January 18, 2011

From Philip F Henshaw:

Re: Societies evolve a bit like organisms, study finds (Oct. 13): I'm a systems scientist, author of the Encyclopedia of the Earth overview article on the broad range of complex systems theories (1).

The sciences of how natural systems are organized and evolve is incredibly diverse, as diverse as the inherent complexity of natural systems.

The article in Nature, or at least as you summarized it, seems to take the simplest of all possible views of what comprises societal complexity.

That's very disappointing given how frequently historical complex societies have seemed to fail as a consequence of becoming excessively complex and unmanageable.

The number of levels of social hierarchy would accurately measure the degree of organizational complexity, if societies were simple top down control systems.

They never are, of course, but have quit numerous overlapping networks of organization.

The diversity of specializations and personal roles might be a better measure of the complexity of real societies, considered abstractly as organisms.

The true meaning of the word "complexity" would be better reflected, as a society grows, by the shrinking ability of members of a society to understand and communicate their increasingly complex environmental interactions and each other's roles, options and effects.

What seem missing from our thought process, and to often steer us away from appreciating the real complexity of nature, is taking the things nature seems to do so simply for granted, instead of considering such observations as discoveries of explorable parts of the fabulously intricate process nature uses and needs to make things "simple".

The most stunning example of natural complexity people generally take for granted, is the simple process of rapid spontaneous organizational multiplication we call "growth". Virtually everyone really does literally take it for granted, like nothing more than a check in a check box on some application form…

(1) Complex Systems -

Philip F Henshaw
HDS Systems Design Science
Ft. Washington Ave NY 10040


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