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Towards Systemic Complexity

Once again, and from totally different starting points, Mindlist and MET List have come up with a thread that is very similar. On Mindlist, the question of "people typing instruments" came up and with it the question as to how useful that is, and whether or not one should attempt to "type" people at all. On MET, the question of mapmaking came up and whether or not it is useful to make oversimplified maps of the human energy system at all. I'd like to offer an essay on the topic of "Systemic Complexity" as I understand the processes involved, it might help allay some confusion.

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, dancing.

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 complicated.

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 foods.

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 Universe.

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 fashion.

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 water everywhere.

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 are.

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 reality feedback.

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 threaten.

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 illusionary cohesive.

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 straightforward fashion.

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 unnecessary stress.

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.

Silvia Hartmann

03. 06. 2002


Related Article: The Sidereus Universe

Posted Jun 3, 2002   
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