Towards Systemic Complexity
The Universe is incredibly complicated.
It really is, no matter how the odd Guru here or there will try to make it
"all come down to x, y and z in a nutshell".
Systems within systems within systems, beautifully interactive, never static
but in constant flow, interacting with each other and evolving, shifting,
Myriads of systems that are not closed circles but open armed spirals that
interlink with a myriad of others, making causes-and-effects that are
multi-dimensional and wide ranging.
It is *overwhelmingly* complicated, in fact.
As far as I know, we are the only species on this planet that *thinks* about
such things rather than merely responding to this systemic complexity with their
own complex systems, designed of course for survival in this ocean of
interlinked events, non-static environments and happenings.
When you don't think at all, responses to the Universe are straightforward
enough. You're outside, you're hungry, so you start to look for food. It starts
to rain and you get cold, you look for shelter. Your totality tells you what to
do and guides you in the right direction.
But if you do think, matters become all of a sudden frighteningly
You could bring in notions about the "value of suffering" and
decide to remain hungry or cold for longer. You could attempt to "head the
suffering off at the pass" and make storage devices and sheltering huts.
As soon as you start to think and interfere however, more systemic complexity
turns up to challenge your decisions - sit in your store room too long and you
get sunlight deficiency. And scurvy if you didn't store the right kinds of
So, over the ages the thinking folk on this planet have found themselves in
what you could call a never ending battle with the true complexity of the
And they have sought for *control* over the environment and over themselves.
The first step is to make distinctions and to label parts of the Universe.
I am Tarzan and you are Jane. This is a river and that is a mountain. This is
blue and that is green.
Now, we have separate objects we can relate to and try and interact with in a
After a while, more distinctions are made - there are different kinds of
rivers, big ones, small ones. Tarzan is a man and Jane is a woman. More and more
distinctions until we have an overwhelming mass of separate objects and
occurrences, so many that it's getting frightening again.
So then, the next "logical" step is to group these separate objects
into categories and to make maps to try and navigate this complexity once more.
Making broad categories allows one to act on many different occurrences with
just one map - we have a "man" map and now we can treat all men
according to that map. We have a "water" map and can apply this to all
This gives a sense of control again and is a big relief. Armed with such a
map, an individual ventures forth and applies it to their interactions with the
Universe at large and of course, they're going to get feedback on the accuracy
of their map.
Here comes the interesting thing. People are not only given to thinking, they
are also given to being able to see things that aren't and to delete things that
It is therefore possible that even though the map is off, or false, someone
will continue to use it and to delete any evidence to the contrary, or never use
it in such a way that it's shortcomings would have to be revealed by force of
The original relief of "understanding at last" and the (entirely
illusionary) safety of finally having a map rather than being landed in
Incomprehensible Land and always at the mercy of random events, is very tempting
and represents a safe area to which one can return when all around, chaos may
When any particular map becomes so counter-productive that the evidence can
no longer be ignored, it gets eventually abandoned and a new one is made
instead, usually one that allows for more complexity, exponentially so. An
example of this is the original four personality types that become 16
personality types in the Myers-Briggs.
As this goes on, one ends up with more and more "refined maps" that
are ever more complicated. And, of course, the more complicated they become, the
more detailed they become, the less they allow an overview of the real territory
and at some point or other, the progressive map maker stops making maps
altogether and finds themselves, once again, in the original environment with
all it's complexity, only this time, they are no longer afraid but able to
navigate it without the need for maps.
This process is happening in every science, in every human endeavour, in
every child that grows up with the current human paradigms.
Or perhaps I should say, it *should* happen but in general, it doesn't.
What is a dog?
I used to be an animal behaviour specialist and worked a lot with dogs and
cats and their owners. As an example of this whole map-making vs systemic
complexity deal, here is what happens with dogs:
At some point, a child will learn that the subclass "animal" has
different types in it - dog, cat, horse, bear and so on.
Unless the child has personal experience with the type "bear" for
example, by living in a circus that has many and thus, their very real
individual differences are revealed, they will grow to adulthood with the idea
of "bear" being just one thing that is always the same, always
Now, people with that mindset buy themselves a dog. It's just a dog. Were
they to start getting serious about dog training or dog showing, they would
discover that there are many different types of dog - Poodles, Alsatians,
Dobermans, Collies and so forth.
If they were to start training in dog care and behaviour, they would discover
that there are inherent breed related differences in these different types of
dogs - how much activity they need for a healthy life, what care their different
fur needs, what their mental functionings are and so forth. There are many maps
about each breed for a beginner to follow.
Some people specialise then in just one breed. As they do this, they become
aware that within the one breed, there is extraordinary variation of
*individuality* - there are Poodles that are far braver than some Dobermans, and
there are Alsatians who need more exercise than a Border Collie.
You do this for long enough and you stop looking at the breed of dog at all
and approach *each individual dog* as a *total individual* with it's own
systemic requirements, with no pre-set notions of "it should be doing,
having, being this-and-that because it *is* (this breed, this gender, this age,
this background, this breed-line etc).
This progression from global to specific to unique happens in the learning
and mastery of *everything* - psychology, biology, woodwork, astrology and so on
and so forth. In human psychology there are now so many different types of
"syndromes" and "classes" of mental health problems with
their subdivisions, it's becoming quite un-overseeable. Nearly there ...
This is a *developmental* progression that is natural to humans who have been
raised as we were (which means that it might by NO MEANS be the only possible,
or only correct way to approach understanding the universe at all!).
However, there are actually very few map makers amongst us even. These
map-makers give us maps to help us deal with the fear of the seeming chaos of
the systemic complexity.
The maps they make might be the Myers-Briggs instrument, or the Clare Graves
model, or the enneagram, or the meridian system charts, or the Tarot, or the
astronomy charts with their attributions, or the table of elements, or ... (etc.
etc. etc. etc.)
The very act of making such a map and giving them to others is a *part* of
the journey - and a very personal journey it is, for each individual - back
towards living with systemic complexity and no longer being afraid or
overwhelmed by it.
The act of *following* older of these maps precedes this in a very
Indeed, in most if not all human societies, individuals are encouraged by
both the carrot and the stick, to *follow the existing maps* that are currently
in vogue in that society and not to diverge from them.
Deconstructing existing maps that have given the illusion of control and
safety for possibly a long time is a dangerous endeavour that is resisted very
strongly by individuals and societies at large.
In order to do this at all, it takes something special to literally put an
individual in a position where they simply cannot do any other.
And the moral of the story ...
Map making is normal. Everyone does it and there is a general and logical
progression to how it works. What we do have is a great deal of misunderstanding
between people working at *different levels* of the system and arguing as to
whether one should have maps at all or not - this is not an argument that can
structurally be resolved.
The question is instead, where any one given person is at in their own
respective development and to appreciate that they *can be nowhere else* than
where they are right now.
For me, this does two things. Firstly, I don't drive myself crazy anymore
trying to explain systemic complexity to people who are most obviously still
either following, or making beginner's maps.
Their response to what I say is predictable and cannot be any other than it
is - "You're talking nonsense, what ARE you on about?!"
What I do instead is to talk to them in the context of their maps and map
making endeavours and a meaningful conversation can be had where both might
benefit. Or I might choose to not talk to them at all.
What I also do is to say as often as I can in public that there are
developmental stages to *EVERYTHING* and that it's not the stage you're at
that's important, but that you keep on developing and not sit down on a step
stone and declare that's in actuality and in all truth, the other side of the
river and all stops here.
The second thing the appreciation that any one given individual can be
nowhere else but where they are has given me is a great deal of peace of mind,
as I no longer have to argue or get angry with map makers and map followers who
don't fit my individual preferences.
That's a very nice thing indeed and releases the causes of a lot of quite
Lastly, it is just nice to know that at the end of all map making, there are
no maps at all. That's a very soothing thing to think and also, it is a place
where one need no longer remain afraid of the incredible complexity of the
Universe, but appreciate it, celebrate it, and in that, one finds quite a bit of
peace of mind.
03. 06. 2002
Related Article: The Sidereus Universe