An inside view

If there is a problem of complexity, it undoubtedly involves the issue of control.  Complexity without control is chaos.  Complexity implies a functionality, which defines how the parts of a system will cooperatively interact.

Four types of complexity may be observed: mechanical, cybernetic, organic and inorganic.  With mechanical complexity, control is explicitly designated in the overall design.  Some stabilizing features will be implicit in the design of individual components.  With cybernetic systems, particularly those that are decentralized or networked, the design strategy is to limit the degree to which any one node may co-opt or disrupt the functioning of the network, while enhancing communication and cooperation between nodes.

Organic systems exhibit many features of cybernetic systems, which often were copied from them.  The cell is the quasi-independent node of a multi-cellular system.  Cellular differentiation determines which group of cells performs which cooperative function according to the given genetic script.  Inorganic complexity follows from physical laws.  In regimes near to phase transitions there can be morphogenesis in the long-range order, and far from thermal equilibrium complex arrays of dissipative structures may arise.

Organic systems often exhibit complex patterns of behavior oriented toward their survival and reproduction.  Humans often report on their ability to exercise considerable control over their own mental and physical behavior.  There are no outward features of the human brain that might account for this intentional behavior, leading many scientists to suspect the validity of these reports.

As complexity proliferates, the issue of control arises with greater urgency.  Market oriented democracies rely increasingly on the voluntary self-control of the citizenry, despite the misgivings of scientists and other skeptics.  Many participants appear willing to either surrender or assume control on almost any pretext.  One wonders about the limits of complexity for human societies.  We are induced into patterns of behavior that are at an increasing remove from any conceivable genetic endowment.  The dexterity of the invisible hand of economics is perhaps being overtaxed.

Indigenous societies uniformly exhibited elaborate schema for maintaining their harmony with nature.  Our once aberrant effort to seize control of nature has now become the norm.  The general sense of harmony and belonging gives way to alienation and anxiety.  Advanced societies witness sizable segments of their populations turning inward to seek various forms of spiritual counsel and solace.

Any thoughtful observer must wonder about the possible inner dimensions of complexity.  Is human intentionality just an aberration or an illusion?  If not, we should be conscientiously attending to this dimension and seeing if some greater source of intentionality might enlighten our individual intentions.

Any such source would provide an Archimedean point of leverage for redirecting human behavior.  In the absence of any greater internal leverage we find ourselves more susceptible to external impositions.  Issues of trust will contend with issues of control.


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rev. 2/25/00