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Diagram: Contingency

Contingency

The idea that many possible states or historical trajectories could have equally unfolded

Beyond its day-to-day usage, this term used in now employed in the social sciences to highlight the Path Dependency exhibited in many social systems. This is seen to contrast with prior conceptions like "the march of history", which imply a clear causal structure. By speaking about the work as something contingent, it also begs the question of what other "worlds" might have just as equally manifested, had things been slightly different.

Similar ideas are captured in the ideas of Non-Linearity, Sensitive to Initial ConditionsHistory Matters.

Pictured below: the contingent trajectory of the double pendulum:


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Cite this page:

Wohl, S. (2022, 9 June). Contingency. Retrieved from https://kapalicarsi.wittmeyer.io/definition/contingency

Contingency was updated June 9th, 2022.

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Phase space is an abstract concept that refers to all possible behaviors available to an agent within a complex system.

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'Path-dependent' systems are ones where the system's history matters - the present state is contingent upon random factors that governed system unfolding, and that could have easily resulted in other viable trajectories.

Complex systems can follow many potential trajectories: the actualization of any given trajectory can be dependent on small variables, or "changes to initial conditions" that are actually pretty trivial. Accordingly, if we truly wish to understand system dynamics, we need to pay attention to all system pathways (or the system's phase space) rather than the pathway that happened to unfold.

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There would be some thought experiments here.

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