Complexity Spirals

The world we experience operates according to a complexity

spiral. The world we experience includes the social system,

the economic system and the ecosystem.

The lion does not exist without the antelope . . . does not exist without the grass . . .

does not exist without the decomposers. This is a food web in which nothing exists

unless it fits within the pattern of interactions generating the flow of nutrients

through the system.

 

Consumers need businesses producing a full range of goods and services . . . need

employees to do the work . . . need suppliers delivering the raw materials . . . need

customers with jobs to be consumers. This is the basics of an economic system in

which nothing exists unless it fits within the pattern of interactions generating the flow

of money in one direction and goods and services flowing in the other direction.

 

In both instances there is a continuum. On one end of the continuum is the minimum

number and variety of participants to constitute an economy or an ecosystem . . .

beyond this point the system is barren and sterile. On the other end of the continuum

is the maximum number and variety of participants that can fit within the pattern of

interactions generating the flows . . . in this direction we think of the system as

“healthy”.

Movement along the continuum appears as a spiral over time.

 

The variety of participants (different kinds filling different roles) (diversity)

determines the nature of interactions that can take place (more variety,

more kinds of interactions). The more kinds of interactions that can take

place (complexity) determines the number of ways that each participant

can meet its needs (stability, resilience) in order to continue participating.

As each interaction produces a flow (nutrients, goods, services, money),

the more interactions the more productive the system. The more that

there is flowing through the system the larger the number and variety

of participants that can fit.

 

Mathematically we would express it as:

diversity -> complexity -> stability -> productivity -> and diversity as a spiral.  In an

ecosystem we are talking about the number of different species when we say

diversity - in an socio-economy we are talking about the number of different forms

of organization (businesses, governments, non-profits, social/religious organizations,

educational organizations) when we say diversity.  In the whole system we are talking

about both.

An increase in the number of species/organizations (diversity) -> increases the number

of ways that each species/organization can interact (complexity) -> increases the

likelihood that interactions will take place (stability) -> increases the actual number of

interactions that do take place (productivity) -> increases the opportunity for additional

types of interaction (new niches) and if those niches are filled that is an increase in

diversity - completing the cycle.  It also works in reverse if we reduce any of those numbers.

  

Graphically

Imagine a graph on a horizontal plane with x and y axis defining four quadrants with each

of the quadrants labeled diversity/complexity/stability/productivity.  Now imagine a z axis -

perpendicular to the plane - labeled time.  As we increase the numbers in any of the

quadrants, the number in all the quadrants becomes higher and our reference point moves

away from the z axis.  If we decrease the numbers in any quadrant, the number in each

quadrant becomes lower and our reference point moves toward the z axis.

Over time, viewed from the side, our reference point would spiral around the z axis

becoming wider or narrower as a function of increase or decrease in diversity.

 

CONSCIOUS EVOLUTION

Evolution uses a trial and error approach to filling niches that are created by

increases in productivity.  If we understand system function in 3 dimensions,

we have the capacity to design new bridges to fill unoccupied niches.  That

is not a new insight - every new business (or other successful new form of

organization) is exactly that.  It is just that the organizations formed from a

2nd dimensional understanding sometimes result in the unintended

consequences of diminishing complexity in the system and have failed to

realize the potential value latent in the unrealized human and biological

potential of the system (poverty and environmental degradation).

 

This explanation of complexity spirals is expressed in quantitative terms.

The aspect of quality is controlled through the requirement that participants "fit" within

the pattern of flows.  We cannot maintain a pattern of interactions unless every party

can continue to participate in the exchange of value.  So our new forms must "fit"

within the patterns of flow - if they are going to persist and reproduce.

 

See Paul Krafel's, The Upward Spiral.

It is a different way of understanding the world as explained in The Power of Networks.

See Fritjof Capra's explanation of the "essence of life".

 

Table of Contents

Practical Holism

Bridges

3 Dimensional Understanding

Integrated Systems of Production

Back to Home Page

Contact Us

  • David Braden IV, Executive Director, Living Systems Institute
  • (303) 549-9787

Visit Our Partners

Other Ways to Support

 

Upcoming Events

Upcoming events may be found on the 

Greater Denver Urban
Homesteading Meetup Group

Newsletter Signup

* indicates required