In this paper we argue that a rigorous understanding of the nature and implications of complexity reveals that the underlying assumptions that inform our understanding of complex phenomena are deeply related to general philosophical issues. We draw on a very specific philosophical interpretation of complexity, as informed by the work of Paul Cilliers and Edgar Morin. This interpretation of complexity, we argue, resonates with specific themes in post-structural philosophy in general, and deconstruction in particular. We argue that post-structural terms such as différance carry critical insights into furthering our understanding of complexity. The defining feature that distinguishes the account of complexity offered here to other contemporary theories of complexity is the notion of critique. The critical imperative that can be located in a philosophical interpretation of complexity exposes the limitations of totalising theories and subsequently calls for examining the normativity inherent in the knowledge claims that we make. The conjunction of complexity and post-structuralism inscribes a critical-emancipatory impetus into the complexity approach that is missing from other theories of complexity. We therefore argue for the importance of critical complexity against reductionist or restricted understandings of complexity.
The Nobel Laureate Physicist Frank Wilczek posed fundamental questions that are very hard to answer within the existing scientific paradigm, its ontology and epistemology: “Does the world embody beautiful ideas? … Is the world a work of art? …Is the world considered as a work of art, beautiful?” To my full sensorium—including speculative reason and poetic knowing—the answer is yes but this “Gap” between science and the arts cannot be mapped or explored or analyzed with the limited set of available tools built on speculative reason’s ontology or its associated epistemology alone. (Epistemology is about the way we know things; ontology is about what things are.) “Suchness” or the thing in itself is not part of speculative reason’s ontology and is not accessible to experimental design. For example, consciousness as a quality of mind is not discoverable by physics’ speculative reason driven investigations of the body. In contrast and as will be argued, poetic knowing, surrealism, meditation, “leaping over” and directly revealing one’s “natural face” are applicable to such a multiverse. So exploring and discovering the Gap suggests it needs a clear ontology that guides this mapping supporting an appropriate epistemology that merges speculative reason (science), poetic knowing, and somatic experience. This paper seeks to lay a foundation for this effort and to identify tools useful for carrying it out.
We start with what nowadays is an accepted basic assumption: Our Universe (U), and everything within it, is potentially connected with everything else. This assumption of “connectedness” implies, in turn, that every natural system that exists in U is an open system. Moreover, every open system is, necessarily, a self-organizing system. We name these systems, evolutionary systems (ES). Only ES, with their developmental and evolutionary processes, seem capable of bringing about the connectedness, diversity and complexity that can be observed throughout U. We propose that the long sequence of processes, that started with the Big Bang and are present today, have to be related, overall, in an essential way and, therefore, a thread connecting them, from the beginning of U all the way to the present and beyond, has to be considered and studied. In a purely descriptive manner, a conceptual framework is proposed whereby evolution and development are the mechanisms in the sequence of links that materializes such a “thread.”
This paper draws a philosophical parallel between the characteristics of anarchism with the sciences of complexity. The absence—αν, an—of a ruling principle—arche, άρχή—is the conditio sine qua non, it is claimed, for a further search for ground and fundament. The most basic features common to both anarchism and complexity are the absence or critique to control as well as the importance of self-organization. Embracing the theory of complexity inevitably leads towards the acceptance of anarchy. A spirit of anarchy pervades complexity science even if: a) it has not been explicitly thematized, or b) it has not been the explicit concern of researchers and scholars working in the field.
This article reflects the division in the field of the study of complexity, between a mainly philosophical and epistemological approach (Edgar Morin called it “general complexity”) and a mainly scientific and methodological approach (called by Morin as “restricted complexity”). The first perspective would be well represented by Morin’s “complex thinking,” while the second by the new “science of complex adaptive systems.” We show the potential and limits of each perspective, and conclude by claiming the need to relink both the perspectives into a comprehensive “paradigm of complexity” that is capable of providing, and following the original definition of Thomas Kuhn, at the same time a worldview (“general complexity”) and examples of scientific achievements (“restricted complexity”).
This paper proposes an analytical framework for a complexity-informed theoretical approach to human interaction and organizations. In doing so, it addresses the increasing call for better theory supporting the microfoundations of social science. A key premise of the argument is that the primary imperatives of social actors are confronting uncertainty and adapting to change as a collective. As such, in addition to seeking requisite resources, human beings interact to gather and use information for their individual and collective benefit. The paper explores this perspective by proposing a complex systems model of organizing that differs from systems theory by placing the actors inside the system rather than assuming they act on the system. We propose a definition of information that enables us to explore the dynamics of human interaction as observers from the outside without necessarily knowing what the information means. This approach is analogous to how physical and biological systems are studied and is intended to complement, rather than replace existing approaches that tend to place their emphasis on inter-subjectivity and meaning-making rather than on the objective measurement of information as a physically measurable quantity.
Rigorous investigation of organizational epistemology, or what can an organization know and why, is a sadly underdeveloped field. Knowledge management as a field has suffered from naïve assumptions about what knowledge is and how it can(not) be shared. David Seidl in E:CO (2007) made a significant contribution to organizational epistemology, which I want to further problematize. Seidl made two assumptions: one ontological namely that organizations know things; and one epistemological namely that knowledge can be defined as perceptual complexity reduction. I wish to counter that persons and not organizations know things and that knowledge is more social than perceptual. I will argue that the problem of social knowing is not so much grounded in the epistemological question of knowledge / nonknowledge—that is, in the relations of foreground and background, facts and assumptions or knowledge and hermeneutics, as in the much more radical circularities of eternal return (duration) and the continual (re-)founding of social order. I will be inspired for the first point by Pierre Klossowski and for the second by Michel Serres.
This is a conceptual paper about ‘affordances’. It is inspired by Gregory Bateson (1972) who argued that consciousness is a person/environment interactive process; we will focus on how relationships between environments and organisms lead to perceived possibilities, actions, and cognition. Both the relationships between environments and persons, and the relationships between persons and environments count. The connection between world and consciousness is dynamic. There is a mutual causal link between circumstances and organisms. We argue that the world via affordances presents itself to consciousness. Emergent possibilities afford; complexity affords. Scott Kelso’s ‘complementary relating of contrarieties’ affords. Affordances are the dynamic reciprocal relationships between animate persons and their environments. Affordances are in-between—their cognition is situated and contextual. Affordances are the a next frontier for organization studies.
Surprising, unexpected events happen all the time which can be thought of and addressed in a variety of ways. On one hand, surprise can be something that is not desired, something suppressed or controlled for. Or, it can be something that is embraced, sought out or encouraged. Conceptually speaking, conceiving surprise in this fashion is not uncommon. Still, there seems to be an important piece missing from the many discourses on surprise. This paper offers some a possible framework to understand the experience of surprise in relation to a more complexified framing of the lived-experience. Specifically, by drawing upon principles from the complexity sciences, this paper considers the lived human experience of surprise as an emergent phenomenon that arises from a complex system.
This piece explores potential problems with the focus on unpredictability and nonlinearity within complexity theory. Whilst not completely rejecting the application of ideas of nonlinearity and unpredictability within the social sciences, I argue that greater empirical and conceptual care is needed. The arguments made are illustrated by a critical examination of cases from John Urry’s Global Complexity, including the dominance of the petroleum-fuelled car in the 20th century and the prevalence of wild-fires in Malibu. Empirically speaking, I argue that claims about particular instances of nonlinearity and unpredictability in the social world must be backed up by appropriate evidence, rather than analysts simply assuming that all social phenomena have these characteristics. Conceptually speaking, I suggest that care needs to be taken to distinguish genuinely unpredictable phenomena from those that are simply poorly understood at the present time. I also argue that predictability should be seen as a matter of degree.
It is usually assumed in debates about systems thinking, complexity and the philosophy of science that science is primarily about observation. However, the starting point for this paper is intervention, defined as purposeful action by an agent to create change. While some authors suggest that intervention and observation are opposites, it is argued here that observation (as undertaken in science) should be viewed as just one type of intervention. We should therefore welcome scientific techniques of observation into a pluralistic set of intervention methods, alongside methods for exploring values, reflecting on subjective understandings, planning future activities, etc. However, there is a need to explicitly counter a possible pernicious interpretation of this argument: intervention could (erroneously) be viewed as flawlessly pre-planned change based on accurate predictions of the consequences of action. This is the mechanistic worldview that systems thinking and complexity science seek to challenge. Therefore, having redefined scientific observation as intervention, the paper revisits insights from systems thinking and complexity to propose a methodology of systemic intervention. Some brief reflections are then provided on the wider social implications of this methodology.
Introduction Defining social entrepreneurship has proven to be a challenging task (see Massetti; Seitanidi; and Trexler all in this volume as well as: Chell, 2007; Roberts & Woods 2005; Austin et al., 2006; Dorado, 2006). However, two things are common across the plethora of definitions emerging over the past two decades: 1) an underlying drive […]
Social enterprise is charity’s web 2.0—a would-be revolution as open to interpretation as a Rorschach blot. For social enterprise to be more than the latest passing fad in doing good, we need a rigorous re-assessment of the link between system dynamics and social institutions. To that end this article has three distinct yet related aims. First, I want to offer a new definition of social enterprise, one that reflects its essential nature as a simple rule with complex results. Besides re-defining social enterprise, my next goal is to provide an explanation for organizational altruism that goes beyond latching onto the latest popular trends. My alternative approach is to find the basis for corporate charity within corporate identity itself—in particular, the historic function of organizational form as a means of modeling emergent patterns. This article’s final aim is to explain how social enterprise can have its greatest sustainable impact—by making itself obsolete.
Seven problems that occur in attempts to measure complexity are pointed out as they occur in four proposed measurement techniques. Each example method is an improvement over the previous examples. It turns out, however, that none are up to the challenge of complexity. Apparently, there is no currently available method that truly gets the measure of complexity. There are two reasons. First, the most natural approach, quantitative analysis, is rendered inadequate by the very nature of complexity. Second, the intrinsic magnitude of complexity is still holding at bay attempts to use both quantitative and qualitative methods combined. Further progress in complexity science and in systems science is required. Any method that simplifies will fail because it ignores what complexity is. Techniques of understanding that do not simplify, but rather provide ways for the mind to grasp and work with complexity are more effective in getting its measure.
Ecology is the foundation of the methods used in conservation, pest, rangeland, forest and fisheries management. A theme among many ecologists is the need to justify the science as a rigorous discipline. Coupled with this is the notion that physics represents an ideal model of a rigorous science. To that end recent discussions in the literature have placed emphasis on identifying Laws of ecology. In particular, Malthusian growth has been identified as a prime candidate for an ecological law, and much has been written favorably comparing the expression to Newton’s laws of motion. Malthusian growth is shown here to be a poor example of a potential ecological law, largely due its numerous ceteris paribus conditions and lack of universality. In fact, as a simple linear model, Malthusian growth fails to adequately address the nonlinear complexities that make ecology such a rich and fascinating discipline. Ecological theory would do well to ignore comparisons to other sciences and focus on explaining the complex dynamics within ecology.
This paper presents a discussion of the possible influence of incomputability and the incompleteness of mathematics as a source of apparent emergence in complex systems. The suggestion is made that the analysis of complex systems as a specific instance of a complex process may be subject to inaccessible ‘emergence’. We discuss models of computation associated with transcending the limits of traditional Turing systems, and suggest that inquiry into complex systems in the light of the potential limitations of incomputability and incompleteness may be worthwhile.
European Modernity is characterized by a fragmentation of knowledge and the raise of metaphysical methodology embedded in emerging rationalistic Science. Such developments represent some of the facets of the cultural evolution of Europe. In many cases, the triumph of rationalistic and mechanistic thought cannot be dissociated from some of the most tragic events in world history which took place in Europe during the ‘short twentieth century’. Complexity, on the other hand, also has its roots in the European intellectual heritage, and as such it should be considered as one of the paths to knowledge opened by the European philosophical tradition — arguably, a path that was lost following the ‘victory’ of rationalist approaches in the European ‘Epistemic Civil War’. As Complexity Science continues to challenge established epistemology and Europe renews its search for a new identity, this article seeks to explore the relationship between ‘Scientific Culture’ and ‘European Identity’ in the light of the relatively recent (re-) emergence of Complexity.
Recent studies in Organizational theory have directed themselves towards poststructuralist interpretation. A variant of such interpretation is based on theorists derived from the traditions of phenomenology. Letiche’s PCT is examined as a derivative case of this theorization. Complexity theory is also scrutinized, relative to arguments of the theorist Derrida (especially), but also Bergson. It is argued that complexity theory illustrates problems relative to the application of phenomenological theorization which relate in part to the difficulties of the analogical transfer of theories derived in the physical (or natural) sciences to the social world. A debate on the philosophical status of phenomenology (especially related to Derrida’s differance) presents a new angle on the extensibility of complexity to the human realm. This aspect impinges on the issue of the value and implications of the ‘linguistic’ turn relative to the complexity theory enterprise.
This paper introduces the main concepts and constructs of archetypal dynamics, a formal approach to the study of emergence based upon the analysis of coherent, meaning-laden information flows within complex systems. Two forms of emergence, horizontal and vertical, are discussed, and four dyadic modes of information, public-private and active-passive. The fundamental triad of archetypal dynamics consisting of semantic frame, realizations (system) and interpretation (agent/ user) is introduced. The formal representation, the tapestry, is defined and the notion of H-com-plex tapestries is introduced, along with proposed connections to horizontal emergence.
Introduction This article is an exposition and defense of a per-spective I call ‘integrative pluralism’. I will argue that integrative pluralism is the best description of the relationship of scientific theories, models, and explanations of complex biological phenomena. Com-plexity is endemic in biology, and various features of multicomponent, multilevel, evolved systems consti-tute it. The types […]
Introduction The attendees at the Complexity and Philosophy gathering in Havana this past January were honored to hear a keynote from Isabelle Stengers the noted philosopher of science who teaches at the Free University of Brussels. While Stengers is perhaps best known for her decades long partnership with Ilya Prigogine, what struck most of the […]