Gabriel Oliva, 2015-16 HOPE Center Fellow

Complexity. It’s a common enough English word, right? But when Gabriel Oliva talks about complexity, he has in mind new view of economics, one in which supply and demand are never quite equal and new situations are continually arising, forcing the economy to always adapt to changing realities.

“Complexity theory in general is a new vision of science, and some believe that in economics that a new orthodoxy is emerging, one grounded in a notion of complexity,” Gabriel, a master’s student at the University of Sao Paulo and a 2015-16 fellow of the HOPE Center, explains.

Gabriel’s interest in complexity was accelerated by a 2004 book titled The Changing Face of Economics: Conversations with Cutting Edge Economists, edited by David Colander, Richard P. F. Holt, and J. Barkley Rosser Jr. At the time, Gabriel was enrolled in a course on the methodology of economics, and he had already been developing an interest in the work of Friedrich Hayek, who is regarded as a forerunner of complexity theory.

Putting the two together, he began exploring Hayek’s own notion of complexity and is now writing a master’s thesis on the subject.

As Gabriel explains, although Hayek is recognized as an early developer of complexity theory, few scholars have sought to understand Hayek’s own conception of complexity in its historical context. That is precisely what Gabriel is trying to do in his dissertation.

He is paying particular attention to Hayek’s engagement with two scientific movements that figure prominently in the early history of complexity: cybernetics and general systems theory. “Those two fields are forerunners to what today we call complexity theory,” Gabriel says. “It turns out that Hayek had contact with both and, more interestingly, he had contact with them early on in their histories.”

He says that being at the HOPE Center has enriched his work immensely. A microfilm version of Hayek’s archives is here, and he has benefited greatly from one-on-one conversations with Bruce Caldwell, the director of the center and the leading authority on Hayek.

Even were he not a fellow of the center, Gabriel would have a connection to Duke University through Pedro Duarte, who graduated with a PhD in economics from Duke several years ago and who is on the faculty at Sao Paulo. Gabriel has taken two courses at Sao Paulo taught by Pedro, and it was Pedro who suggested that Gabriel apply for a fellowship at the center.

Coming from a country with a climate and topography such as Brazil’s, Gabriel appreciates the fall colors of North Carolina. He says he misses the beans and rice of his native country, “but the food here—well, it’s really good.”

Gabriel will return to Sao Paulo in December.

--Paul Dudenhefer