Complexity theory

John Landon nemonemini at
Fri Mar 9 19:30:31 MST 2001

My statements on complexity theory were perhaps too
extreme, and I enjoyed the various posts on these
I should retract a part of what I was saying, to the
degree that the sky's the limit as far as producing
mathematical applications in the non-physical
sciences. A better reason is that I might eliminate my
own model! But the question always remains, what is it
that one is trying to model? It looks obvious, but it
isn't. Consider Toynbee and Spengler. It would seem
obvious that the 'fundamental unit of historical
analysis', in Toynbee's phrase is the 'civilization'.
Yet after endless books these two never got it
straight. The 'civilization' is not the 'fundamental
unit'. What is? The social system? You the
hopelessness of it and it pervades biology. What is
the definition of an organism? Actually noone knows.
And so on.

I thought of what I had said and thought of Prignone,
and got his recent The End of Certainty, which I
recommend. The context of his discussions set the
right picture, right down at the base level of
biochemical reactions, for he is not just trying to
apply advanced math to some social or other reality,
but struggling with the first step beyond reductionism
with issues of thermodynamics and the arrow of time,
in relation to questions of determinism. The moment
anyone takes that approach my negative judgements
based on Kant's Third Antinomy start to retreat, for
they are really the same discussion.
But my point is that self-organization is the one
application of complexity of direct relevance to
issues of evolution and of history.
This is the issue then, or one of them: these models
cannot necessarily make assumptions about deep
questions and succeed. You are struggling at the first
step with basic questions of time itself.
Thus, in a model of the social sciences, you might be
defeated at the beginning, unless, say, you got
straight on free will. What assumption will you adopt?
Determinism will fail. So free will must succeed?
[In my approach I look at two ways around this, a
contrast of 'system action' and 'free action', and two
shades of consciousness, awareness and self-awareness
(a purely formal distinction). Thus we can bypass the
dilemma by saying that
mechanism:awareness=free will:self-awareness. Thus
these two hover in the middle and satisfy both
requirements by being neither. Once we start making
these different distinctions, then the issues of
historical dynamics become a little clearer... More on
this some other time.]

But in general Prignone's book opens with the crux of
these questions and takes the question from square
one, the relation of time, reversibility,
irreversibility, and shows how these impinge on
determinism, and so forth.
Anyway the moral is that metaphysical questions absent
from physics and ensuring its great prosperity in
theory resurface to haunt all endeavors in social
science models.

Anyway, the portrait of 'self-organization' is a basic
question, and I think my 'eonic model' gives a
beautiful resolution of this type of process over
world history.

Anyway, I can recommend Prignone's book.

John Landon


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