understanding in this matter. We will be updating the outmoded information as soon as it is possible.
Briefly, the MCS Process consists of two discrete phases. The first is called the Foundation Program, and the second is referred to as the Research Program. The Foundation Program is roughly equivalent, both in time and structure, to a combined undergraduate and master's program at an accredited college or university. The Research Program can be thought of as similar to a PhD program both in time and structure. Be apprised: the similarity ends there.
The MCS Foundation Program
is designed to prepare the student to solve a problem in their research area of choice. The student selects a systems collection of interest and a chooses for themself a number of problem areas germane to this collection. The system collections to which we refer appear in our World View. The World View is presented as a systems network diagram of all the interacting systems we find appropriate for describing the world in which we live.
A choice of a systems collection along with a number of problem areas provide the necessary information for building the resources schema, a resources database, system architectures, a curriculum of study, and a detailed plan of study. You can see examples of these items for the Biosystems collection, which we have chosen for our example project. In addition to choosing the Biosystems collection as our primary systems collection, we also chose to focus on the Human Biosystem within that set.
We estimate that to complete the Foundation Program of study will take six full years. About the same time as that to complete a Master's degree from scratch. At the end of this period the student will be well prepared to solve a problem of interest on which they have planned to focus in the Research Program.
Comparison of the Foundation Program To a Traditional Academic Approach
In our opinion, academia as it exits today, is ill-suited to educating a person in a multidisciplinary manner. Academia's departmental structure follows a reductionist, content oriented approach. Student's receive a content oriented degree, regardless of the level of attainment, be it a bachelor, master, or PhD. Problem solving in complex systems requires multidisciplinary preparedness. The departmental structure at most schools remains an impediment to fostering a multidisciplined education. Barriers erected by departments include appropriation of course material and instruction, as well as the instructors themselves. The student is too often compelled to become a subject expert in a department's official subject designation. Systems departments, if they exist, are compelled to apprentice their students to other departments to study the prerequisites of a "systems" curriculum. These may well be math, computer science, information science, physics, chemistry, engineering of all types, the biological sciences, social sciences, and possibly others.
The systems department will offer a few courses attempting to tie things together, e.g., perhaps Systems Biology, but the opportunity has been lost to apply a consistent approach to systems thinking throughout the student's academic career. More importantly the student is not given the opportunity to focus on a problem of interest throughout the entire process. This focus is what forms the prime motivation for studying all of these subjects. It is only those students who have the ability to suspend disbelief until some time in the distant future that survive this exposure. None come out equipped to solve the intractable problems that we discussed above. That is why, in our opinion, they remain apparently intractable.
We assume that the Research Program will be carried out at an institution of higher learning for a student, or at a supported research facility for a practitioner. A research proposal, which is written in the final stages of the Foundation Program, will include a description of the problem of interest, and a plan to construct a behavioral model of the system of interest. It will be of the researcher's opinion that a solution to a problem arising in a complex system can best be attained, and tested, by having a working system model that can reproduce the problem of interest.
For the Research Program a resources database and other appropriate study and planning documents will be similar to those generated in the Foundation Program. The biggest difference in the resources database will be the heavy reliance on current literature rather than on other forms of information.
It is assumed that the research proposal will be accompanied by examples of models built during the Foundation Program, and which can be incorporated into the proposed behavioral model.
We estimate that the Research Program will require four years to complete. Given the rather extensive preparation of the researcher in many different subject areas during the Foundation Program, we feel that the researcher will have a much better chance of solving a heretofore intractable problem than someone with a much narrower focus during their academic preparation. For a full picture of the training we envision for students of this website, be sure to look over the example project systems architecture pages, and the curriculum associated with those architectures.
Indeed, the problem of interest may be solved at the end of the Research Program. But it may be that the researcher has only had time to construct a working model of the system and its associated problem. This being the case the research program is well on its way to solving the problem given that the nature of the problem is well understood. In either case, this website will have served its purpose.