Types of complexity revisited

From the archives:

From this post:

“In the first place one has to acknowledge that the ‘discipline’ of Complexity is a house divided. There are serious differences between different approaches to complexity. After about two or three decades of work explicitly dedicated to the understanding of complex systems, it has become crucial to reflect critically on the value of these different approaches. One way of distinguishing between these approaches is provided by Edgar Morin (2007) who distinguishes between ‘general’ and ‘restricted’ complexity. Restricted complexity refers mainly to the mathematical and computational approaches to complexity, often strongly informed by chaos theory. This approach, Morin argues, acknowledges the non-linear, relational nature of complex systems, but seeks to tame it in ways which reintroduces positivism and reductionism. General complexity on the other hand, argues for the limits of all approaches to complex systems and urges that we acknowledge these limits and recognise that we need a new language in which to do this, a language which moves beyond Enlightenment ideals of neutrality and objectivity.”

From this post:

“My claim is rather that chaos theory, and especially the notions of deterministic chaos and universality, does not really help us to understand the dynamics of complex systems. That showpiece of fractal mathematics, the Mandelbrot set—sometimes referred to as the most complex mathematical object we know—is in the final analysis complicated, not complex. Within the framework of the present study, chaos theory is still part of the modern paradigm, and will not receive detailed attention.”

From this post:


The concluding chapter of PE beginning at 235 is perhaps the most significant, as it deals with applying the earlier chapters to capitalism. The way out of it “is not to hypothesize an outside ideal or truth…but rather to engage with the wealth of possibilities….for a novel economy to arise” (238). He starts by describing capitalism as a restricted economy with ideological components that excludes poverty and the poor for it to be coherent. If one is poor it’s their own fault and not that of the system because it is based on a utilitarian (egoic) rationality that gives precedence to the individual. This utilitarianism applies the excess in its system to individual consumption instead of communal festivals and carnivals as in previous economic systems (241-2). This “led to a desacralization of life” that no longer recognized the qualitative nature of relationships but rather just the quantitative, hence the world became “flat” and narcissistic (243-4).

This in turn led to a supply side economics that has to create excessive individual consumption, which leads to enormous system waste instead of socially applying its excess (246). Remember, if they’re poor it’s their own damned fault. And if they’re rich it’s because they deserve it and therefore can waste enormous sums on unnecessary expenses to satisfy their egos while others starve. (No food stamps for you!) Not surprisingly from this worldview capitalism “believes itself to be at the pinnacle of human development” (247). It is a homogenous mode of thought that excludes the heterogenous epitomized by Fukuyama’s The End of History (248). (Sound familiar to you integral capitalists and your brand of Enlightenment?)

Consequently, holding to such an ideology causes one to avoid any empirical evidence to the contrary, because the idea is what is important, not the empirical material on the ground, so to speak. “The actual and the ideal…is seen as a strict dialectic without excess.” Hence “We cannot simply separate or oppose actuality from ideality because we inhabit the world and our engagement with the world is structured by previous engagements. We cannot easily stand outside the current world and propose an ideology free from an actuality which exists” (250-4). (Again, sound familiar?)

A general economy though does not oppose the ideal with the actual, and consequently impose the former on the latter. This opens the system to possibilities never considered in the restricted version due to contingent forces on the ground. And this “will demand a different type of reasoning” itself open to self-analysis and reflection. It also moves from a transcendent One to a plural many. “This does not imply a relativism but rather simply that our statements…need to be provisional.” (255-6).

And the critique of Badiou echoes some of my own criticisms of the MHC, since Badiou sees “either/or relationship…as in mathematics where there are different sets which are neatly discrete from one another.” But complex entities “are never this neat” and “cannot be reduced to such neatness,” since local contingencies are not considered. One such contingency being local actors (actants) that “maintain an agency” that is not subsumed in the set. (257-8).

And like this article, restricted economies like capitalism are present-centered. The future can only be based on possibilities inherent to what is present, not some novel challenge. It’s a “feedback trap” that only narcissistically reinforces itself instead of responding to a changing environment. Interestingly, this is tied to “awakening” to truth, “a different consciousness” where time stops in an eternal present (259-61). Which all of course feeds back into a timeless Causal or Ideal bivalently juxtaposed with the actual or material.

Human instead posits that while we need teleos it is non-teleological. I.e., we can use planning as a short-term goal but must constantly be aware of changing circumstances so as to adjust our plans accordingly and on the fly. Such holding to an inherent ideal plan is part and parcel of the restricted economy which ignores such changes that don’t fit the Plan. Hence overcoming capitalism can’t be laid out “in seven easy steps.” But as we’ve seen, a general economy nonetheless has some general and guiding principles, but they too must be tested by the circumstances on the ground and adjusted accordingly. It is, in fact, those actual experimental conditions that led to the formulation of such principles in the first place (261-9).

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About theurj

Also known as theurj. I've contributed some essays to Integral World and co-founded Open Integral blog, now defunct. I continue to participate in Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality forum.
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