Complex Systems Concept Summary

I figured it was time for a reset and so the following is a summary of much of the foundational posting that I’ve done on this blog so far.  As always, a work in progress, subject to refinement and learning…

  • I see there being at least two types of emergence, autocatalytic and cooperative.
  • Emergence is related closely to the concepts of agency, stability, and coherence.
  • Cooperation (and autocatalysis) in populations under certain conditions leads to the emergence of new levels of organizational complexity, despite the presence of competition.
  • Competition is the backbone of an evolutionary dynamic, which is orthogonal to the emergent dynamic.
  • Alex Ryan’s diagram represents the best visual synthesis of these concepts that I’ve found.
  • We should not get hung up on any of these terms, they are models (approximations of reality).  Concepts like “cooperation” and “level” are not to be understood entirely by their standard English usage, but that is the starting point.  Over constraining their usage creates confusion and often obscures or denies basic truths.
  • On the other hand, there comes a time when formalism leads to deeper understanding where our intuitions fail.  As Alex points out, “level” is great for human understanding, but the more precise and less intuitive notion of “scope” is better for formal models of emergence.  Using precise formalism like his allows us to tease out — and do calculations on — notions like “novel emergence” vs. “weak emergence”.  In turn, these new concepts end up jiving with and extending our intuitive understanding.
  • A reductionist-only mindset often blinds us to important concepts like emergent causality and cultural agency.  By adding in complex systems thinking, which centers on emergence, many once paradoxical and obfuscated situations in the real world become clearer.