It would be of clear benefit if we understood complex systems and were better able to predict the effects of our interventions. These often produce unintended consequences when we change policy within a society or business organisation and philosophers, along with the participants from other backgrounds, will be working together to explain this.
“Dr Rani Lill Anjum and I have just finished writing a book for Oxford University Press, due to be published soon, called Getting Causes from Powers,” said Stephen Mumford. “Its subject is closely related to this new project, called Understanding and Influencing the Causality of Change in Complex Socio-Technical Systems.
“Unlike most other philosophical theories of causality, complexity and context-sensitivity are at the heart of our theory. It’s a basic starting point of many theories of causality that if one factor is a cause of another, then the first should always be followed by the second. Rani and I argue that this ignores the complex phenomena that occur when multiple causes combine.
“A factor that in one context can cause a certain effect might in another have the opposite effect,” he says. “In medicine, for instance, drugs that tend to produce a health benefit can do the opposite when combined in certain ways. We should not understand causal production in isolated chunks but as interrelated and holistic.
“Engineers, economists and physicists all come across these problems. They want to know what it is about a complex system that allows them to happen.”
Mumford is Professor of Metaphysics and Head of Humanities at The University of Nottingham. He is also Visiting Professor on Anjum’s new Causation in Science project at the Norwegian University of Life Science (UMB) at Ås in Akershus, near Oslo.
Dr Rani Lill Anjum is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UMB and Project Leader of CauSci. She recently completed a Norwegian Research Council (NFR) postdoctoral fellowship and spent almost three years at Nottingham working with Professor Mumford.
The conference is being organised by AOARD, (Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development) the Tokyo office of AFOSR, and is supported by the US Office of Naval Research and NICTA (National Information and Communications Technology Australia). The results will be published in a book and journal, but the project should also initiate new collaborations as well.
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Notes to editors:
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