A Third Moment of Complexity

critical emergence

The "critics" that are critical here are structuralists, deconstructionists, and worse. They argue over meaning but always make the same point, namely that, "systems and structures inevitably totalize by excluding difference and repressing otherness."

Uber-structuralist Lévi-Strauss looks at language as if phonemes and morphemes are like protons and neutrons, enabling one to construct a periodic table of the language. "I have always aimed at drawing up an inventory of mental patterns, to reduce apparently arbitary data to some kind of order." So...the world is simple, we just have yet to discover the code.

Along comes Foucault. (I'm glad I graduated from college before this crew began to publish.) Structure? Patterns? Thinking? All of this is context-specfic. Do the cultural archeology and you find that language, perception, and practice are all constructed.

Derrida, Kirkegaard, Hegel, Freud, Baudrillard. Regarding "The End of Production," Baudrillard wrote, "The first shockwave of this transition from produtction to pure and simple reproduction took place in May '68. They struck the universities first, and the faculty of human sciences first of all, becuase that was where it became most evident (even without a clear "political" consciousness) that we were no longer productive, only reprductive (and that lecturers, science and culture were themselves only relays in the general reproduction of the system.)"

Yawn. May '68. Productivity on campus. Hmmm. The month before, I started attending the eight-week Army Office Basic Course at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. My roommate and I drank beer and watched reruns of "Combat" for homework. (We'd swagger into class the next day, mouthing the World War II solider talk Vic Morrow used in the foxhole.) Then we'd play 'Nam Arty' for gunnery practice. You played Nam Arty by lying on your back behind the sofa with a handful of darts. You'd lob the darts over the side, trying to hit the target pinned to the back of the closet door across the room. The other player, your spotter, gave feedback with which to correct your aim. My roommate and I both graduated with Top Honors and Expert Marksman status. Who cares about non-production on campus? We were preparting to fight a war. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

strange loops

René Magritte, Derrida, Isaac Newton, Schiller, Hegel, and Heidegger. Remember the story about the guy who visits prison. One prisoner says "35," and the cell block rocks with laughter. Another con says "84," again followed by gales of laughter. Puzzled, the newcomer asks what's up. He is told that since everyone's heard all the jokes, they numbered them to save time. The visitor shouts "23." Total silence. Nothing. Why happened? he asked. Why aren't they laughing? "It's all in how you tell it," he was told. To which I reply "Descartes!" "Kant!" "Humberto Maturana!" I'm not laughing over this chapter.

"Descartes set in motion developments that eventually led to 'the will to master,' which has resulted in twentieth-century techno-science. Just as sociolcultural constructivism leads to a form of subjective idealism that negates objectivity by consuming the natural world, so the will to mastery issues in a 'subjective egoism,' which is ultimately destructive. " Ho, ho, ho. Those professors can really tell 'em, can't they?

noise in formation

You must understand the relationship of information to complexity and vice-versa in order to appreciate the importance of the emerging network culture. If you'd read Claude Shannon, you can skip this chapter.

emerging complexity

The task of making meaning out of randomness is what self-organization is all about, wrote Henri Atlan in his inexplicably untranslated L'organisation biologique et la thé de l'information (1972).

Defining complexity is complex. Besiders, humanity always lusts for simplicity. Newton was more metaphysician than physicist. He wrote more religious treatises than science works. One God, one way things happen.

Herbert Simon said complexity came from a large number of parts that interact in a nonsimple way.

Complex systems are different from complicated systems. A snowflake is complicated but it comes from simple rules. It doesn't change form until it melts. Nor is a complex system chaotic; chaos is the lack of all order, because the internal parts are not connected.

The characteristics are complex systems are:

  1. Many parts, connected in multiple ways
  2. Diverse components interacting both serially and in parallel
  3. Spontaneously self-organizing
  4. Can't be reverse-engineered
  5. Interaction of parts changes the whole
  6. Open, adaptive, evolving
  7. Emergence occurs far from equilibrium, on the edge of chaos

Large systems with many components evolve to a critical state way out of equilibrium. One more snowflake may precipitate the avalanche.

"32!" Oh wait, I meant to quote the author, saying, "A few lines later, he concludes the novel with a 'Chorous Logico-Philosophicus' which parodies Wittgenstein while suggesting the point of the tale the authors have spun:

Emergent complexity
Bear us aloft!

Don't you love it when professors talk dirty?

Complex behavior comes from the interplay of organisms, not from the action of any single organism.

For hundreds of years, we've been praying in Newton's church. Complexity is a new system of beliefs. It's impossible to build faith in complexity by singing from the Newtonian hymnal. Hence, to become polytheistic and embrace both new and old, the complexity liturgy must be repeated until it penetrates our resistances. So, one more time:

Emerging self-organizing systems are complex adaptive systems. For complex systems to maintain themselves, they must remain open to their environment and change when conditions require it. Complex adaptive systems, therefore, inevitably evolve, or, more accurately, coevolve. As the dynamics of evolving complexity are clarified, it not only becomes apparent that complex adptive systems evolve, but it also appears that the process of evolution is actually a complex adaptive system.

Jay's Ruminations

Today Bob Horn told me he's being awarded a lifetime achievement award from ISPI. He described some of his current work on "messy problems" for the likes of NASA. Since I was in the midst of my complexity readings, I said that the ISPI I had known treated every situation as a closed system. Bob's acceptance speech may address instructional design solutions to messy problems. This I'd love to see.

Reading through page after page of philosophical horsefeathers, I ask "Am I getting anything out of this?" Enough to make it worthwhile continuing, I guess. I've got about a hundred pages to go. Several evenings of speed reading and page-turning with a yellow marker in hand. That's bedtime stuff.

Earlier today I started reading Dave Snowden's papers on JIT KM. He draws heavily on complexity but makes it useful rather than a vocabulary and postmodern Euro-vocabulary test. My take on Snowden's work will pop up in other posts here.

You might compare the definition of complexity here with the one in It's Alive.

Bear with me through this trying journey. My gut tells me the complexity paradigm is vital to our understanding of the world. It also suggests immediate practical applications. Don't let my thinking out loud drive you away! This is a short journey through the abyss of academia.

"Maxwell's equations, Schrödinger's equation, and Hamiltonian mechanics can each be expressed in a few lines. The ideas that form the foundation of our worldview are also very simple indeed: The world is lawful, and the same basic laws hold everywhere. Everything is simple, neat, and expressible in terms of everyday mathematics, either partial or ordinary differential equations. Everything is simple and neat, except, of course, the world. Every place we look outside the physics classroom we see a world of amazing complexity. The world contains many examples of complex ecologies at all levels: huge mountain ranges, the delicate ridge on the surface of a sand dune, the salt spray coming off a wave, the interdependencies of financial markets, and the true ecologies formed by living things. Each situation is highly organized and distinctive, with biological systems forming a limiting case of exceptional complexity. So why, if the laws are so simple, is the world so complicated?"

Simple Lessons from Complexity written by Nigel Goldenfeld and Leo P. Kadanoff in Science (vol. 284, 2 April 1999:

Posted by Jay Cross at January 23, 2004 06:26 PM | TrackBack

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