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[sigchairs] Letter from Complexity {Chris Lucas, Tom Mandel 2004/04/03}
Posted by: daviding (---.sympatico.ca)
Date: April 29, 2004 04:06PM

To us.
I am forwarding a letter from Chris Lucas, creator of the Calresco website, a HUGE collection of complexity links, as part of a dialogue about the role of systems-science, complex-systems and the new science of complexity. This is a valuable resource for those deeply involved in the system movement. Either we can answer with a product, or the book is closed. tom

In a message dated 4/2/04 12:02:34 PM Central Standard Time, CALResCo writes:

Hi Tom,

>As far as "no general system" who says so?

Well logic. Let us distinguish three ideas here. Firstly
the collection of "principles" that we all agree can apply
to systems across all sorts of disciplines. Secondly our
models of particular systems which incorporate some
of these principles. Thirdly the idea of a "general system".
For the latter, what would it include ? It must include all
the particular ones surely, thus includes everything !
Modelling everything (the Universe) from within it
leads to an infinite regress, so the concept must be
singular - there cannot be 'general systems', just one.
Still let's not get hung up on words, the main point I'm
making is that anything we call a 'general system' is
always a major simplification of reality, and excludes
both many other systems which other people would
call a 'general system', and also many interfaces with
reality which may, nethertheless, be important.

This brings up what I think is relevant about our 'new
paint job' as you put it. Complexity thinking tends to
consider classes of systems, rather than either particular
ones or the "principles". We look to investigating how
connectivity operates in general and what general
rules we can derive to predict (imperfectly of course)
how systems will behave overall within these various
complexity classes. These attractor based classes of
multidimensional behaviour (which relate to the Wolfram
CA classes) I discuss in my essay "Quantifying Complexity
Theory": [www.calresco.org]
"Our stuff" also includes a great deal of work within the
various specialisms - outlined in our introductions:
[www.calresco.org] and in specialist
paper links: [www.calresco.org]

I don't condone the way people seem not to acknowledge
older systems ideas, but most people did arrive at the
same ideas independently, via a different research route.
But they are pursuing different trajectories than systems
people in many cases. The 'cake' is big enough for all
if people can refrain from trying to monopolise it and
pretend they know it all already. Actual familiarity with
complexity work seems as limited amongst system thinkers
as vice-versa to my eyes (the popular hype books are
a very limited source of actual information). It is far too
easy to spot familiar ideas reappearing and ignore those
bits that are novel !

The issues of relationships and integration are indeed
crucial. You make a great deal of the former, yet what
is self-organization other than the effects of internal
relationships, and what is coevolution other than the effects
of external relationships - both crucial to our work. In
what sense can your 'relation' be different from ours ?

Far too much complexologist time is however, in my opinion,
spent on what can be called 'conflict scenarios', destruction
not integration being central. It is no surprise then that what
emerges is limited, but interest in synergy is growing. I'd
say however that relationships are always coevolutionary.
That 'pile of sand' is in fact a valid complex system (it has
boundaries, inputs, outputs, interactions, etc.) and does
demonstrate 'self-organised criticality', also called 'edge
of chaos' - a concept absent in systems thinking I think,
yet endemic we find to natural systems.

If systems thinking has not achieved what it expected
over the last 50+ years, then perhaps something is still
missing ? Maybe we have found it, or hope too, maybe
not. Denial of the new isn't science however. A very
small model I use, comprising just 9 x 2 i/p logic gates
can create 10 to power 38 different systems, all with
different classes of properties. Systems science hasn't
to me even begun to explore the possibilities for understanding
these sorts of state spaces and their dynamics under mutation.
Brief overview of this model at: [www.calresco.orh]
Despite its size its behaviour is applicable throughout nature.
This is all about the dynamics of changing relationships.

As for category theory and other formalisms, well I'm no
mathematician, but I've not seem any treatments of this sort
do more than state the obvious (at great length) for very
simple sets of ideas. To me, if the maths becomes more
longwinded than the words it becomes useless ;-)

Chris



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