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 recessions. 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 discussion. The best Igor 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 www.gfk.hr
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