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Published on Jun 1, 2012
Today's social sciences have difficulty providing conceptual, analytic and predictive tools that help policy-makers and the public address contemporary global problems such as financial crises, energy shocks, food price spikes and climate change. In his Big Thinking lecture at Congress 2012, Thomas Homer-Dixon provides some guideposts to understanding complexity science and its potential relevance to practical social science. He suggests that policy advice from the social sciences often assumes individual rationality, an aggregation of individual rational choice into group behavior, the progression of social systems towards equilibrium, and, ultimately, calculable risk. Homer-Dixon argues that humankind's most critical problems arise from emergent complex social and natural systems marked by deep uncertainty, positive and negative feedbacks and frequent instability.
Thomas Homer-Dixon holds the CIGI Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Canada. He is Director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation and Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise, and Development in the Faculty of Environment. Born in Victoria, British Columbia, he received his PhD from MIT in international relations and defense and arms control policy in 1989. His books include The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization (2006), which won the 2006 National Business Book Award, The Ingenuity Gap (2000), winner of the 2001 Governor General's Non-fiction Award, and Environment, Scarcity, and Violence (1999), which won the Caldwell Prize of the American Political Science Association. His recent research has focused on threats to global security in the 21st century and how societies adapt to complex economic, ecological, and technological change.