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Surprise and Uncertainty—Framing Regional Geohazards in the Theory of Complexity

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Author(s): Beate M. W. Ratter

Journal: Humanities
ISSN 2076-0787

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: regional geohazards | complexity | surprise | uncertainty | hazardscape | hazard management

ABSTRACT
The paper analyzes the concepts of uncertainty and surprise as key variables of a socio-ecological system’s behavior in the context of the theory of complexity. Experiences from the past have shown that living with uncertainty is part of our daily life and surprises are only surprising because our perspective of system trajectories is basically linear and non-dynamic. The future of humanity is dependent on the understanding of the system’s behavior and needs a change in perspective of linearity to non-linearity and from the planning imperative to a management hedging uncertainty and surprise. In the context of humanity’s future, the theory of complexity offers a new perspective on system trajectories and their understanding of surprises and uncertainty. There is a need for a Gestaltwechsel—a change in perception—which helps to see things differently and fosters the search for new answers to emerging questions at the human-nature interface. Drawing on the case study of hazard management the paper will explain the necessity of analysis system’s behavior and the taking into account of multi-agent behavior on the micro level which led to emergent behavior on the macro-level of the system. Regional geohazards are explained as the regional impact of an uncontrolled risk based on a state of a natural feature that has a direct impact on a regional population being affected by the appearance of a hazard and its development into damage. By acting in space, time and connectivity, people construct hazardscapes and change risk into regional geohazards. This concept shows relevance for future mitigation and adaptation measures. The theory of complexity can help in engendering the necessary shift in perspective. What is non-linear dynamic thinking as suggested by the theory of complexity? Why is the consideration of the system’s behavior crucial and not just the number of system’s elements? What is the role of agents in these systems? In addition, there are practical implications too: What does this shift in perspective mean for future hazard management and the future of humanity?
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