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December 28, 2009


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Good musing, Dane. Another way of asking and answering the same question is to wonder whether there are multiple equilibria both in ascent and in descent. Must, in other words, things come crashing down simply because they have gone high (where high is complexity), or do we go from energy state to energy state?

I'll confess to being somewhat pessimistic on this point. While complexity provides some important buffers in keeping a society that has reached a point of Tainter-ian declining marginal returns to complexity from simply collapsing on the spot, that is not the same as saying that such societies cannot fall far and fast. Matter of fact, much of Tainter's works shows the surprisingly fast decline and even disappearance of such societies. I think what a symmetric multiple equilibria model misses is how such equilibria are highly unstable during decline.

Good rebuttal to the FT piece. It's important to remember that, as I understand it, ALL complex/chaotic systems are mathematically destined for inevitable failure.

This fate is a theoretical one however and can (also theoretically) be postponed to a point beyond the expected life of the universe which is certainly a useful bit of information.

It's recognized in biology that living systems are inherently complex/chaotic. This also applies to economies and civilizations.

More importantly it's also recognized that 'health' in such systems requires maintaining a state of delicate balance between order and chaos called "criticality"...

Too much order and the organism can't innovate to respond to new challenges... too much chaos and no co-ordinated response is possible.

We live on an eternal tightrope requiring eternal vigilance!

Creating the Next Iteration...
Chagora & Civilization Systems

OK, but... the problem is not that we are now mor complex, but that we are more uniform, more dependent on the one big thing; more fragile, in other words.

All people should handle thesis project related to this post in a correct way, because they would need that a dissertation writing in future.

Looking at permaculture farming techniques, one attempts to mimic the evolved complexity of nature to make farming easier and more resilient. Nature seems to indicate that complex systems can be robust.

What are the differences between naturally complex systems and human ones?

Human systems are primarily engineered and not evolved. Human systems are newer and have faced less evolutionary pressure.

Most importantly, human systems are typically designed to protect the interests of those who already have power and control the most resources. They will have additional complexity added to maintain this imbalance. Natural systems are not biased in such a way.

Natural complexity may be doomed to failure in that it is never static if one defines stasis (or perhaps constant growth for modern economics) as success. Perhaps one needs to re-evaluate the success criteria.

Good comments all around. I agree with Paul that there might also be multiple equilibria and so setting up a binary success/collapse framework is a bit misleading. Ward-Perkins appeared to do so. Eric makes a good point in terms of distinguishing natural and artificial (as in human created or engineered) complexity, although it seems to me that human complex systems can also be evolved, not necessarily purposefully planned and engineered.

One further point to add to this discussion is that complexity needn't imply either fragility or robustness, which is the typical dichotomy. As Stephen Jay Gould was so fond of pointing out, later-stage organisms were more "complex" than early organisms simply because there was a left wall of simplicity that meant subsequent development would be more complex. The strength or weakness of a complex system will depend on the circumstances, won't it?

I think the exaptations is correct as a form of evolved stability, a behvioural memory if you will. complex systems are usually stable becuase of these, survivorship bias of course means we only see those systems that survive and adapt the exaptation relative to the systemic shock. One could argue that Glass Steagal was an imposed structural exaptation that was rescinded and shifted the system's range of potential behavior responses to a state where perturbations would become more extreme.

Many components of the system responded incorrectly to new evolutionary changes. Ratings agencies for example should not have rated CDOs which would have limited their appeal. The information and responsibility feedback loop of mortgage originator and ultimate holder was also severed via the obfuscation of securitization.

Like most complex system the systemic failure seen was not a point failure or caused by a single exogenous shift, but rather multiple system failed or behaved in unusual fashion.

What exactly is complexity and how does one measure it in regards to an economy?

Making the economy ever more increasingly dependent on credit probably does increase its fragility.

Expanding the participants in the market economy through globalization and democratization does not. In fact it probably strengthens the economy. For one a natural disaster that destroy agriculture in one area does not destroy the entire food supply!

Do not the deflation advocates say one of the problems in today's economy is excess production capacity? In my world we call that redundancy. It may depress incomes but it certainly does not mean the economy is more fragile.

No, I don't think you have it. Ward-Perkins was merely pointing out what I'll state more simply as most people not only don't know how to gut a pig or chicken but they don't even have any pigs or chickens... if things ever began to truly fall apart there would be no bottom. It would be like Boston is a snow blizzard but there isn't any snow, just empty shelves and no police or military because it wouldn't merely be Boston that had the problems.

To add a little concreteness to the discussion, so-called scale-free networks are not very robust to the removal of links. But they are the best at handling fluctuations in flow -- i.e., the most efficient at distributing whatever is exchanged through the network using the fewest links.

With additional links, you can end up with "vortices" in the flow through the network, which congestion makes distribution less efficient, yet also reduces the likelihood of a complete disruption to distribution should links be removed.

The problem is not that we are now mor complex, but that we are more uniform, more dependent on the one big thing; more fragile, in other words.

The battle of ideas is not won or lost in Congress, or even in elections, but in the long assessment of history. Just ask Qeng Ho.

The comments seem to be talking all around the question but not addressing the heart of the entreprenurial debate. The issue should be: How to get state capital around the financial logjam and into the hands of the entrepreneur.

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I agree with post analysis...

I think that if something is Complexity, then is should be infect by a lot of fators, so it is Fragility

no matter what type of wings Icarus wears, he will always fail simply because he flew so high and close to the sun.

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