Via the Santa Fe Institute Complexity Explorers Facebook group – Nagarjuna as a philosopher of complexity theory

via Complexity Explorers (by SFI)


Do you know of any philosopher who has applied complexity theory to ontology, epistemology or phenomenology? I kind of know of one.
In buddhist thought, one of the most fundamental notions is that of pratītyasamutpāda, or “dependent co-origination”. I cannot help seeing a close similarity to Complex Systems’ philosophy.

I find particularly fascinating the works of an early buddhist scholar: Nāgārjuna (around 150–250 AD). He tried to work out the implications of this notion of “dependent origination” in relation to basic convictions such as personal identity (our sense of “self”), or the conventional way we conceive and perceive entities in general, as being more autonomous and separated than they actually are.

A very related notion is that of śūnyatā or emptiness. If all entities depend on other entities and/or sub-entities to exist (just like in a complex system), no entity can be considered to have an “essential nature” beyond this inter-connected network of causes and effects. According to him, ultimately our persistency to ascribe individuality and separatedness to objects is the result of a perceptual bias and nothing more (or an “illusion” as buddhist like to say).

Here are two nice links which go in depth into Nagarjuna’s philosophy.