Constraints and emergence – Systemic Insight (Marcus Jenal)


Constraints and emergence – Systemic Insight

Constraints and emergence

 by Marcus Jenal

Besides attractors, constraints are an important way of describing and understanding dynamics in complex and emergent systems. There are different types of constraints and different ways these act in complex adaptive systems. What they have in common is that without any type of constraint, there would only be randomness and all possible outcomes would have the same probability. So, for any sort of order to evolve, there is a need for some sort of constraints. In that sense, constraints are the origin of both complexity and order.

Governing and enabling constraints

Constraints can either be governing or enabling. Governing constraints hinder actors to do something or only allow them to do it in a certain way. Enabling constraints make it possible for actors to do something that would not be possible otherwise (Juarrero, 1999). An example of a governing constraint would be a law that prevents companies from colluding, while an example of an enabling constraint would be legislation that enables people to establish companies which have certain rights and privileges. Governing constraints can also be physical, like walls or fences that prevent people from going somewhere; or they can be social like norms and taboos. An enabling constraint is for example kinship, as it enables humans to trust each other by binding them together.

Juarrero (1999:133) takes a physiological example to explain governing constraints:

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Constraints and emergence – Systemic Insight