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Table 1 Overview and definitions of terms used in this paper

From: Heavy metal music meets complexity and sustainability science



Complexity theory

Encompasses various approaches to the study of complex systems, including the application of complexity theory to strategy and organizations, the complexity of economics, self-organizing complex adaptive systems, chaos theory, theoretical computer science and mathematics and algorithmic information theory

Heavy metal music

A fast evolving form of the auditory arts belonging to the genre of rock music. Metal has roots in blues rock and psychedelic rock and originated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, mainly in the United Kingdom and the USA. Heavy metal has diversified into more than 20 subgenres with characteristic vocal, rhythm and instrumentation structure (see Table 2). This paper explores the scientific and artistic components of heavy metal to describe aspects of complex systems of humans and nature

Environmental sustainability/Sustainability Science

The interaction of human population with their environment in ways to guarantee their natural resources needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable development aims at avoiding overuse or degradation of resources to ensure long-term environmental quality

Complex adaptive systems

Hierarchical entities that consist of diverse and autonomous parts or components (“agents”) that depend on and relate with each other, and which are linked through many connections. Complex adaptive systems adapt to and learn from changes in the environment, which allows them to self-organize as a unified whole

Socio-musicological system

A particular from of complex adaptive system with reference to music, wherein system adaptation, learning and self-organization are governed by the broader and complex interaction between musicological, psychological, cultural, social, technological, marketing, and other economic aspects of social and technological change

Social-ecological system

A complex adaptive system of people and nature, where one component influences and is influenced by the other. For instance, the relationship between commercial fisheries, ecosystem service provisioning, resource overexploitation, aquatic resource degradation, loss of economic and social potential

Non-linear processes

Non-linearity manifests when not all agents in a complex adaptive system interact with the same strength which each other (e.g., species A and B in a system, or Y and Z, or A and Z, and so forth). Also when the loss of an agent in the system (e.g., a key predator in an ecosystem), can cause substantial change in biophysical interactions and a subsequent reconfiguration of the structure and functioning of the system


Delays in complex systems arise from the ability of systems to buffer the impact of disturbances. When the buffering capacity (mediated through feedback loops) is exhausted the delayed impact becomes manifest in structural and functional changes in the system. For instance, habitat degradation may make the persistence of large mammals untenable. However, the effects of degradation may not become evident until these mammals went extinct

Feedback loops

Circuits in complex systems that reinvest some of the yield to the input of a system to allow for self-correction and adjustment to internal and external variables

Balancing feedback loops

Also known as negative feedback loops. These occur when a changing initial condition lessens its change in the future. For instance, when the population number of predators increases, the consumption of their prey increases too, leading to a decrease in their population numbers. Due to increasing scarcity of prey, the population number of predators decreases as a result of the lack of food. Population dynamics of predator and prey are balanced

Reinforcing feedback loops

Also referred to as positive feedback loops. These occur when a changing initial condition furthers its change in the future. For instance, the greater the population of a species, the more progeny will be born. When those become adults, they will also have offspring. Rapid population growth rates of these species are reinforcing themselves and can ultimately have substantial impact on natural resources

Hierarchical organization

Refers to patterns and processes that occur at discrete scales of space and time. For instance, continental drift acts on millennial time scales and changes the face of the entire globe. By contrast, an annual grass is very short-lived and lives in a narrow space within a meadow

Information flow

Outcome of interaction between agents in a complex adaptive system that informs and influences the behavior and interaction of other agents in the system. For example, the collapse of the real-estate market in the USA in 2008 provided the “information” which “flew” across the world to affect the global economy at a systemic level


The degree and strength by which agents in a complex adaptive system interchange information based on their interactions. For instance, the economic crisis had a severer effect on southern European countries (strong connection with economic collapse) relative to northern European countries (weaker connection)

Regime shift

A regime shift occurs when a complex system changes from one set of structure, functions and processes to another set of structures, functions and processes. Regimes are stable and a system may not shift back to a previous regime without substantial and costly management