Transformations, turning points and transitions accompany us and influence almost all aspects of everyday life. They affect physical processes as well as major social trends. A stable condition reacts constantly to changes in its input variables. If the conditions are unstable, then new transitional conditions emerge, which in turn are unstable, and finally change asymptotically or aperiodically into a new stable condition. Sometimes the new status is periodically oscillating or even chaotic.
A question that transcends disciplinary boundaries is under which circumstances a change from stability to instability occurs and which mechanisms can be observed. This is a topic which has so far been found in the natural sciences, medicine, the social sciences and the humanities, and which initiates the development of current research approaches. A more detailed analysis permits the hypothesis that generally valid stability criteria for complex processes can be identified across many areas, although the phenomena observed in each case seem to follow completely different mechanisms.
A few examples
In mathematics there is the field of stability theory. This field has many scientific and technical applications in physics, biology and chemical reaction technology, as well as in cybernetics and for example in mechanics, meteorology and geology. If possible, the relevant dynamic facts are transferred into a mathematical system of equations, the solution of which is either unambiguous or ambiguous. Such systems of equations can be used to perform disturbance calculations that show whether the behavior of the system in question is stable against incremental changes in the input parameters or against disturbances. In biology, there are proliferations, sudden population increases or population extinctions. In oceanology the stability of the Gulf Stream is discussed and of course the question arises whether and when a runaway can be expected for our climate. It is to be expected that cybernetic systems, which describe certain functionalities via AI methods, will also leave a previously stable state and assume a new state via intermediate states. In thermodynamics, the concept of metastability is well known, according to which a system requires a certain activation energy in order to change from a previously stable state via intermediate states of higher energy to a new stable state.
The phenomenon of the transition from a stable state to a new stable, oscillating or chaotic state is well known even in non mathematical-scientific contexts. In history, even in recent history, there have been sudden collapses of previously stable social, political or economic structures. Just one example: the pentarchy of the major European powers between about 1450 and 1914 was always unstable, not to say chaotic, in terms of power relations and even participants. From a world-historical point of view, on the other hand, it was an extremely stable quasi-system that still lives on indirectly today in the great powers hegemony of the UN Security Council.
It is also important to critically question the categories stable/unstable. Where does thinking in these categories actually come from? Where does the need for stability come from? Which scientific disciplines depend on it and why? The same applies to the sub-category 'system'. When and why was and is thought in systems? When and why and by which disciplines is the concept of system questioned?
In summary, the phenomenon of the transition from one stable to another stable condition can be found in many areas. It is a worthwhile goal to uncover the similarities or differences between these phenomena. Apart from exploring such interesting questions in the different disciplines, the WIN College - unlike other research funding - also offers the opportunity of doing transdisciplinary research on this topic in the unique interdisciplinary environment provided by the Academy.