Complexity and Postmodernism explores the notion of complexity in the light of contemporary perspectives from philosophy and science. The book integrates insights from complexity and computational theory with the philosophical position of thinkers including Derrida and Lyotard. Paul Cilliers takes a critical stance towards the use of the analytical method as a tool to cope with complexity, and he rejects Searle's superficial contribution to the debate.
In modern, Western societies the purpose of schooling is to ensure that school-goers acquire knowledge of pre-existing practices, events, entities and so on. The knowledge that is learned is then tested to see if the learner has acquired a correct or adequate understanding of it. For this reason, it can be argued that schooling is organised around a representational epistemology: one which holds that knowledge is an accurate representation of something that is separate from knowledge itself. Since the object of (...) knowledge is assumed to exist separately from the knowledge itself, this epistemology can also be considered ‘spatial.’ In this paper we show how ideas from complexity have challenged the spatial epistemology’ of representation and we explore possibilities for an alternative ‘temporal’ understanding of knowledge in its relationship to reality. In addition to complexity, our alternative takes its inspiration from Deweyan ‘transactional realism’ and deconstruction. We suggest that ‘knowledge’ and ‘reality’ should not be understood as separate systems which somehow have to be brought into alignment with each other, but that they are part of the same emerging complex system which is never fully ‘present’ in any (discrete) moment in time. This not only introduces the notion of time into our understanding of the relationship between knowledge and reality, but also points to the importance of acknowledging the role of the ‘unrepresentable’ or ‘incalculable’. With this understanding knowledge reaches us not as something we receive but as a response, which brings forth new worlds because it necessarily adds something (which was not present anywhere before it appeared) to what came before. This understanding of knowledge suggests that the acquisition of curricular content should not be considered an end in itself. Rather, curricular content should be used to bring forth that which is incalculable from the perspective of the present. The epistemology of emergence therefore calls for a switch in focus for curricular thinking, away from questions about presentation and representation and towards questions about engagement and response. (shrink)
The acknowledgement that something is complex, it is argued, implies that our knowledge of it will always be limited. We cannot make complete, absolute or final claims about complex systems. Post-structuralism, and specifically deconstruction, make similar claims about knowledge in general. Arguments against deconstruction can, therefore, also be held against a critical form of complexity thinking and a defence of the view from complexity should take account of them. Three of these arguments are investigated: that deconstruction and complexity-thinking lead to (...) relativism, that they are subject to the performative contradiction and that their claims are vague. It is shown that these critiques are not really effective and it is suggested that a responsible approach to complexity has to be provisional, i.e. modest, without being vague or relativistic. (shrink)
When natural time sequences were replaced by clocks, time became a measurable commodity and the ‘speedy use of time’ a virtue. In medical practice shorter consultations allow more patients to be seen, whereas longer consultations result in a better understanding of the patient and her problems. Crossing the line of time-efficiency and time-effectiveness compromises the balance between short-term turnover and long-term outcomes. The consultation has all the hallmarks of a complex adaptive system whose characteristics are not determined by the characteristics (...) of the components, but by the patterns of interaction among the components. Systems are dynamic and change over time; the dynamic nature is not incidental, but necessary as complex systems operate at conditions far from equilibrium. The central notion when we talk of time and complexity is that of ‘memory’. Memory is carrying something from the past over into the future. Memory is filtered/interpreted, separating noise from information. Memory therefore is not an instantaneous thing, it takes time to develop; it is slow. The dynamics between the participating agents in the consultation will create shared memories that live on to shape future interactions. Shared memories are stronger and contain more relevant knowledge if they are based on frequent interactions and ongoing doctor–patient relationships, leading to a better understanding of the whole person – a process that takes time. Sufficient time, that is, ‘a certain slowness’, is an essential element of the healing relationship in the consultation. It creates a sufficiently stable, but adaptive, environment that can withstand changing demands. Hence a more complete understanding of the consultation and its time demands will not only lead to more effective treatment, it will also humanize a situation which has become to a large extent purely instrumental. This process of humanization is important not only for the patient, but also for the doctor. (shrink)
The science of complexity is based on a new way of thinking that stands in sharp contrast to the philosophy underlying Newtonian science, which is based on reductionism, determinism, and objective knowledge. This paper reviews the historical development of this new world view, focusing on its philosophical foundations. Determinism was challenged by quantum mechanics and chaos theory. Systems theory replaced reductionism by a scientifically based holism. Cybernetics and postmodern social science showed that knowledge is intrinsically subjective. These developments are being (...) integrated under the header of “complexity science”. Its central paradigm is the multi-agent system. Agents are intrinsically subjective and uncertain about their environment and future, but out of their local interactions, a global organization emerges. Although different philosophers, and in particular the postmodernists, have voiced similar ideas, the paradigm of complexity still needs to be fully assimilated by philosophy. This will throw a new light on old philosophical issues such as relativism, ethics and the role of the subject. (shrink)
In this article we explore the possibility of viewing complex systems, as well as the models we create of such systems, as operating within a particular type of economy. The type of economy we aim to establish here is inspired by Jacques Derrida’s reading of George Bataille’s notion of a general economy. We restrict our discussion to the philosophical use of the word ‘economy’. This reading tries to overcome the idea of an economy as restricted to a single logos or (...) master narrative. At the same time, however, Derrida illustrates that we always operate from a restricted framework and as such something will always escape and interrupt our understanding of the world. In this paper we will propose that one could use Derrida’s reading of Bataille, along with notions such as différance, in order to move towards an understanding of complex systems as existing within certain sets of possibilities and constraints. We argue that this view of an economy agrees with the work of Edgar Morin on complexity and his conceptualization of general complexity. (shrink)
The purpose of this article is to examine the relationship between the formation of the self and the worldly horizon within which this self achieves its meaning. Our inquiry takes place from two perspectives: the first derived from the Nietzschean analysis of how one becomes what one is; the other from current developments in complexity theory. This two-angled approach opens up different, yet related dimensions of a non-essentialist understanding of the self that is none the less neither arbitrary nor deterministic. (...) Indeed, at the meeting point of these two perspectives on the self lies a conception of a dynamic, worldly self, whose identity is bound up with its appearance in a world shared with others. After examining this argument from the respective view points offered by Nietzsche and complexity theory, the article concludes with a consideration of some of the political and ethical implications of representing our situatedness within a shared human domain as a condition for self-formation. (shrink)
In this paper we argue for the contribution that deconstruction can make towards an understanding of complex systems. We begin with a description of what we mean by complexity and how Derrida’s thought illustrates a sensitivity towards the problems we face when dealing with complex systems. This is especially clear in Derrida’s deconstruction of the structuralist linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure. We compare this critique with the work of Edgar Morin, one of the foremost thinkers of contemporary complexity and argue (...) for the possible contributions that both thinkers provide towards an understanding of complex phenomena in the world. We then move on to illustrate the particular economy of thinking we are forced to engage with when dealing with complex systems. This economy is inspired by Derrida’s deconstruction of Bataille’s general economy. This economy illustrates the fundamental nature of critique in the process of dealing with complex systems, the third concept we explore in this paper. The process of critique illustrates the necessity for both cutting apart and weaving together of economies in order to maintain the possibility for divergent ways of being in the world. We conclude with the ethical implications of dealing with complex systems and some first steps towards an ‘ethics of complexity’. (shrink)
This essay gives an account of thee exchanges between Jacques Derrida and Hans-Georg Gadamer at the Goethe Institute in Paris in April 1981. Many commentators perceive of this encounter as an "improbable debate," citing Derrida's marginalization, or, in deconstructive terms, deconcentration of Gadamer's opening text as the main reason for its "improbabliity." An analysis of the questions that Derrida poses concerning "communication" as an axiom from which we derive decidable truth brings us to the central feature of this discussion: How (...) does one engage the "other" in conversation in the light of the problems reptaining to meaningful communication? The essay suggests that the first round of exchanges between Derrida and Gadamer is a good example of the violence that is prevalent (and perhaps inevitable) in all academic discussions. Finally a more "ethical" approach to discussion, based on Derrida's postulation of a friendship," is suggested. It challenges the hermeneutic search for consensus, whereby the "other" is contracted into fraternity, but cannot eliminate elements of violence completely. (shrink)
In _Complexity and Postmodernism_, Paul Cilliers explores the idea of complexity in the light of contemporary perspectives from philosophy and science. Cilliers offers us a unique approach to understanding complexity and computational theory by integrating postmodern theory into his discussion. _Complexity and Postmodernism_ is an exciting and an original book that should be read by anyone interested in gaining a fresh understanding of complexity, postmodernism and connectionism.
Adopting a materialist approach to the mind has far reaching implications for many presuppositions regarding the properties of the brain, including those that have traditionally been consigned to “the mental” aspect of human being. One such presupposition is the conception of the disembodied self. In this article we aim to account for the self as a material entity, in that it is wholly the result of the physiological functioning of the embodied brain. Furthermore, we attempt to account for the structure (...) of the self by invoking the logic of the narrative. While our conception of narrative selfhood incorporates the work of both Freud and Dennett, we offer a critique of these two theorists and then proceed to amend their theories by means of complexity theory. We argue that the self can be characterised as a complex system, which allows us to account for the structure of the wholly material self. (shrink)
This paper discusses Freud's model of the psychical apparatus in the “Project”, and concludes that it is a remarkably sophisticated work which even today is still highly relevant to neuropsychological theorising. Freud rejects the notion that what happens in the brain can be clearly localised in space and time. This anticipates the notion of a distributed system found in recent developments in computing (“neural net works”) and in Derrida's conception of systems characterised by différance. Every part of such a system (...) is constituted by its relation to the rest of the system. Although such systems are spatio-temporal, processes occur ring in them can not be pinpointed in space and time. Against the common charge that Freud has a passive hydraulic-reflex model of the psychical apparatus, the authors argue that Freud presents it as an open, complex, self-organising system. Ricoeur's (1972) claim that the model of the psychical apparatus in the “Project” is essentially solipsistic, is accordingly rejected. In conclusion the authors explain why they prefer the model in the “Project” to the more linear model found in Ch. VII of the Traumdeutung. S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.20(3) 2001: 1- 21. (shrink)