In Search of the 5th Attractor
Complexity science thinking about real change for the better
[This essay was transcribed from a talk I gave at The Feast in October 2014. Video of talk]
After a 25-year career building network-based businesses and other tech-intensive stuff, I spent the next 10 years associated with the Santa Fe Institute, the world’s leading research center, studying complex systems. Combining my business and scientific experiences, I’ve developed a strong interest in how complex social systems, especially societies, work and change, and how such knowledge can help us build a better society.
Jerri Chou, founder of The Feast, asked me to talk about “progression.” So I decided to talk about progression from a big picture perspective: how societies and similar large-scale social systems evolve. One important thing to keep in mind is that “progression” doesn’t necessarily mean progress; rather, it just means one thing after another. I forget who it was who said, “History is just one damn thing after another.” (Oh, yeah, it was Arnold Toynbee [one of the advantages of transferring my talk to writing is that I can look up references like that!].)
I’d say “progression” in terms of the evolution of complex systems is the same thing as “history.” It doesn’t necessarily move in a straight line; sometimes developments are kind of surprising. Indeed, one reasonable definition of a complex system is that it should be capable of surprising an observer, at least sometimes. For instance, consider a star that’s been doing its thing quietly for a couple of billion years. After billions of years of being a bright and shiny star, it blows up, because it’s reached a major transition point as a complex system. By going supernova, it’s changed so much as to be unrecognizable. What was once a stable star has now become a rapidly expanding ball of dust and gas that emits more energy over the course of a few months than it did in its entire lifespan as a star — surprising, to say the least.
Continues in source In Search of the 5th Attractor – Jim Rutt – Medium