SFI has been awarded a three year, $2.5 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to support a daring scientific pursuit: developing a general theory of complexity.

The Templeton Foundation supports research on subjects ranging from complexity and evolution to infinity and creativity. More about the John Templeton Foundation

The new SFI grant, "Developing a Comprehensive Theory of Complexity," has as its ultimate aim “a concise, parsimonious, and potentially mathematizable framework for understanding complex adaptive systems.”

Under the auspices of the grant, SFI will pursue research that seeks to identify and integrate general principles of how complex systems accumulate, store, and process energy and information across scales and domains. While a general theory of complexity may prove as elusive as the Grand Unified Theory in physics, the search for features essential to the myriad, seemingly disparate systems described as “complex” will almost certainly result in new insights that expand our fundamental scientific understanding. 

The Institute’s ongoing work, including recent work supported under a previous Templeton Foundation grant, has yielded many insights about complex biological and social systems that hold promise for the foundations for a comprehensive theory. 

“Identifying whether there are universal principles that transcend the extraordinary diversity, path dependence, and historical contingency of complex systems is a major challenge and opportunity for science over the next several decades,” says Jennifer Dunne, Vice President for Science and co-principal investigator on the grant along with SFI Distinguished Professor Geoffrey West. “SFI is uniquely suited to be the center of such high risk, high reward research.”

"We are grateful to the John Templeton Foundation for its support of ambitious theoretical research in general, and of this project in particular," says SFI President Jerry Sabloff, the grant's principal investigator. "This grant's goals fit perfectly SFI's mission of interdisciplinary research on complex adaptive systems."