Phase Transitions in Knowledge Systems

One foundational question in the context of globalization is what happens to knowledge systems after they pass through patterns of expansion finally reaching a truly global dimension. How are the dynamics of these systems affected by such transitions? What are the consequences for our understanding of such systems as well for their governance and organization? Western science as a specific type of a knowledge system has continuously expanded since its inception in its modern form during the period of the scientific revolution. It has passed form a mainly local organization with well established patterns of communication in the 16th and 17th century to a period of national organization during the 18th and 19th century (including its role within European colonial expansion), a period of mainly transatlantic interactions in the early 20th century (amplified by the exodus of Jewish scientists from Germany and neighboring countries) to finally a truly Global enterprise. Western science has thus experienced a number of phase transitions, all of which are very well documented in the historical record of science. It is thus a prime case study for exploring the consequences of transitions in scale. To do that, we need to analyze the history and current practices of science as a big data problem, analyzing a rich and vast documented historical record with novel computational approaches that allow us to identify patterns and processes and their transformations in the context of transitions in scale. To this end we will apply concepts from evolutionary theory and the theory of complex adaptive systems to the analysis of the historical patterns and processes of in the development of Western science. Treating science and it history as a case study for global systems science has two distinct advantages: (1) science is a complex social system with a long and well documented history and analyzing science can thus lead to important insights into global systems dynamics and (2) effective governance of current global science is one of the main challenges of our global society as we depend on getting the right kind of results from investing increasingly scarce resources.