The harmonious melding of structure and function—biological design—is a striking feature of complex living systems such as tissues, organs, organisms, even superorganismal assemblages like social insect colonies or ecosystems. How designed systems come into being remains a central problem in evolutionary biology. The prevailing explanation for biological design rests on essentially atomist doctrines such as Neodarwinism or emergence of complexity from self-organized systems of interacting agents. The Neodarwinist explanation for design, for example, posits that good design results from selection for “good function/structure genes” at the expense of “poor function/structure genes.” Along the same lines, self-organization promises “order for free”—sophisticated structures and behaviors that emerge from simple interactions among agents at lower levels of organization. It is doubtful, however, whether such atomist doctrines by themselves can explain the origins of designed living systems. In this article, I argue that the missing piece of the puzzle is homeostasis, a classical concept that is not itself inherent in atomist explanations for adaptation and design. I couch my argument in observations on the emergence of a spectacular social insect “superorganism”: the nest and mound of the macrotermitine termites, which can best be explained as the emergent product of agents of homeostasis. This poses interesting challenges to the prevailing reductionism that permeates our current thinking on design, adaptation and evolution.
The purpose of this paper is to initiate a conversation exploring the epistemological implications of the many forms that learning may take while attending to the demands generated by complexity. This paper offers a look at an emerging epistemology of learning through life that is increasingly complex and intensifying the demands on our thinking, feeling and action. In this paper we examine the interconnections between learning through experience, the construction of meaning, the process of inquiry and complexity. Specifically, the implications of continuity and interactivity as developed in adult learning theory, the construction of meaning as discussed by constructive developmental theory, the process of inquiry as developed by developmental action inquiry, and the relational aspects of interdependence as presented in complexity theory for addressing the challenges confronting contemporary systems.
What if the postmodernists’ main message about uniqueness and idiosyncrasy of individual humans is taken seriously? What if Wittgenstein’s suggestion about philosophy as the “critique of language” in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (later TLP, 4.0031) is taken seriously? Then individual humans are placed at the top of the diversity chain of nature in the Prigoginean sense (Prigogine, 1997: 70; Gulbenkian Commission, 1996: 61). The purpose of my text is to show that if we consider the other end of ontology, nominalism1, as only denying the existence of universal concepts, as for example Dieterle (2001) does, we miss the essence of nominalism, i.e., agency, and are still encased in language for the next hundred years. Respectively anti-positivism still needs some substance but it is too often narrowed down to asymmetry of power, i.e., diversity that can actually be seen as the starting point of nominalism. What is claimed is that agency is the essence of both anti-positivism and nominalism. And if so, maybe we can eliminate nonsensical dichotomies and paradoxes sooner or later if we believe Wittgenstein: “language disguises thought” (TLP 4.002)
Complexity is understood differently in anthropology and the complexity studies. I discuss the two principles of socio-political organization, particularly, the phenomenon of homoarchy as a counterpart to that of heterarchy. Respectively to heterarchy — “… the relation of elements to one another when they are unranked or when they possess the potential for being ranked in a number of different ways,” homoarchy is “the relation of elements to one another when they are rigidly ranked one way only, and thus possess no (or limited) potential for being unranked or ranked in another or a number of different ways at least without cardinal reshaping of the whole socio-political order.” For anthropology, it is wrong to postulate that either heterarchy or homoarchy presupposes a higher level of complexity, while for the complexity students the heterarchic model is more complex than homoarchic: It is not less sustained but has a higher degree of non-equilibrium.
This paper describes how complexity theory can be applied to itself at a metaphorical level to generate ideas about complexity, including proposals for modeling the evolution of complexity theory and treating computer modeling as a part of complexity theory, not just a medium of its expression. Proposals for more rigorous application of complexity theory to itself include studying the fitness of ideas within complexity theory, using various proxies for measuring those ideas, studying the autocatalysis of ideas, estimating the fractal geometry, and developing general computer models of complexity theory.
Leadership can be understood as the promise of simplification in response to complexity, with simplicity and complexity expressing the bounds of an inescapable tension. As subjective complexity increases, human systems experience pressure to simplify. Five strategies for simplification can be delineated, namely leadership as focal point, as reversion to compactness, as transformation to a new order, as disintegration of the system, and as pragmatic adaptation. Leaders would be advised to use some combination of each strategy to help systems cope with their strains.
In the analysis of complex systems there is often an emphasis on the plasticity and adaptability of the system. Coupled with perspectives from chaos theory — like the sensitivity to initial conditions, critical organization, bifurcations, and fractal complexity — this has led to a general understanding of complex systems as something in constant flux and susceptible to rapid change. Although these may indeed be important characteristics of complexity, it has led to descriptions that neglect the stability and the enduring structures necessary for the existence of complex systems. In order for a system to have any identity whatsoever, it cannot merely reflect its environment and the changes therein, it must also resist some of these changes. This is not always recognized in a culture where speed is linked with efficiency, and has become a virtue in itself. This paper argues for a certain “slowness.” It is not necessary to follow every trend in the environment; as a matter of fact it can be detrimental. This has implications for the way in which we interact with each other, and for the way in which we use new technology, especially the technologies for media and communication. Being too “quick” also has implications for our understanding of important notions like integrity and reliability. The way in which complexity theory is used to analyze the contemporary cultural landscape by certain theorists, particularly Mark Taylor, will be criticized. In the process reference will be made to novels by Sten Nadolny and Milan Kundera.
In this paper I introduce features of the context of argument related to the status of complexity theory and then move towards a description of Ricoeur’s theorizations on metaphor. I extend the discussion of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic by comparison with the ideas of Lakoff and Johnson on metaphor (influenced by cognitive science as well as Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology) and show correlations which link diverse theorization on the significance of metaphoric theorization. I further extend the description of correlations between Ricoeur’s ideas on symbolism and complexity theory exemplars centered on the conception of ‘emergence’. These perspectives are contextualized relative to the debate concerning whether complexity ought to be conceived as a series of ‘local’ instances or cases, or a ‘universalized’ theory. I extend the view that the mobility of complexity metaphor has created an expansive epistemology within the social sciences and that the resistance to ‘transcendent’ truth — especially felt within attitudes towards ontology within poststructuralist influences on complexity theorization — render problematic the expansion of complexity as a coherent body of theory within the social sciences. It is suggested that a view of phenomenology which acknowledges the role of metaphor and does not have the same problem with ‘transcendent’ truth — setting the arche firmly within the epistemic realm (i.e., Ricoeur’s hermeneutic of metaphor, and related theorization) — might resolve this problem, and also make positive reading of the role of metaphor in complexity studies.
Taking poetics as its base, this paper explores emergence in a constellation of disciplines – semiotics, teleology, and the complexity sciences. In whichever field it is studied, emergence is always Janus-face. I argue that its two aspects, directionality and originality, arise from accidental patterns. Poets have always taken seriously the meaningful effects of coincidences, often attributing them to their Muses. This paper reverses that move. Rather than attribute the cause of coincidence to an intentional being, intentionality is shown to arise from efficacious coincidence. Here, as in Juarrero (1999), emergence is equated with intentionality. That is, unpredictably creative but also self-directed, emergents seem to have minds of their own, and the future of emergence studies depends upon naturalizing this mentalism. Using Peirce’s theory of the emergence of grammar as a guide, I show how mentalism can be understood in terms of animating semiotic interaction, which depends upon accidental patterns.
Scientific theories have often been used to justify social actions. In the 19th century, Darwinian concepts were used to vindicate both greed and racism, and statistical patterns served as a means of rationalizing human brutality and resource distributions. In more recent times, complexity theories have been used as moral justification of social inequities. We focus particularly on the discovery that many physical, biological, and social measures tend toward a power or lognormal function. In a social context, such a function describes a situation with a very small number of very wealthy people, a small number of people with medium wealth, and an overwhelming majority of people with virtually nothing. With the causative mechanisms of such distributions having been proposed, this subdiscipline of complexity has taken on the qualities of a scientific law, from which a range of practical applications have been derived – including social prescriptions. Arguing that unequal distribution of wealth follows a natural law, these prescriptions propose that we have no choice but to accept it. The purpose of our paper is three-fold: 1. to briefly describe the nature and prevalence of power and lognormal distributions as a case-study in complexity theory; 2. to explore the overt and subtle use of the naturalistic fallacy as a means by which scientists and policy makers derive moral principles from empirical foundations, and; 3. to examine the role of free-will in the context of natural law as a means of escaping a nihilistic determinism. We show that lognormal-like distributions are indeed widespread. However, we also show that: 1. there are many exceptions of systems that tend to a more egalitarian distribution, demonstrating that ‘escape’ from the inequality of extreme lognormal patterns is possible, and; 2. society therefore has a choice of dedicating energy to establish and maintain an egalitarian distribution of resources; there is no moral or scientific justification for accepting without argument a strongly unequal distribution.
Some authors claim that attempts to apply complexity science to organization can only be successful if loyalty is paid to original meanings: only when students of organization accept complexity science as indivisible and operationalize complexity concepts rigorously can faddism be forestalled. In this article it is argued that loose application of complexity theory is not only inevitable, but that meaningful use of complexity theory in the field of organization and management actually depends on flexible application and translation of complexity concepts. The example of the ‘career’ of the anthropological concept of culture in the field of organization is used to support the argument that fitting complexity concepts into their new habitat does not leave them meaningless, but is instead the conditio sine qua non of successful application.
Many current social complexity writings and models – and their writers and modelers from the right and the center of the political spectrum – do not seem to take into consideration the global historical limits of global social complex phenomena; taking for granted that they will always exist and/ or will continue to be of the same sort as they now are. Thus exercising, whether consciously or unconsciously, a ‘There Is No Alternative’ or TINA approach, that, while giving shape to a contradictio in adjectum, that is, a contradiction by itself with a truly complexity approach, is nevertheless considered ‘scientifically correct’ (because non-ideological) and ‘politically correct’ (because it does not deal with any alternatives to the social status quo). In this paper I examine five methodological circumstances (ideologically induced, even in the case of advocates of ‘non-ideological’ writings and models) leading to this TINA treatment. Many current social complexity writings and models – and their writers and modelers from the left of the political spectrum – while emphasizing those global historical limits, do so without due consideration of their complex, global, organizational and systemic nature. These complexity-lacking SARA (Some Alternatives Remain Always) type treatments, sometimes considered ‘radical’ and even ‘revolutionary’ by those that put them forward, are nonetheless mostly rhetorical and lacking any truly heuristic ‘cutting edge’. I examine two methodological circumstances (also ideologically induced) leading to this complexity-lacking SARA treatment. In the face of some of the dramatic circumstances of today’s global world situation, I argue in favor of the urgent need of a real Complexity-SARA-type treatment (stemming from the right, the center and the left of the political spectrum) of current global social problems, if we all want to avoid a global a ‘Titanic’-type catastrophe.
A mathematical formalism for emergence As described in the editorial opening the first issue, E:CO is aiming at the intersection of three gaps: The distance between academic theory and professional practice; The space between the mathematics and the metaphors of complexity thinking; and, The disparity between formal idealizations and actual human organizations. Because the following […]