Modes of Thinking (in) Complexity




This Satellite meeting is organised as an activity of The Building Foundations for Complex Thinking project


The study of complex systems has led to deep transformations in our modes of thinking, challenging our conceptions of reality and, with them, our roles and possibilities for action as agents in a complex world (Morin, 2005; Heylighen, Cillier & Gershenson, 2006). A variety of modes of thinking co-exists within the fuzzy boundaries of the domain of Complexity Studies. Different modes of thinking complexity and of thinking ‘in’ complexity (enacting its principles) can be identified in the literature, albeit not always explicitly recognised (Melo et al. 2019). These modes of thinking somehow simultaneously express and are expressed in, shape and are shaped, constitute and are constituted, transform and are transformed by different worldviews (which encompass ontologies, epistemologies, prediction frames, axiologies, praxeologies; Vidal, 2008). Worldviews and modes of thinking are intrinsically related, albeit neither directly mapped nor reduced to each other. Different modes of thinking will present different potentialities and limitations in relation to how these worldviews are constructed, enacted, operationalised and transformed in the process of developing theory, research and practice. Different modes of thinking will build different types and levels of capacity to understand as well as to affect and manage change in the ‘real-world’ and even to lead to a transformation of our worldviews.

Different modes of thinking will differ in a number of dimensions, for instance, in relation to:

  • the way key theoretical questions are defined and translated into research problems;

  • the way they inform choices regarding the construction, selection and adaptation of methodologies and methods, impacting on the way data are interpreted;

  • the extent to which they are embedded in ‘real-world’ practices (e.g. interventions for the management of change in complex systems; formal and informal education in ‘Complexity’ themes);

  • the effects of the choices they inform on the target systems;

  • the extent to which they inform the development of strategies and tools for their own development and management;

  • their congruence with particular worldviews and their underlying assumptions;

  • the concepts and processes used to assemble worldviews and to investigate their empirical foundation.

This workshop is grounded in the idea that Science should nurture a second-order, self-critical and reflexive stance (Müller, 2016; Morin, 2005) and that Complexity Science(s) should be embedded in the organising principles similar to the systems it studies and aims to affect (Melo, 2020). Nevertheless, it recognises that even this ambition is grounded in particular worldviews and modes of thinking that are not necessarily shared by all. Hence, it affirms the need to explore the relations between different modes of thinking and corresponding worldviews and their implications. It works from the assumption that the Philosophy of Science and the Philosophy of Complexity are critical partners to Science and that the practice of Science should be accompanied by philosophical investigations and by deep Inter- and Transdisciplinary dialogues in order to construct the requisite variety of perspectives and modes of thinking for truly embracing Complexity (Morin, 2005).


This Satellite Meeting takes the form of a workshop aiming to stimulate the discussion and the collaborative co-construction of new ideas about the nature and state of development of the modes of thinking in and for Complexity Studies.

It aims at identifying key challenges and questions that call to be addressed, including those regarding the development of more complex modes of thinking. It will focus the discussion on the identification of key theoretical, empirical, methodological, technical and practical challenges and/or ways of addressing them.

The workshop will aim to identify and explore how these key questions and challenges relate to the development or adaptation of tools and strategies to support the practice of particular modes of thinking in research and practice and to guide real-world interventions and educational activities (formal and informal).

Through a transdisciplinary approach, this meeting aims at constructing and stimulating productive and generative dialogues for the development of more complex modes of thinking (in) Complexity.


The overall guiding questions for debate include (but are not limited to):

(i) What modes of thinking (in) complexity have been proposed and practised and how do they relate to each other? How does their relation support the development of Complexity Studies? How are they (and their relations) seen in theory, research and practice and what may be their advantages and disadvantages, limits and potentialities and in what contexts?

(ii) How can a perspective on worldviews and modes of thinking impact Complexity Studies, across domains, and what are the key theoretical, methodological and practical/pragmatic questions and challenges that need to be addressed in relation to the modes of thinking (in) complexity?

(iii) How can our modes of thinking (in) complexity be organised and what does this afford in terms of possibilities for thinking and action? How can they be explored, developed, practised or applied and what are the core challenges to be addressed in this regard?

(iv) How can we think about and change our modes of thinking (in) complexity in theory, research and practice? What implications for applied or real/-world interventions and for education?


This satellite takes the overall format of a virtual workshop integrating a combination of different types of facilitated activities, organised to stimulate dialogues within and across different moments of the workshop, namely:

  • Stimulus talks [Keynote and Contributed] aim to frame the discussion and present broad questions for reflection.

  • A Reflecting Team Intervention with Invited Keynote Commentators will support a critical exploration of the keynote addressed and set questions for debate. Contributed talks will be welcomed that add new perspectives, raise questions or share experiences that can stimulate further discussion.

  • A whole group collaborative dialogue session based in a world-café inspired methodology, which will take place in a virtual collaborative platform (miro), and followed by

  • An integrative discussion, supported by a relational methodology.

Participants will be invited to discuss forms of future collaboration and dissemination of the outcomes of the workshop.

Medium: This a fully online event. Registered participants will receive an e-mail with a Zoom link to the session. During the session, they will be provided with another Link to a collaborative online platform Miro, which will support the Virtual World Café Session and the final Facilitation of Relational Dialogues and Integration. Participants are requested to previously register and create a (free) account in


This workshop calls for wide participation of academics and researchers from a variety of domains with an interest in Complexity Studies, as well as practitioners, educators, policy-makers, community leaders, artists and other individuals with an interest in Complexity.


[Note: Time is GMT+1]


10:30 Room opening and check-in

10:45. Welcoming, Contextualisation and Methodology for the Meeting


11:00-11:30 Stimulus Presentation 1 - Rika Preiser

11:30-12:00 Stimulus Presentation 2- From thinking complexity to thinking in complexity- Ana Teixeira de Melo

12:00-12:45 ‘Reflecting team’ intervention with Keynote commentators: Jean Boulton; Maël Montevil; Hiroki Sayama; Bruce Edmonds; Guest [tbc]

12:45-13:05 Interventions from participants: Questions and Comments

13:05-13:15 Reflexive Comments from Speakers

13:15-13:30 Observing/Reporting: Highlight of Contents ~Processes and Summary Identification of key Questions/Challenges - Leo Caves, Carlos Gershenson, Charbel El-Hani

13:30- 14:30 Break


14:30-15:30. Stimulus Contributed talks (10 min+ 5 min Q&A x 4 presentations)


15:30-17:30 Virtual world café session (Using Miro platform along with video meeting/conference). Table hosts: Invited commentators and organising committee (25-minute rounds x 3 rounds/4 tables)

17:30:-17:45 Break

17:45- 19:00 Facilitation of Relational Dialogues and Final Integration

19:00-19:15 Concluding remarks





Ana Teixeira de Melo1 (Coord.), Leo Simon Dominic Caves2, Carlos Gershenson3 5, Charbel El-Hani4 5

1 Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal; PI of the Building Foundations for Complex Thinking

2 Independent researcher, Portugal; Associate York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis; Collaborator of the Centre for Philosophy of Sciences of the University of Lisbon; University of the Azores, Portugal; Co-I of the Building Foundations for Complex Thinking

3 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico

4 Federal University of Bahia, Brazil

5 Guest Co-organisers invited by the Building Foundations for Complex Thinking project