From: "Igor Matutinovic" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
To: <>

Joe posed the question "Are there other concepts of complexity that can fruitfully be applied to human systems? Besides structural and organizational aspects of social (and ecological) complexity that Joe mentioned in his text, there is a cognitive aspect of complexity that is peculiar to human systems. It concerns directly the issue of information processing and, consequently, the nature of the problem solving process, which Joe identified as one of the causes producing social complexity. Cognitive aspect of complexity in social systems can have at least three distinct dimensions. One deals with the virtual impossibility for humans to gather all the available information and compute the optimal decision among the possible alternatives. In literature this is usually called the problem of bounded rationality.

Another dimension of complexity comes from the fact that human decision making is not only bounded by technical constraints related to information gathering and processing but is also significantly constrained by a bias that comes from the set of basic values and beliefs about the world and a society that a decision maker holds in his mind. In that sense certain solutions to a problem, which are technically accessible and rational, perhaps even optimal for an external observer, are discarded or unrecognized as such because they clash with certain socially shared beliefs and values (a worldview).

The third dimension might refer to self-referentiallity of human systems: we are inclined to conform our behavior to the predictions of our models of the world (e.g. self-fulfilling prophecies). According to Felix Geyer, self-referentiallity in human systems (called also second-order cybernetics) implies that a social system collects information about its functioning which in turn may alter this very functioning. The outcome of such a process is, however, unpredictable and may be recognized as a semiotic problem: what signs, among many, are captured as information, and what is its "societal" interpretation?

Obviously, the specific cognitive dimensions of social systems, namely bounded rationality, perceptual bias that arise from a worldview, and self-referentiallity add to the complexity of societies which may be really different in kind (I refer here to Stan's remark that social complexity and ecological complexity look like different applications, not kinds). There appears simply to be more degrees of freedom in a social system which are also qualitatively different from ecological.


Dr. Igor Matutinovic
Managing Director

GfK-Center for Market Research
Draskoviceva 54
100 00 Zagreb, Croatia
Tel:  385 1  48 96 222,   4921 222
Fax: 385 1  49 21 223
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