What is complexity, asks author-journalist George Johnson in a recent “Science Times,” the science section of The New York Times (May 5, 1997)? Below the headline, “Researchers on Complexity Ponder What It’s All About,” Johnson reports that there is still no agreed-upon definition…
The current headlong rush into managed care provides yet another example of the pitfalls associated with introducing radical changes into a complex system when you don’t really understand either the system or what you are doing to it.
Although its role is often unappreciated, synergy can be considered one of the core concepts of the systems sciences. Indeed, synergy is a ubiquitous phenomenon in nature and human societies alike. Here I will briefly discuss one aspect of the relationship between the two.
In the end, what salvages the “case” that this volume seeks to advance is the final chapter by editor Niels Gregersen. By tacitly adopting a more sophisticated and balanced understanding of evolutionary biology, Gregersen deftly transcends the shortcomings and misconceptions (and even some internal contradictions) that might otherwise have undermined the organizers’ basic objective.
Somit and Peterson’s “predictably unpopular thesis” is that humankind has a predisposition, “a genetic bias” for hierarchically structured social and political systems. The book is significant both for what it says and fails to say about both human nature and democracy.
To our preliterate ancestors, untutored in academic economics but well-attuned to the vicissitudes of living in the late Pleistocene, the basic problem that they confronted — along with all other living things — was survival and reproduction. Earning a living in the “economy of nature” was a relentless, inescapable and somewhat unpredictable imperative.
Living organisms are not passive objects of “chance and necessity” (as Jacques Monod put it). Nor is the currently popular concept of “phenotypic plasticity” sufficient. Organisms are active participants in the evolutionary process (cybernetic systems) and have played a major causal role in determining its direction.
Synergy has played a key causal role in the evolution of complexity, from the very origins of life to the evolution of humankind and complex societies. This also applies to social behavior, including the use of collective violence for various purposes: predation, defense against predators, the acquisition of needed resources and the defense of these resources against other groups and species. In nature and humankind alike, collective violence is, by and large, an evolved, synergy-driven instrumentality.
Here I briefly explore the case for a paradigm shift in evolutionary theory to focus on the economics and the role of functional synergy as a distinct class of causal influences.
Times have changed and the theory proposed in my 1983 book has had a complex journey. Herein lies some lessons about the culture and politics of science.