Being in complex systems

We are entangled in a dangerous situation of our own making, although it was not made deliberately. There is no point to blame other than assuaging personal guilt. We are all responsible, even if some are more responsible than others.

We are entangled in a set of complex systems with no straight lines and few determinable borders. These systems are not systems of firm bounded objects, they are systems of untidy, overlapping flows, with no absolute rigidity; things merge and blend.

These systems may not harmonise and may be subject to abrupt transitions to new states.

in such systems there are no lone individuals. There are no people not interdependent upon others, borrowing and transforming, and being borrowed and transformed.

Flux and chaos is Everywhere.

In these systems, we cannot know the totality of the systems (which compose us), or all of the interconnections, we operate within a swarm of unintended effects. Outcomes are unclear –as it is hard to determine what is the immediate cause of outcomes, as outcomes have multiple interacting causes and may look like they had nothing to do with us. We may not even perceive the outcomes we part-produce.

What we do will have unintended consequences, and we may not be able to recognise them. We also need to know lots of different facts and theories to make it clearer when we might be ignorant.

In these systems, lack of knowing is basic – we cannot accurately or definitively model complex systems (and if we could then acting on the model would change the system). This does not mean there are not degrees of lack. We don’t have to be claim everyone is equally ignorant, or that some ideas are not more accurate than others. Ideas are actions and actions are ideas.

However, given the lack, then we might have to educate towards conscious ignorance. Not unconscious ignorance, or thinking our knowledge is complete.
Knowing what we don’t know, to the extent we can know.

As we are ignorant, the unconscious (systemic and psychological) is everywhere. Our self bleeds into the world. It is not separate from that world. We do not know our self or where it ends, or what we are entangled with. Yet our self seems concrete as do the systems. This concreteness may be an illusion. We think with the world, as part of the world, and in the world. We also feel with the world, as part of the world, and in the world. The world comes to being in us, and we come to being in it. There are no lone individuals. Mind is extended, there are no lone minds. And yet: can we only respect the lone or be moral with the lone? We do not exist without the multiple, and that multiple appears to have no known border; it blends.

AS we are entangled then we (to some undetermined extent) involve the rest of the systems. How then, as we exist and attempt to extricate ourselves from the problems we created, do we involve the non-human without modifying it so that it exists for us? Speaking for the non-human renders it human, and risks erasing it. Yet if the human does not speak for the non-human then it does not exist to the human. This gives us the paradox of representation it represents and distorts at the same time. It may be that in dealing with complex systems and unintended effects we are always dealing with apparent paradox…

One way is to change ourselves (a small action with possible systemic effects). Knowing we do not know.

There is no way out of the systems we are entangled within. We have no option but to work on us or it and in it.


It may be that people have embraced the term ‘complex adaptive systems’ rather than simply ‘complex systems’, because the idea implies teleology and purpose – “to adapt, and adapt well”. The term suggests everything will adapt constructively, rather than that things can adapt destructively, or injuriously. It removes the spectre of disorder and suggests beneficence. It suggests an ordered cosmos once again, with aims and ends.


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