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Humanities 2013, 2(1), 1-19; doi:10.3390/h2010001

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

Institute of Geography, University of Hamburg, Bundesstrasse 55, Hamburg 20146, Germany
Received: 20 November 2012 / Revised: 17 December 2012 / Accepted: 26 December 2012 / Published: 4 January 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Humanity’s Future)
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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?
Keywords: regional geohazards; complexity; surprise; uncertainty; hazardscape; hazard management regional geohazards; complexity; surprise; uncertainty; hazardscape; hazard management
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Ratter, B.M.W. Surprise and Uncertainty—Framing Regional Geohazards in the Theory of Complexity. Humanities 2013, 2, 1-19.

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