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Complex Adaptive Systems Literature

Compiled by J.B. Ruhl, Professor of Law

Vanderbilt University Law School
131 21st Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-322-6500 Fax: 615-322-6631

This bibliography provides a selection of writings in three categories: (1) literature providing a general background in complex adaptive systems theory in terms accessible to legal scholars, social science scholars, and other non-technically trained researchers; (2) literature applying complex adaptive systems theory and related work to legal systems and legal theory; and (3) literature applying complex adaptive systems theory to other social sciences. To suggest additions to the lists, please contact me at
. Note also that current research in each of the three categories is comprehensively covered in the journals Complexity and Advances in Complex Systems. A listing of online resources is provided at the conclusion of the bibliography.

Category Index
Background Literature Other Social Sciences
Legal Systems Online Resources

I. Background Literature

Per Bak, How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality (1996).

John L. Casti, Complexification: Explaining the Paradoxical World (1994).

Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart, The Collapse of Chaos (1994).

Peter Coveney and Roger Highfield, Frontiers of Complexity (1995).

Murray Gell-Mann, The Quark and the Jaguar 1994).

Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Lost Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity (1996).

John Holland, Hidden Order (1995).

John Holland, Emergence: From Chaos to Order (1998).

Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe (1995).

Ilya Prigogine, The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos, and the New Laws of Nature (1996).

II. Legal Systems

These works apply complexity theory or some component of it (e.g., path dependence, chaos, emergence) to law and the legal system.  Please alert me to additional publications at

Edward S. Adams et al., At the End of Palsgraf, There Is Chaos: An Assessment of Proximate Cause in Law and Chaos Theory, 59 U. Pittsburgh L. Rev. 507 (1997) (applying chaos theory to the common law proximate cause doctrine).

Hope M. Babcock, Democracy’s Discontent in a Complex World: Can Avalanches, Sandpiles, and Finches Optimize Michael Sandel’s Civic Republican Community?, 85 Georgetown L. J. 2085 (1997) (critiquing civic republican political theory using complex systems principles).

Erica Beecher-Monas & Edgar Garcia-Rill, Danger at the Edge of Chaos: Predicting Violent Behavior in a Post-Daubert World, 24 Cardozo L. Rev. 1845 (2003).

Susan W. Brenner, Toward a Criminal Law for Cyberspace: Distributed Security, 10 B.U. Journal of Science & Technology Law 1 (2004).

Jim Chen, Webs of Life: Biodiversity Conservation as a Species of Information Policy, 89 Iowa L. Rev. 495 (2004).

Susan P. Crawford, The Biology of the Broadcast Flag, 25 Hastings Communications and Entertainment L.J. 603 (2003).

Robert A. Creo, Mediation 2004: The Art and the Artist, 108 Penn State L. Rev. 1017 (2004).

Lawrence A. Cunningham, From Random Walks to Chaotic Crashes: The Linear Genealogy of the Efficient Capital Market Hypothesis, 62 George Washington L. Rev. 546, 581-92 (1994) (discussing the application of chaos theory to capital market regulation).

Lawrence A. Cunningham, Capital Market Theory, Mandatory Disclosure, and Price Discovery, 51 Washington & Lee L. Rev. 843, 854-59 (1994) (applying chaos theory to capital market regulation).

Vincent Di Lorenzo, Legislative Chaos: An Exploratory Study, 12 Yale Law & Policy Rev. 425, 432-35 (1994) (developing a model for legislative decision making based on chaos theory).

Vincent Di Lorenzo, Complexity and Legislative Signatures: Lending Discrimination Laws as a Test Case, 12 Journal of Law & Policy 637 (1996) (using chaos theory to evaluate the legislative response to alleged lending discrimination).

Vincent M. Di Lorenzo, Equal Economic Opportunity: Corporate Social Responsibility in the New Millennium, 71 U. Colorado L. Rev. 51 (2000) (using chaos theory to examine legislative imposition of corporate social responsibilities).

Gerald Andrews Emison, The Potential for Unconventional Progress: Complex Adaptive Systems and Environmental Quality Policy, 7 Duke Envtl. Law & Policy Forum 167 (1996) (applying complex adaptive systems theory to ecological protection policy).

Daniel A. Farber, Probabilities Behaving Badly: Complexity Theory and Environmental Uncertainty, 37 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 145 (2003) (using power law and other complex systems to evaluate different environmental law models for dealing with uncertainty).

Michael J. Gerhardt, The Role of Precedent in Constitutional Decision Making and Theory, 60 George Washington L. Rev. 68, 114-15 (1991) (explaining Supreme Court constitutional jurisprudence using, among other mediums, a discussion of chaos theory).

Thomas Earl Geu, Chaos, Complexity, and Coevolution: The Web of Law, Management Theory, and Law Related Services at the Millennium, 65 Tenn. L. Rev. 925 (1998) (applying complexity theory to business law and management settings).

Thomas Earl Geu, The Tao of Jurisprudence: Chaos, Brain Science, Synchronicity, and the Law, 61 Tenn. L. Rev. 933, 934-35 (1994) (discussing the potential significance of chaos and emergence to legal theory).

Daniel S. Goldberg, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: How Classical Scientific Fallacies Undermine the Validity of Textualism and Originalism, 39 Houston L. Rev. 463 (2002).

Alistair M. Hanna, The Land Use System, 13 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 531, 538 (1996) (discussing application of chaos theory and self-organization theory to land use regulation system).

Oona Hathaway, Path Dependence in the Law: The Course and Pattern of Legal Change in a Common Law System, 86 Iowa L. Rev. 601 (discussing the effect of path dependence on the evolution of common law doctrines).

Andrew W. Hayes, An Introduction to Chaos and Law, 60 UMKC L. Rev. 751, 764-73 (1992) (containing a general discussion of chaos theory and its application to judicial decision making).

Donald T. Hornstein, Complexity Theory, Adaptation, and Administrative Law, 54 Duke L.J. 913 (2005).

Scott H. Hughes, Understanding Conflict in a Postmodern World, 87 Marquette Quarterly L. Rev. 681 (2004).

Eric Kades, The Laws of Complexity and the Complexity of Laws: The Implications of Computational Complexity Theory for the Law, 49 Rutgers L. Rev. 403, 452-54, 476 (1997) (focusing on mathematically complex issues as they arise in law, such as cyclical priority issues in liens and property titles).

Jeff L. Lewin, The Genesis and Evolution of Legal Uncertainty About “Reasonable Medical Certainty”, 57 U. Maryland. L. Rev. 389-93 (1998) (describing the evolution of the tort doctrine of “reasonable medical certainty” using complex systems principles).

Lynn M. LoPucki, The Systems Approach to Law, 82 Cornell L. Rev. 479, 480-82 (1997) (advocating an empiricist “systems approach” to legal analysis).

Patricia A. Martin, Bioethics and the Whole: Pluralism, Consensus, and the Transmutation of Bioethical Methods into Gold, 27 Journal of Law Medicin & Ethics 316 (1999).

Andrea M. Matwyshyn, Organizational Code: A Complexity Theory Perspective on Technology and Intellectual Property Regulation, 11 Journal of Technology Law & Policy xiii (2006).

Thomas R. McLean, Application of Administrative Law to Health Care Reform: The Real Politik of Crossing the Quality Chasm, 16 Journal of Law & Health 65 (2001-2002).

Jeffrey G. Miller, Evolutionary Statutory Interpretation: Mr. Justice Scalia Meets Darwin, 20 Pace L. Rev. 409 (2000).

Randal C. Picker, Simple Games in a Complex World: A Generative Approach to the Adoption of Norms, 64 U. Chicago L. Rev. 1225 (1997) (using computational theories to examine norm competition).

David Post, “Chaos Prevailing on Every Continent”: A New Theory of Decentralized Decision- Making in Complex Systems, 73 Chi-Kent L. Rev. 1055 (forthcoming 1999) (presenting a comprehensive exposition of complexity theory as applied to decision-making and governance generally, with a particular focus on “cyberspace”).

David G. Post and Michael B. Eisen, How Long is the Coastline of the Law? Thoughts on the Fractal Nature of Legal Systems, 29 Journal of Legal Studies 545 (2000) (applying fractal structure theory to citation to precedent in judicial opinions).

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Chaos and the Court, 91 Columbia L. Rev. 110, 112-15 (1991) (explaining Supreme Court constitutional jurisprudence using chaos theory).

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Is Democracy Like Sex, 48 Vanderbilt L. Rev. 1635, 1639-40 (1995) (discussing the anti-parasitic effect of evolutionary processes as an analogy to democratic processes).

Mark J. Roe, Chaos and Evolution in Law and Economics, 109 Harvard L. Rev. 641, 643-65 (1996) (describing legal evolution according to path dependence theory and chaotic systems theory).

William H. Rodgers, Jr., Where Environmental Law and Biology Meet: Of Pandas’ Thumbs, Statutory Sleepers, and Effective Law, 65 U. Colorado L. Rev. 25, 46-48 (1993) (discussing chaos theory surfacing in evolutionary biology commentary as a metaphor for evolution of environmental law).

John M. Rogers and Robert E. Molzon, Some Lessons about the Law from Self-Referential Problems in Mathematics, 90 Michigan L. Rev. 992 (1992) (using Godel’s Theorem to analyze complex legal system problems).

Daria Roithmayr, Barriers to Entry: A Lock-In Model of Racial Inequality, 86 Virginia L. Rev. 727 (2000).

J. B. Ruhl, Complexity Theory as a Paradigm for the Dynamical Law-and-Society System: A Wake-Up Call for Legal Reductionism and the Modern Administrative State, 45 Duke L. J. 849 (1996) (arguing that law and society coexist interdependently and dynamically similar to the behavior of nonlinear systems in the physical world).

J. B. Ruhl, The Fitness of Law: Using Complexity Theory to Describe the Evolution of Law and Society and Its Practical Meaning for Democracy, 49 Vanderbilt L. Rev. 1407 (1996) (discussing the general evolutionary model).

J. B. Ruhl & Harold J. Ruhl, Jr., The Arrow of the Law in Modern Administrative States: Using Complexity Theory to Reveal the Diminishing Returns and Increasing Risks the Burgeoning of Law Poses to Society, 30 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 405 (1997) (discussing the direction in which the behavioral and evolutionary mechanics are leading the sociolegal system given its current transient state).

J. B. Ruhl, Thinking of Mediation as a Complex Adaptive System, 1997 B.Y.U. L.J. 777 (1997) (comparing litigation and mediation from the perspective of complex systems principles).

J. B. Ruhl, Thinking of Environmental Law as a Complex Adaptive System—How to Clean Up the Environment by Making a Mess of Environmental Law, 34 Houston L. Rev. 933 (1997) (evaluating environmental law and reform thereof using complex systems principles).

J. B. Ruhl, Sustainable Development: A Five-Dimensional Algorithm for Environmental Law, 18 Stanford Envtl. L.J. 31 (1999) (discussion of sustainable development policy as a multi-trait fitness optimization process, or “hard-combinatorial problem,” requiring use of sophisticated policy algorithms).

J.B. Ruhl and James Salzman, Mozart and the Red Queen: The Problem of Regulatory Accretion in the Administrative State, 91 Georgetown L.J. 757 (2003) (using complex systems theory to describe feedback and other complexity effects the growth of regulation has on the ability to comply).

J.B. Ruhl and James Salzman, Regulatory Traffic Jams, 2 Wyoming L. Rev. 253 (2002) (exploring the negative feedback effects of regulation on compliance).

Robert E. Scott, Chaos Theory and the Justice Paradox, 35 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 329, 329-31 (1993) (applying chaos theory to the legal dilemma between “present justice” and “future justice”).

Daniel F. Spulber and Christopher S. Yoo, On the Regulation of Networks as Complex Systems: A Graph Theory Approach, 99 Northwestern University L. Rev. 1687 (2005).

Kevin Werbach, Supercommons: Toward a Unified Theory of Wireless Communication, 82 Texas L. Rev. 863 (2004).

Mark White, Legal Practice and Economic Adaptation: Common Practice and Roman Practice Compared (2007).

Kenton K. Yee, Coevolution of Law and Culture: A Coevolutionary Games Approach, Complexity, Jan.-Feb. 1997, at 4 (describing attempts to mathematically model evolution of common law according to complex adaptive systems dynamics).

Daniel M. Katz & Derek K. Stafford, Hustle and Flow: A Social Network Analysis of the American Federal Judiciary, 71 Ohio St. L.J. 1 (2010).

Michael Bommarito & Daniel Katz, A Mathematical Approach to the Study of the United States Code, 389 Physica A (2010 Forthcoming).

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III. Other Social Sciences

Chaos, Complexity, and Sociology: Myths, Models, and Theories (Raymond A. Eve et al., eds, 1997).

The Economy As An Evolving Complex System II (W Brian Arthur et al. eds, 1997).

Stephen H. Kellert, In the Wake of Chaos (1993).

Paul Krugman, The Self-Organizing Economy (1996).

IV.  Online Resources

The Santa Fe Institute:

The Santa Fe Institute is a private, non-profit, multidisciplinary research and education center, founded in 1984. Since its founding SFI has devoted itself to creating a new kind of scientific research community, pursuing emerging science. Operating as a small, visiting institution, SFI seeks to catalyze new collaborative, multidisciplinary projects that break down the barriers between the traditional disciplines, to spread its ideas and methodologies to other individuals and encourage the practical applications of its results. The site includes free access to The Santa Fe Institute bulletin, as well as links to CAS journals.

Yahoo! Complex Systems:

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