The nature of science is changing: Its focus is shifting from parts and pieces to coherent wholes. This new way of science befits the grand challenges that confront humanity and that are characterized by problems of enormous complexity and seemingly impenetrable webs of cause and effect. The umbrella name for this new way of science is complexity science.
Science is about defining a problem and finding a way to solve it using the methods of science. Scientific questions distinguish themselves from other questions in that they can be addressed by the methods of science, while the other questions cannot, or not yet because the scientific methods to address them still need to be developed. In fact, the questions that can be addressed by scientific methods are only a small subset of the questions that are generated every day in the minds of the billions of people that inhabit our earth. Looking at it that way it is remarkable how much science and its applications have achieved for the wellbeing of humanity and how much promise they hold for much more to come. At the same time, many of the grand challenges that humanity faces are born out of applications of the answers to scientific questions.
Science and Its Impact
Our present world has been strongly influenced by the scientific knowledge that was generated in the last 300 years of mostly disciplinary science. The technology that coevolved with that science generated game changers for our world like vaccinations, antibiotics, cars, television, pesticides, nuclear energy, plastics, computers, mobile communication and Internet. That science gave us very little insights in the impact of those technologies on our world or in underlying principles that govern interactions between human natural, social and human engineered systems
One could say that in the pursuit of the twin objectives of training the younger generation and responding to societal priorities, science left some fundamental questions inadequately addressed, and many others unasked. That may be because most scientific questions are asked and addressed within the narrowly defined contexts of disciplines and specializations, while some of the questions most relevant to humanity lurk in the undefined areas between disciplines. One could also say that scientific questions are largely defined within the isolation of laboratories, while its answers are applied in a world were real life considerations and the immense complexity of total connectivity determine the course of events.
Whatever the reasons, it is our vision that the arena within which problems relevant to humanity are defined must include world-class scientists, philosophers, artists, policy makers and (wo)men of practice. It must go beyond boundaries and that is what Para Limes stands for.
To organize and execute explorations in complexity with world-class scientists, philosophers, artists, policy makers and (wo)men of practice, with the purpose to find new concepts and approaches to deal with the complexity of our world.
The origin of Para Limes at NTU lies in Europe, where, in August 2005, 25 world class scientists (see Founding Fathers) founded Institute Para Limes (IPL). IPL was set up to be a European version of the Santa Fe Institute (SFI), and a place to breed concepts and ideas through intense multidisciplinary collaboration between scientists that practice their trade at the highest level, and with great imagination. Between 2007 and 2009 IPL organized a number of ground-breaking workshops and its signatory conference, Science without Boundaries. As the 2008 global crisis hit, IPL’s main sponsors withdrew their support, effectively bringing the institute to a standstill by the end of 2009. But the idea survived.
In 2009, IPL together with SFI, organized a conference to honour professor John H. Holland, the father of complexity. The conference was hosted by NTU, where John was collaborating in various research projects. Inspired by that conference prof Su Guaning and prof Bertil Andersson, then respectively president and provost of NTU, stimulated a number of workshops and in July 2011 established the Complexity Program. The main purpose of that program was to create a Complexity Institute at NTU. To meet that purpose the program:
- Set up a vibrant complexity community at NTU, with participants from the other Singaporean Universities and Industry.
- Created national and international visibility through a series of seminars, workshops and annual top-level conferences (see past events)
- Developed intensive working relationships with different government agencies
- Established collaboration with SFI and a number of mayor complexity institutes in the US and Europe.
The Complexity Institute was launched in April 2014 during the 3rd complexity conference: Hidden Connections
. At the same time the Complexity Program changed its name into Para Limes and took on a new mission: “Exploring Complexity”.
Jan Wouter Vasbinder (1945) studied physics at the Technical University of Delft (1972). He started his professional career as a researcher in a nuclear laboratory. Until 1981 he worked in the nuclear industry in Israel and the Netherlands. From 1981 – 1985 he was Attaché for Science and Technology in Washington and Ottawa after which he returned to the Netherlands, to head a small organization responsible for developing large and long-term cooperative industry university research programs. From 1988 – 1991 he was a member of the management team of the organization responsible for executing government innovation policies in the Netherlands. In 1991, he became partner and then CEO of an interdisciplinary consultancy firm. In 1995, he became a founding partner of Prisma & Partners, a small company dedicated to finding, strengthening, and mobilizing the innovative capacity of companies, consortia and government organizations, and helping organizations and regions to develop their strategies for the future. In 2003, he initiated Institute Para Limes and in July 2011 he moved to the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore to become the director of the Complexity Program aimed at developing a Complexity Institute at NTU. That Complexity Institute was formally launched on 1 April 2014. The Complexity Program at NTU was then renamed Para Limes.
The joy in his work comes from finding new, potentially powerful, combinations of knowledge, and from developing programs to explore and exploit these combinations.
His motto is: "the value of knowledge is in its use”.
He is married and has four children.