Throughout human history, we have come to accept the idea that order is created through design and maintained through control. Sources of such design have been assigned to gods and governments in their various forms. And yet, the evidence points clearly in the opposite direction.
I have been thinking a lot about economic complexity this week. This is all the more relevant as Alberta heads into yet another downturn. And our political leaders head off to Paris with a new “climate change plan”. The perfect storm.
John Miller and Scott Page show how to combine ideas from economics, political science, biology, physics, and computer science to illuminate topics in organization, adaptation, decentralization, and robustness.
In generally accessible terms, Frontiers of Complexity describes much of the history, development and importance of many complexity ideas we now take for granted. These include: cellular automata, chaos and fractals, genetic and evolutionary algorithms and neural networks. Fundamentally, the book is mostly focused on new ways of doing science using the power of computing.
The world is full of explanatory paradigms. A paradigm is a way of thinking. In science and philosophy, it is a set of concepts or thought patterns that bring legitimacy to an explanation. It is a world view.
I would guess that most people, when they take the time to consider how many worlds they live in, would answer “two”. These would be the physical and mental worlds. There is some sort of relationship between what is “out there” and how we sense it and then represent it on our minds. That relationship is complex and subjective. There is also some question about whether we exist in a duality, with mind and body being entirely separate, or in some sort of unified whole where mind and body are one. I suspect that research into brain science may give rise to some new forms of philosophy shortly, or at least some new questions and arguments.
One of the enduring philosophical questions is whether and how the mind can have causal effect on the “real world”. in his 1978 lecture on human values, Karl Popper delves into these questions and adds a new wrinkle. He suggests that we live in three worlds, rather than two.
General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice by Swedish academic Lars Skyttner provides a good introduction to GST. It’s first part provides a history of the subject, particularly centered on the key contributions of people such as Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Kenneth Boulding, Jay Forrester and many others. It acknowledges the contributions of folks like Aristotle, Hegal, Smuts and other forerunners. The second part of the book describes the application of General Systems Theory in fields such as organization, decision making and informatics.
Herbert Simon was a Nobel laureate and social scientist most noted for his study of decision making. He is not usually thought of as a “complexity type” and was in fact quite critical of such areas as emergence. He tended to think of systems as near-decomposable hierarchies.
But one idea in this paper really caught my attention, namely the relationships between states and processes. These relationships provide a useful duality.
Most of our philosophy was developed well in advance of the modern understanding of complexity, indeed much before science itself. This book explores the relationships and inter-dependencies between complexity, science and philosophy.
Systems thinking, if anything, should be carried out systematically.