Dear All

Steven raised a couple of  intriguing question: How does an anthropologist 
quantify complexity? and, "Does an individual in a hunter gatherer society, in 
fact, live in a more complex society than an individual in today's society?"

Social complexity, like complexity of living systems in general, is 
multifaceted. Following Robert Rosen's definition of complexity, we need to 
have at least two non-reducible descriptions of a system if it is to be viewed 
as "complex". In that sense Steven's " simple algorithmic definition of 
complexity" would not meet this criterion. In fact many aspects of human life 
in a modern, urbanized society would appear algorithmically more complex than 
those in a hunter gatherer society. Take, for example, the number of steps 
required to heal a person. In a H&G tribe a person visits a sorcerer who 
supplies the "medicine" and perhaps performs a healing ritual. In the "healing 
process" in a modern society  there would be involved a general practitioner, 
at least one specialist, nurses, hospital administration, the pharmaceutical 
industry supplying drugs, a vast number of extrasomatic devices used for 
illness diagnosis, transport infrastructure needed to supply the drug and 
equipment, the health care insurance system, etc.. In the first case we have a 
one-to-one interaction and in the second we have one-to-network interaction, 
where most of the network remains organizationally "hidden" from the patient. 
The total number of (social) steps involved in the curing process is several 
orders of magnitude higher than in the H&G tribe. From this example we can also 
deduce the non-trivial significance of structural and organizational dimensions 
of social complexity that Joe initially addressed in his paper.

On the other hand, a modern urban society need not be necessarily more complex 
in all its aspects than a tribal society. Wolfgang Fikentscher (Sanata Fe 
Institute WP 98-09-087) for example, compares the octopartite system 
governmental powers of Keresan speaking Pueblos with the tripartite system of 
the US. Some aspects of our sociality - Steven mentions close kinship relations 
- may even be simpler and less intense than in H&G tribe or in a Pueblo.

The very number of artifacts and exosomatic devices that Joe mentioned, 
combined with advanced communication systems that we use  - telecom & internet 
- and a diversified institutional superstructure is not a simple addition of 
more things, more roles, links, and hierarchical levels in a social network. 
All  these combine to contribute to system's behavioral complexity (the 
capacity of accessing many distinct states). The structural and organizational 
diversity, and scale introduces, among other things, a new dimension of 
substantive uncertainty in the system's behavior. One example: on January 17, 
1966, a  B-52 bomber collides with a jet tanker over Spain's Mediterranean 
coast, dropping three 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs near the town of Palomares and 
one in the sea. Fortunately the bombs did not explode. Consider the spatial 
dimension of this event (the bombers covered an immense area in their routine 
missions and the bombs could have been dropped anywhere); the time scale of the 
change in the system (time that the bombs take to devastate the settled area 
and the time during which the radiation would still hang on in the region). It 
appears that the society capable of creating the systemic conditions for a such 
sudden and large-scale flip in its state space must be overall more complex 
than any of the past historic social formations.

Karl: "That human behavior is partly more complex than a weather system is only 
a gradual difference, and in many cases, a weather system is less predictable 
than a human."
We can write the equations governing fluid dynamics and the unpredictability of 
the weather stems from the chaotic nature of the system. In fact the weather 
models are more reliable than econometric ones insofar as they are able to 
provide precise and usable information like the probabilistic occurrence of 
rain in London in the next 3 days. By contrast, for economies we do not have 
the system of equations that would predict the stock market crash, not in the 
distant future, but for the next morning, even though we measure accurately its 
performance on a minute-to minute basis. The same is valid for prediction of 

Although there exist huge econometric models of the world economy,  nobody 
(could) have predicted that the price of oil would rise from 10$ to 60$/barrel 
in eight years. Unlike the sensitivity to small differences in initial 
conditions that govern chaotic systems like the weather, here we have to deal 
with large unpredictable events like the attack on Twin Towers, and the 
subsequent war on Afghanistan and Iraq. Similarly, other historic events that 
impinge significantly on the system performance, like the invention of the 
printing press or the appearance in the market of MS DOS cannot in principle be 
predicted from a "model" and they have no analogue in a physical system like 
the weather. I put here the emphasis on the contribution of singular events 
(those that occur once and only once throughout all time) on behavioral 
complexity of societies. 
Predictions aside, the unfolding of weather system can be described by using a 
relatively small number of state variables, how many more for the unfolding of 
the Roman empire? Is then the human behavior only "partly more complex than a 
weather system"? I would say that, apart the fact that macroscopic states of 
both systems yield to statistical descriptions, these complex systems are 
epistemologically incommensurable.

However, I fully agree with Karl's concluding thoughts: "Focusing on perceived 
differences will keep motivating us to recognize similarities and rules that 
work on complex systems. A social system is a self-regulating, cybernetical 
entity. It lives. So it can be described by rational means."  Perhaps the 
difference between our approach to social complexity is that I would drive a 
line between the socioeconomic and ecological systems on the one side and 
meteorological, biochemical and other physical systems on the other side, in 
terms of meaningful transfer of concepts, models and analogies. In between the 
socioeconomic and ecological systems I would stress the cognitive/informational 
peculiarities of the former that restricts the scope of the use of common 
conceptual models. And it is precisely here that lurks the issue of human 
problem solving and its relation to social complexity and sustainability that 
Joe addressed. We should not lose the sight of the this main theme of our 

The best

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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