Physics of clouds

Choice of the scientific topics addressed in the module

The module is focused on scientific concepts related to science of complex system, in particular concepts such as multiplicity, irreducibility, circular causality, unpredictability, self-organization, contingency. These concepts are transversal concepts, and it is necessary to deal with them to understand the complexity of systems around us (natural, social and economic ….). Furthermore, the epistemological structure of the complexity can be a source of words and epistemic forms of reasoning that can stimulate critical and systemic thinking, needed to navigate today's society.

Relationship with FEDORA main themes

The module has been constructed to provide a context in which there is a genuine contamination between different languages (the scientific and the narrative) in order to build a space of authentic interdisciplinarity. In this context each discipline retains its own constrains but at the same time must deal with the other in a constructive dialogue.
Constructing a narrative using scientific concepts (in this case related to the physics of complex systems) does not simply mean “using and explaining concepts” in another language. The “process of translation” from one domain (the scientific one) to another (the literary one) also involves a form of 'betrayal' and takes the form of a real search for a new language. This process encourages reconceptualization, clarifying and enriching scientific concepts that take on new and broader meanings, including metaphorical ones.
The scientific concepts chosen are intrinsically transversal concepts between the various disciplines and some concepts - as circular relationship between the whole and the parts, being inside and being outside of a system, rules to which individuals obey and emergent properties of the system, manipulated by intertwining different languages - can create a fertile ground for thinking about the relationship between individuals and collective in a broader sense allowing ""to tell other stories"", including personal ones.
Ultimately the nature of the concepts treated in the perspective described, can help to build conceptual structures, models and metaphors to orient oneself in today's society, the society of complexity and uncertainty and trigger new thinking tools to live the present more serenely and think about the future.

Learning outcomes

  • Learning some concepts of complex systems as: irreducibility; feedback effects (Positive and negative); self-organization; unpredictability; multiplicity needed to understand the complexity of systems around us;
  • Get acquainted with narratological and linguistic knowledge and skills through laboratory practice;
  • Grappling with interdisciplinary, inhabiting a context of authentic contamination of languages in which humanistic and scientific knowledge can integrate into a single cultural dimension;
  • Rationalizing the use of the language code and other languages that are characteristic of narrative as a total art, in relation to specific communicative purposes;
  • Learning to balance systemic and analytical thinking with imaginative and creative thinking in order to reshape concepts into new and broader meanings so that they also make personal sense.

Brief overview over the module's structure

The module lasted about three months, for about 4 hours per week, during curricular hours. The activity was structured by intertwining interactive lessons and workshops.

  • 2 lecture (2hr and 1hrs) introducing complex systems. The scientific concepts were introduced (given the age of participants) in qualitative way using examples from everyday life; the central concepts of complexity were investigated by identifying what were called 'the words of complexity' (multiplicity, irreducibility, circular relationship, unpredictability, self-organization). The lessons were followed by discussions with the aim of consolidating the concepts learned.
  • Analytical reading of Italo Calvino's short story collection, Palomar.
  • 1 lecture for a critical reading, from the point of view of complex systems, of the story ""Reading a wave"" in Palomar. The aim was to make explicit how Calvino manages the intertwining between the two fields, the scientific and the literary one, and how the narrative structure can be interpreted in terms of complexity.

Papers and resources to deepen the topic

Title of the Activity
Title of the resource
Type of the resource
Calvino's Palomar readings
Calvino readings
teaching resource
Palomar guiding questions
Palomar questionnaire
Lectures about complexity
teaching resource
FEDORA, Future-oriented Science Education to enhance Responsibility and Engagement in the society of acceleration and uncertainty, is a 3-year EU-funded project. It started in September 2020 and will deploy its activities until August 2023. It gathers 6 partner institutions from 5 European countries.
FEDORA has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no. 872841
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