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Cadell Last:

" Complexity refers to phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected, enmeshed, and/or entangled in organizational networks of cause and effect [60]. The level of complex phenomena can be measured systematically by identifying the nature of the distinctions (meaningful differences) and connections (linked nodes) that define the organization from the lowest levels of physical order (strings, quarks, neutrinos, etc.) to the highest levels of social ideational order (languages, cities, cultures, etc.) Here we can say that a distinction introduces a division into being, whereas a connection introduces a unity into being. Thus, the analytical use of complexity in the cosmic evolutionary worldview allows for the situation of a clear and unified narrative frame of relational phenomena on all scales or levels from the sub-atomic to the social. Consequently, general theorists can use this frame to identify an increase or decrease in complexity when there is a change in the nature of the differentiated distinctions (divisions) and integrated connections (unities) that produce and characterize the qualities and intensities of the systemic organization.


The power of cosmic evolution to produce emergent qualities and intensities through connections (unities) and distinctions (divisions) is perhaps its most paradigmatic aspect. The general trend in this complexity increase reveals a distinct arrow of time (from past to future via the present). This arrow is revealed because the mechanisms utilized by emergent phenomena to order itself are irreversible (future directed, from past to present). We may say that the temporal asymmetry of emergent phenomena is one of if not the most important distinctions between cosmic evolutionary philosophy and reductionist physical philosophy which presupposes the existence of temporally reversible eternal laws. Consequently, the arrow of time can be described as an irreversible work driven by energy flows of particular dense and ordered configurations of material phenomena. These complex ordering phenomena are capable of overcoming the probabilistic statistical tendency of the universe towards greater levels of disorder or randomness .

In other words, because there are more ways for phenomena to be disordered than ordered (probabilistically), in the absence of local work energy directed towards more ordered states, phenomena will tend towards maximal disorder. Thus when we look out at the history of an interconnected hierarchical universe and see galaxies, life, and mind in ordered configurations (instead of random organizations), we are looking at emergent patterns that evolved due to inherent internal tendencies to maintain order against a background that tends to void.

This is true whether order manifests itself

  • via the attractive force of physical gravitation which builds the reality of solar systems,
  • the attractive force of biological fitness which builds the reality of ecosystems, or
  • the attractive force of ideational desire which builds the reality of historical symbolic-systems.

When contemplating the reality of physical solar systems, biological ecosystems, or historical symbolic systems we can thus think of all as part of the same cosmic evolutionary ordering force."



Three Fundamental Types of Complexity

Fred Spier:

Three major types of complexity can be discerned: physical inanimate nature, life and culture. Let us start with physical nature. First of all, it is of great importance to see that most of nature is in fact lifeless. The following example may help to grasp the significance of its sheer size. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that the Earth weighs as much as an average American car (about 1000 kg). The weight of all planetary life combined would then amount to no more than seventeen micrograms. This equals the weight of a very tiny sliver of paint falling off that car. Seen from this perspective, the total weight of our Solar System would be equivalent to the weight of an average supertanker. Since the mass of the Universe as a whole is not well known, I refrain from extending this comparison any further. But even if life were as abundant in the Universe as it is within our Solar System, its relative total weight would not amount to more than a tiny sliver of paint falling off a supertanker.

All this cosmic inanimate matter shows varying degrees of complexity, ranging from single atoms to entire galaxies, and it organizes itself entirely thanks to the fundamental laws of nature. Although the resulting structures can be exquisite, inanimate complexity does not make use of any information for its own formation or sustenance. In other words, there are no information centers dictating what the physical lifeless world looks like. It does not make any sense to wonder where the information is stored that helps to shape the Earth or our Solar System.

The next level of complexity is life. In terms of mass, as we just saw, life is a rather marginal phenomenon. Yet the complexity of life is far greater than anything attained by lifeless matter. In contrast to the inanimate Universe, life seeks to create and maintain the conditions suitable for its own existence by actively sucking in matter and energy flows with the aid of special mechanisms. As soon as living things stop doing this, they die and their matter and energy return to lower levels of complexity (unless they are consumed by other life forms). Life organizes itself with the aid of (mostly hereditary) information stored in molecules (mostly DNA). While investigating living species, it does make a great deal of sense to wonder where the information centers are, what the information looks like, and how the control mechanisms work that help to translate this information into biological shapes.

The third level of complexity was reached when some complex living beings began to organize themselves with the aid of cultural information stored as software in nerve and brain cells. The species that has developed this capacity the furthest is, of course, humankind. In terms of total body weight, our species currently makes up about 0.005 per cent of all planetary biomass. If all life combined were just a tiny sliver of paint falling off a car, all human beings today would jointly amount to no more than a tiny colony of bacteria sitting on that flake. Yet through our combined efforts we have learned to control a considerable portion of the terrestrial biomass, perhaps as much as 25 to 40 per cent. In other words, over the course of time this tiny colony of microorganisms residing on a sliver of paint has succeeded in gaining control over a considerable portion of that flake. We were able to do so with the aid of culture. In its barest essence, culture consists of accumulated learned experiences stored as software in our brains and nerve cells or in human records. In order to understand how human societies operate, it is therefore not sufficient to look only at their DNA and their molecular mechanisms. We need to study the information humans use to shape both their own lives and the rest of nature."



Edgar Morin:

"When thinking about systems, the first thing to note is that systems are complex . They are complex in several senses. First, systems include many connections between parts that appear as separate entities when viewed from the perspective of the classical scientific disciplines. Second, the system is a unity even though it is comprised of a diversity of parts. Thus we have the primary definition of the complexity of a system, given by Ashby as being a measure of the diversity of parts within the system. This was the first important definition of complexity in the field of science. However, I maintain that a system is also complex in a logical sense, because when you look at a complex problem you immediately see the limits of classical logic, because we can see that the system is, at the same time, both more and less than the sum of its parts. The claim that a system is more than the sum of its parts is very well known, and indeed was already made by Aristotle, and it encapsulates a very interesting point, namely that a system has certain qualities and properties that we cannot find in the parts by themselves.

These qualities come from the organization of the system. However, the system is also less than the sum of its parts, in the sense that it imposes constraints on the behavior of the parts, so that some qualities or properties of the parts cannot be expressed. This phenomenon is especially evident is social systems: as individuals we have many qualities and potentials that present us with many possibilities for behavior which we cannot exhibit because of constraints, due to socially determined laws or inhibitions due to group norms.

Such phenomena take us beyond the limits of classical logic because here the terms “more” or “less” can only be used in a metaphorical sense. In this case the term “more” signifies the existence of new qualities that we designate by the term “emergence”. It is interesting that in this case these emergent qualities cannot be inferred from an examination of the different parts – we cannot deduce them but only observe and characterise them at the level of the system. This confounds the powers of deductive logic."