As writers including Heinz Pagels to Lee Smolin have noted, a new scientific paradigm is emerging to take the place the linear model of Descartes and Newton. This paper explores Complexity Theory studies the patterns that emerge as phenomena evolve in the world suggested by that new paradigm. The co-authors refer to the new paradigm as “processual”, because it depicts a world composed fundamentally of processes that flow through each other to create systemic causality, rather than the Newtonian image of a clock-like world of cause-and-effect. The paper relates how the co-authors used Complexity Theory to understand this emergent worldview as they wrote The Axial Ages of World History. In doing so, they discovered a way of understanding world history as extremely “thick” and multi-dimensional, less like a machine than an ecosystem. Complexity Theory, they conclude, stands as a gateway to such an understanding of disciplines from psychology to organizational development.
We are indeed approaching a culmination of sorts; our species seems to face a kind of test toward which basic forces of history have been moving us for millennia. It is a test of political imagination – of our ability to accept basic, necessary changes in the structures of governance – but also a test […]
Introduction [With the] new theory and practice of battle . . . it was no longer killing in the service of the ancestors, but rather the organization of control of men in the service of the territorial prince that gave meaning to warfare.1 — Mark Lewis, Sanctioned Violence in Early China From about 3000 to […]
Introduction The mind’s deepest desire, even in its most elaborate operations, parallels man’s unconscious feeling in the face of his universe… — Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus Walk through the Gallery of the Academy in Florence, and you can almost see an old world story dying as a new one emerges. Paintings through the […]
Introduction One of the most surprising ideas our work for this book leads to is the power of a society’s world story to shape its own history. How could a story such as Homer’s Iliad help lead a society into events as important as the poleis‘ victory over the Persian Empire or the Peloponnesian War? […]
Redefining otherness for the 21st century Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. — Often attributed to Niels Bohr And so, we come, at last, to the question we began with: What can people in the first quarter of the 21st century learn from comparing the Axial Age and Modernity? Perhaps most significant, societies […]
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.