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Challenges of complexity economics

from Joachim H. Spangenberg and Lia Polotzek and WEA Commentaries 

In recent WEA Commentaries, the issue of complexity theory and its implications for economics have rightfully gained some prominence. However, while the authors picked up some relevant points, the issue deserves a more comprehensive treatment in new economics, beyond mobilising some arguments to bolster ongoing debates. It should be recognised instead that complexity requires a different way of thinking, and of asking questions in economics. Only then the specific tools used in complexity research, unconventional as they are from a standard economics point of view, come into play. Thus we will briefly describe what we see as core elements of complexity, the corresponding world view, and the tools used.


Complexity economics is a genuine theoretical approach based on applying complexity analysis to the economic system; it requires a world view different from the one of neoclassical economics, moving from reductionist linear thinking to non-linear approaches of conceptualising the economy.  read more

  1. Ken Zimmerman
    March 3, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    Over 50 years ago C. West Churchman wrote a book titled “The Systems Approach” in which he pondered that approach. One which he as one of the inventors of Operations Research had for years believed in and promoted. He concluded that the complexities of reality create serious problems for the would-be management scientist and planner whose work is the systems approach. And for the systems approach, he concluded as follows,

    “What is systems is a continuing perception and deception, a continuing reviewing of the world, of the whole system, and its components. The essence of the systems approach is confusion, as well as enlightenment. The two are inseparable aspects of human living.”

    Churchman is describing what we have re-invented today—complexity. It’s not magical or beyond human experience. Humans invent systems. Humans invent them with complexity. Some complexity is subtle. So much so that it’s not generally noticed under most conditions. Other complexity is outspoken and challenges human understanding. Even though humans invented it. This makes human life a paradox. Or as existential writers and thinkers name it, absurdity. And as they also point out, humans are trapped in this situation. Whether they want it or not.

    But the systems approach provides useful guidelines. First, the systems approach begins when first you see the world is made up of many systems, constructed by many peoples over many years, that work for a time and then do not. Second, the systems approach goes on to seeing that every world view is extremely restricted. Every ‘world view.’ Third, there are no experts in the systems approach. Finally, considering all this, it’s okay to conclude that ‘the systems approach is not a bad idea.’ Not a complete or certain idea, but a useful one to have around.

    Neoclassical economic ways of life are one such system, a world view. It is not unusual or shows itself as special in any way. It is one world view, one system among thousands or hundreds of thousands, or perhaps an unlimited number that have existed, do exist, or could possibly exist. One option among all these that humans have created, live within today, or might create at some future time. If we approach it this way, it loses all sense of inevitability and force. But we must be aware that many of those with whom we speak and whose lives we examine may not agree with us. As with the systems approach, this is a test for every social scientist observer. Our job as social scientists is to observe and describe the ‘systems,’ the world views different peoples and different times and places construct in which to live their lives. In this work, complexity can be a useful tool, a useful aid to observation and description. But we must never mistake this or any other tool for the actual constructions people make. Those will be always so much more than any tool or method can reveal.

    • Yoshinori Shiozawa
      March 7, 2020 at 5:43 am

      Ken, your story on Churchman was instructive. I did not know that person. Would you explain how Churchman thought when and after he judged that “the complexities of reality create serious problems” for management scientists? Did he say anything on economics?

      Human being lives and works in a complex world where the optimization of objective function is not possible. If we live in such a complex situation, how do we organize our actions or behaviors? Did Churchman give any thought on this question?

      Your “world view” story is disappointing. It must be anthropological relativism. I admit that “every world view is extremely restricted”. That is the destiny of the human being. But, we are now struggling against neoclassical economics (or its derivatives). Even if it is extremely restricted and ephemeral, to find and establish a new world view for economics is crucial for creative economists (not for already resigned economists or dilettantes). This is the only way in which we can go further.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 7, 2020 at 3:07 pm

        Yoshinori, I know Churchman did not consider economics something from another planet. So, obviously the systems approach would be useful in the study of economics situations. But far as I can tell he did not write anything specifically on that study.

        You miss the point on my systems look at neoclassical economics. Neoclassical economic ways of life, like all systems, world views create results when applied. They lead to consequences. That is where we need to look in assessing neoclassical economics. That’s difficult to do, however when the system in question has corrupted that process. As neoclassical capitalism in the US has. This capitalism uses its own methods (payoffs, threats, voter manipulation or suppression, extensive propaganda on electronic media, etc.) to maintain its dominance, even in the face of consequences detrimental to many or most parts of society. This game is, of course not sustainable, since eventually the consequences will destroy the society. Military historians point this out as winning by attrition. Eventually, the attrition destroys both the system and the society which sustains it.

      • Yoshinori Shiozawa
        March 8, 2020 at 3:38 am

        Ken, how can you say that “the game is not sustainable” when you have no theory how it works? If we define capitalism loosely, it worked more than 300 hundred years and 200 hundred years if we count it since the (British) Industrial Revolution. Would you contend that no civilizations in the past have continued more than 2000 years?

        Be aware that I am against neoclassical economics but I am not against capitalist or market economy. There is no neoclassical capitalism. Market economy is my object of research. I study how it works. There are many good and bad points. But how can you make good estimate when you do not know how it works.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 9, 2020 at 11:35 am

        Yoshinori, military history shows how counterproductive a war of attrition can be. You may eventually defeat your enemy by denying them critical resources. The trick is not to destroy your own nation and armies by cutting their resources too much. It’s a delicate balance. During WWII hundreds of thousands of Russian farmers, soldiers, and all sorts of ordinary citizens died as a result of their fellow countrymen destroying resources to keep them out of the hands of the invading Nazis. So, obviously attrition has a sustainability problem. At what point does a people destroy so much of its resources and kill so many of its members that it can no longer win the war. Economic austerity policies have much the same danger. Push austerity policies (dogmatic, unjust, and risky as they are) too far you run the risk of stopping economic activity and perhaps destroying the society. Check out the details of the recent EU imposition of austerity on some of its poorer members for practical examples of these dangers. And of how dogmatic, unjust, and risky austerity policies are.

        As to the “success’ and long history of capitalism, here’s something from business ethicist John Paul Rollert that speaks to the error of such thinking, “Reading history as a footnote to prevailing wisdom is better, perhaps, than being oblivious to the past altogether, but not by much. Those ignorant of the past have the advantage of never confronting the possibility that their most cherished opinions haven’t the imprimatur of time immemorial, while those steeped in historical events are tempted to regard their own beliefs as the final verdict of some inevitable struggle. Take the system of beliefs we commonly associate with capitalism. However familiar they might seem to us, if we date capitalism’s founding moment to the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in 1776, the free-market nostrums that shape our views of business today are not even 250 years old. To put that in perspective, if the time between the present moment and the dawn of man 200,000 years ago were translated into the distance from the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, to reach an era when the convictions that guide contemporary commerce were entirely alien, you’d only have to travel about as far as the Lincoln Tunnel.” Rollert calculates that just 250 years ago the principles that guide modern economics were labeled false and wicked. Translated into modern English the condemned principles of 250 years ago in America are: Buy low, sell high; If supply falls, raise prices; pass along losses; buyer and seller beware; and charge interest.

        As to which economic arrangements have historically been the most successful, consider the following. In “The Original Affluent Society” (La premiere societe d’abondance in Les Temps Modernes (No. 268, Oct. 1968, 64 1-80) and later in his book “Stone Age Economics,” Marshall Sahlins argues that the hunting and gathering society in which Sapiens lived for over 100,000 years was the “original” affluent society. To explain his conclusion, he identifies an affluent society thusly, “By the common understanding, an affluent society is one in which all the people’s material wants are easily satisfied. To assert that the hunters are affluent is to deny then that the human condition is an ordained tragedy, with man the prisoner at hard labor of a perpetual disparity between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means. For there are two possible courses to affluence. Wants may be ‘easily satisfied’ either by producing much or desiring little. The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way, makes assumptions peculiarly appropriate to market economies: that man’s wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although improvable: thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that ‘urgent goods’ become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, departing from premises somewhat different from our own: that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty-with a low standard of living. That, I think, describes the hunters.”

      • Meta Capitalism
        March 9, 2020 at 10:05 am

        [T]he system in question has corrupted that process. As neoclassical capitalism in the US has. This capitalism uses its own methods (payoffs, threats, voter manipulation or suppression, extensive propaganda on electronic media, etc.) to maintain its dominance, even in the face of consequences detrimental to many or most parts of society. This game is, of course not sustainable, since eventually the consequences will destroy the society. Military historians point this out as winning by attrition. Eventually, the attrition destroys both the system and the society which sustains it. ~ Ken Zimmerman
        Ken, how can you say that “the game is not sustainable” when you have no theory how it works? If we define capitalism loosely, it worked more than 300 hundred years and 200 hundred years if we count it since the (British) Industrial Revolution. Would you contend that no civilizations in the past have continued more than 2000 years? ~ Yoshinori Shiozawa

        I find both statements like ships passing in the night. Shiozawa fails to understand history at all (no surprise there as he frequently parrots a very anachronistic scientism qua history). There are (and have been) different kinds of so-called capitalism in history, which are packed an intellectually shallow statement “define capitalism loosely.” Sometimes definition is sophistry and a cover for ignorance. That shows his shallow understanding of history and the nature of our current situation. The actual events that define “capitalism” through historical time in context don’t give a rat’s ass about Shiozawa’s shallow definition of capitalism. Capitalism is as capitalism does in each unique historical period and they are not necessarily equatable nor are they following some theory (rather theory is used to back up any given ideology that dominates at the given historical time, politicians and oligarchs and dictators ignoring what doesn’t serve their purpose and usurping what does). To ignore historical and contextual differences is to fail to understand the true nature of capitalism and its relation to the societies in which it evolved and the its impact on global history. One way of expressing this can be seen in William J. Baumol and Robert E. Litan and Carl J. Schramm’s book “Good Capitalism Bad Capitalism, and Economics of Growth and Prosperity” (2007, Yale University Press). They note that capitalism comes in different “flavors,” such as the state guided capitalism, oligarchic capitalism, big-firm capitalism, and entrepreneurial capitalism (Baumol et. al. 2007, 60-61). No doubt we can look at the last thirteen years since publication and come up with a few more perhaps.
        Shiozawa like all mechanistic materialists who seek to find the Holy Grail of a deterministic theory modeling the entire world economy cannot grasp that that the tail of theory is not wagging the dog of capitalism (egoism blinds him to this simple truth). Academic ivory tower theorists look at what capitalists have done through time and then try and model it, not the other way around. Ken is right when he says culture matters, human judgment matters, and if you want to know what capitalism is look what capitalists do in context.
        There is a vast volume of business literature that does just this. Examines what real-world capitalists do and why they do it. And they may operate with a world-view that is ideologically informed by neoclassical or neoliberal ideology and even blindly assume their platitudes about economics being a so-called “science” as many market fundamentalists do, but in the end it comes down to politicians serving special interests of the powerful and rich. The rich pay lobbyists who do their bidding with politicians and literally write the laws.
        A simpleton in the street can tell capitalism is not working for the people but for an elite few; that Shiozawa either cannot see or ignores, which I do not know, and ludicrously claims that one cannot see this if one has “no theory how it works” as clear a sign he is a highly educated man without common sense or wisdom of an average man in the street. Perhaps he is blinded by his own dilettante understanding of history or blinded by the hubris of too much learning. There is book in my library by Immanuel Wallerstein et. al. called “Does Capitalism Have a Future?” There is no conclusive answer therein. My hunch is that it will either lead to global war or transform itself into a more sustainable model. Time will tell. But one thing is clear; the current incarnation of neoliberal corporatism and profit without ethics is doomed. Ruthless competition for selfish profiteering ultimately destroys the very environment and social institutions that it depends upon for its own survival. It is more akin to a cancer than and healthy living organism.

      • Meta Capitalism
        March 9, 2020 at 10:54 am

        Addendum: Capitalism behaves differently in different cultures. Capitalism does not operate independent of time and place. The corporate culture of capitalism in the US, Japan, and the Nederlands, three places our family corporation has operated, have similarities and distinct differences in culture, law, and social customs. We have worked closely with major global corporations on bleeding edge projects. Currently we are working with a major Japanese corporation. I can with utmost confidence say that that no decisions are being made inside this major global corporation based upon some academic economists views of theory. In fact, no business operates based on the advice of economists in the real world. And we know this from experience inside Microsoft and other major global corporations we have worked with. The real motives, the real reasons, for hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in new projects are far less based on economic forecasts and theories than visionary leaders who seek to develop new technologies and new ways of living that meet what they see as the current challenges of civilization. But I cannot go into details or I would reveal to much.

      • Yoshinori Shiozawa
        March 9, 2020 at 1:48 pm

        Ken, so, you are only interested in the history of which time unit is more than one thousand years? It is all right for you. I am interested on what is happening on this day, week, month, year, or decade. In the final analysis, economics is a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm

        Yoshinori, yes economics should be the study of human everyday life actions. My point is a simpler one. Since hunter communities were so successful economically and in other ways, are there somethings we can learn from them to help reorganize failing economies and societies today? Particularly in the US. I believe there are.

      • Craig
        March 9, 2020 at 5:42 pm

        You can argue forever and a day about the merits and shortcomings of Capitalism and Socialism. Or, you can find the most efficacious way to implement monetary gifting and the economic system it would create, namely Direct Monetary Distributism.

        “It’s the monetary and financial paradigm, stupid!”

      • Craig
        March 9, 2020 at 6:03 pm

        Hunting and gathering was much more secure and abundant than cave dwelling or whatever was the reality before hunting and gathering, but agriculture was much more secure and abundant than hunting and gathering. Otherwise we wouldn’t have changed to AG, homesteading and urbanization.

        And direct monetary distributism will be much more secure, abundant and aligned with wisdom….because it is aligned with the natural philosophical/wisdom concept of grace.

        By FINALLY unifying economics with the wisdom of the concept of grace, which is the pinnacle unitary concept behind every one of the world’s major wisdom traditions, we’ll much more likely to have the Wisdomics we so sorely require.

        “In the final analysis, economics is a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life.”

        Exactly. And that is also why the new paradigm in money and finance will become only the second mega paradigm change in human history.

        You can run from a mega paradigm change, but you cannot hide from it.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 10, 2020 at 12:29 pm

        Hunter-Gatherer communities were organized such that all members worked, none had a “job” per se, but the biological needs of all were satisfied. Agricultural communities sometimes failed to meet such needs of some members of the community. Not because resources were unavailable to meet these needs. Bur rather stratification of communities was beginning. They were being reorganized from the egalitarian communities of hunter-gatherers to hierarchical villages and towns where one’s place in the hierarchy determined the resources available. Thus, life in agricultural communities was not secure for all members of the community. In fact, for some members life in such communities was starkly insecure.

      • Craig
        March 9, 2020 at 6:07 pm

        “Since hunter communities were so successful economically and in other ways, are there somethings we can learn from them to help reorganize failing economies and societies today? Particularly in the US. I believe there are.”

        Do an exegesis of the many aspects of the wisdom concept of grace. It’s the ultimate guidepost.

      • Meta Capitalism
        March 9, 2020 at 11:40 pm

        There are historically closer examples of how to evolve more sustainable economic relations than hunter gatherers and far more realistic I think. David Ruccio’s RWER post Abraham Lincoln and the road to despotism is a good place to start.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 10, 2020 at 12:13 pm

        Good topic to following. If you want to review the original, check out chapter 3 in ‘The “S” Word, A Short History of an American Tradition … Socialism.’ You might also want to look at the piece in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/10/socialism-america-history-politics-apple-pie I’ve made this same argument on this and other blogs. There was also a good piece in the Washington Post, found at https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/07/27/you-know-who-was-into-karl-marx-no-not-aoc-abraham-lincoln/

        A more direct source of the same conclusions is Lawless Wealth, The Origin of Some Great American Fortunes by Charles Edward Russell (1908).

      • Meta Capitalism
        March 10, 2020 at 1:34 pm

        I think the terms socialism and democratic socialism are sometimes used indiscriminately. There are different incarnations of socialism historically. Democratic Socialism is what I understand is the nature of the Nordic countries I have lived in. I have not read the articles so I cannot comment on them at this time. I think new forms of capitalism are possible (or a renewal of old forms).

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 10, 2020 at 2:02 pm

        You’re correct. I’m focused on American socialism only. There are two primary versions of it. The urban socialism associated with the labor movement and labor organizing. And a version that developed in the Midwest and west fostering cooperatives, credit unions, public banks, opposition to agri-business etc. A weaker version of the latter also developed in the Southern US.

      • Craig
        March 10, 2020 at 4:28 am

        Actually not correct. As I have pointed out here numerous times before there has only been one mega paradigm change, which is a paradigm change that has major “knock on” effects in areas of human endeavor/bodies of knowledge (scientifically developed or not) other than the specific area that the new paradigm applies to. And that was the change from H & G to Ag, Homesteading and Urbanization.

        The signature of a mega paradigm change is its immediacy and continuous-ness of effect…for literally everyone. And a monetary, financial and hence economic paradigm change fits that description perfectly, so H & G is the perfect example.

        If we hadn’t discovered Ag etc. we’d probably still be propitiating the great god mugjub who lives up the yap-yap river. And if we don’t cognite on the mega paradigm change of Direct and Reciprocal Monetary Gifting….the human race could end up in precisely that same situation.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 10, 2020 at 12:19 pm

        If early agriculture were organized along the same lines as hunter-gatherer communities you would be correct. However, with domestication of animals and plants came greater abundance, and, not curiously, the notion that needs are great and always growing, while resources to meet those needs are always inadequate (scarce). And the fight for control of resources began.

      • Craig
        March 10, 2020 at 5:50 pm

        You’re correct that Ag, homesteading and urbanization despite being a mega paradigm change also led on to the excesses, imbalances and out ethics of capitalism, but like everything else economics and anthropology are in process and finding the most underlying process will enlighten the way forward with the least error and ethical missing of the mark.

        The beneficial aspects of every historical paradigm change have always and always will be aspects of the natural philosophical concept of grace, and paradigm change is simply the process of becoming more consciously aware of that concept toward the even more laborious mental process of a change in zeitgeist. The current zeitgeist is Power/Otherness, the next one will be Grace/Unity and the new monetary and financial paradigm will be the second mega paradigm change in human history and hence the most progressive toward the goal of change in zeitgeist.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 11, 2020 at 11:29 am

        Craig. I quoted from Sahlins’ book in my reply above. “But there is also a Zen road to affluence, departing from premises somewhat different from our own: that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty-with a low standard of living.” That, I think, describes the hunters. Zen may be what your grace recommendations refer to. If it is then read chapters 1 and 2 in Sahlins’ book, ‘Stone Age Economics.’

      • Craig
        March 10, 2020 at 6:12 pm

        You’re both correct in your observations, however, Capitalism vs Socialism is simply the longstanding and now obsessively contentious dualism standing in the way of the new monetary and financial paradigm/thirdness greater oneness of Gifting and hence also the process of going from the zeitgeist of Power/Otherness to Grace/Unity.

        When in doubt integrate the truths, workabilities, applicabilities and highest ethical considerations of opposites….and keep on integrating.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 11, 2020 at 11:42 am

        To place capitalism and socialism in opposition is to misunderstand both capitalism and socialism. Many forms of capitalism share commonalities with what’s called socialism. For example, Sweden is identified as a capitalist country and as a socialist country. There’s no conflict because Sweden’s history had created a set of institutions (government, family, education, etc.) that provide the means for a capitalist-socialist nation to function well. Certainly, there are troubles sometimes, many highlighted by recent novels from Swedish authors. But most are addressed in quick time. This won’t work in every nation, of course. But it should work in the US. Which has strong socialist history and strong capitalist history. Right now both these histories are being overwhelmed by corporationism and financialization of both socialism and capitalism. If not addressed soon this situation may finally overwhelm US democracy all together.

      • Meta Capitalism
        March 11, 2020 at 12:08 pm

        Labels don’t do nuances well.

      • Ken Zimmerman
        March 11, 2020 at 12:51 pm

        Indeed. That’s why historians and others pour much time and effort into studying how the labels were made into labels. Not something possible to examine in any detail on any blog.

      • Meta Capitalism
        March 11, 2020 at 10:49 am

        Ken, how can you say that “the game is not sustainable” when you have no theory how it works? ~ Yoshinori Shiozawa Putting the Cart of Theory Before the Horse of Real-World Capitalism

        Shiozawa has twice on this blog revealed his stereotypical cartoon caricature view of history: capitalism good vs. communism bad (here) and his caricature ludicrous claim that his book justifies the folly of state intervention here). If only the world and history were so simple.
        Shiozawa cannot imagine a situation in which capitalism by its own unmitigated quest for profit could possibly bring about its own destruction. Perhaps he is like a fish in water and cannot see that in Japan socialism is the backstop of capitalism, and that while the employment for life culture is under stress if not largely disappearing for all but the few biggest and more traditional corporations, nevertheless it still exists in some of the largest employers in Japan. Hence, he cannot really understand the social crisis emerging in such countries as the US. He is clearly cloistered in his ivory tower and a victim of his own blinkered view of history. But it is in these times a legitimate question, Does Capitalism Have a Future?.
        I believe it does, but only if it can transform itself and include within its theory the uncertainty of human action. And that means any theory that treats economics as a deterministic mathematically algorithm is doomed from the start.

      • Craig
        March 11, 2020 at 6:01 pm

        “Labels don’t do nuances well.”

        Paradigm changes are integrative phenomena, and the result of integrative and hence truly nuanced thinking.

        Ken: “Zen may be what your grace recommendations refer to.”

        The naturalism, mentally integrative techniques and direct attention focusing of zen has always been my preferred wisdom tradition…because they reflect aspects of grace.

        Dave: Wisdom is the ultimate PID system, and grace is the pinnacle concept of wisdom. Aligning economic policy with grace and defining and acculturating grace in every way is the obvious necessity.

  2. Craig
    March 6, 2020 at 8:35 pm

    There is of course nothing wrong with attempting to decipher and garner useful information from complexity. However, considering that paradigms are single concepts that change entire patterns in significant ways, a study of the signatures/most basic aspects and operations shared by all historical such changes would undoubtedly be at least as enlightening and should be undertaken with post haste.

    Looking is necessary. We just need to make sure we’re looking through both ends of the telescope. Paradigms being the quintessential integrative phenomenon and processing of the truths and applicabilities in opposites, that is the aligned integration of a singularity of concept and the plurality of an entire pattern, paradigm-ology would seem to fit the bill.

  3. Yoshinori Shiozawa
    March 7, 2020 at 7:16 am

    Joachim H. Spangenberg

    Your account of “three systems” seems too rough even if you have picked the idea from Sayer or Spash. The real-world system and two others are categorically different, because real-world system is the object of study /research / investigation. Mental model is one of the most primitive theories. Computer models are, as you point it, rather tools to test or check theories that are difficult to draw conclusions by logical reasoning.

    However, I believe your idea on computer models gives us important hints on our research strategy. I have coined a term for it: three modes of scientific research. The first is theory or logical speculation (“theory” came from Greek word “speculate” or “look at silently”). The second mode is experimentation. This is modern concept that appeared more than one thousand years later than theory mode. The third mode is computer simulation.

    For details, pleas see my paper: A Guided Tour of the Backside of Agent-based Simulation.


    The second link gives you a draft of the paper which lacks Section 2, but you can read the essential arguments on the third mode of scientific research. If you (or anyone else) want to read the published version, please give me an e-mail at “y(at)shiozawa.net” (please re-type @ in place of (at).). I will be happy to send you a PDF of the paper.

  4. March 10, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    Following up Ken’s opening salvo linking C W Churchman to complexity economics, the book he referred to seems to be out of print, but there is an excellent precis of another at


    As an enemy of ‘Operations Research’ Robert might enjoy hearing what this means from the other side, and Craig may enjoy its pursuit of wisdom. There are several things I disagree with it on, most notably Churchman seeing religion through St Paul’s concepts rather than its history: “Unless Christ be risen from the dead our faith is in vain”. Complexity in my sense (two-dimensionality) creeps out between the lines, and (at last!) Jung gets a mention, albeit in terms of “archetypes” (which I understand as concepts built into our language). I looked in vain, however, for PID servos, so (trying to find when that term came into use), I was delighted to find there is now an excellent wiki article on it at:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PID_controller. [For the complexity of chaos theory see under ‘Derivative’].

    Having said this, Churchman ends by considering the significance of his argument:

    “12 The Negative

    “I have met the enemy, and he is us!”

    “I’ve labelled this last part “significance” (sign pointing) rather than “conclusion,” for while the tale told in this book has no ending, it does point in a direction. It is a signpost along the endless journey of the planner. It helps, I hope, to review the story of Part Two. We should recall the account of the word enemy” (pp. 24-26), which goes “friend” into “non- friend” into “opposite of friend.” The question (of the strategy of conversion) thus becomes whether this process can be reversed”.

    “Kant spoke wisely when he told us to act so as to treat humanity, either in ourselves or another, never as a means only, but as an end withal. But perhaps he himself did not realize the profundity of his imperative, for the “humanity” to which he refers is that unique quality each of us has, which makes up the reality of our psyches.

    “But this, too, ruins the game, or work, of the planner. Gone is tradeoff. Gone is adding up values. Gone is any sensible way of assessing change. Everyone’s uniqueness is a world in itself, incomparable with any other uniqueness. My God, let’s not fall into that trap, so cleverly laid by the aesthetic enemy who is clearly not us”.

    The navigator’s compass can be thought of as a variable signpost, which can equally set to our own direction as to a planner’s. We just have to give way at cross-roads. That anyway is my line of argument in a nutshell. Given the environmental costs of international mass production, “Small is Beautiful”.

    If we are to rise to the challenges of complexity economics, these links offer good places to start reorienting our ideas about the nature and scope of Systems Thinking.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      March 11, 2020 at 12:40 pm

      Dave, Churchman gave an interview in 1996. The following came out of that interview.

      First, from the age of 8 his life and work focused on two areas, ethics and holism. That there no parts outside of wholes and that ethics is essential for the wholes in which humans are involved. Over the years, in his writings Churchman has frequently talked about ethics in terms of “good,” “kindness,” and “care” (cf., [1-3, 5]). Ethical behavior is purposefully “good.” It consists of “kind” actions and manifests “caring” for others. But “good,” “kind” and “care” must be understood from the perspective of all humanity. Churchman holds that we can learn to know what global “good,” global “kind” and global “caring” mean and strive to implement them-globally. This means that narrowly defined interests such as those of a nation, profession, race, gender, political party or religious group cannot determine “good,” “kind” or “care” for all humanity. According to Churchman, in order to understand what global “good,” “kind” and “care” mean we must have a universal “god.” This “god” is, according to Churchman not necessarily a god from any religion. Therefore, it can be defined in many ways. But in his view, without a universal “god” we cannot evaluate understanding. Without a globally defined “god” we cannot know, for example, whether someone is a good president, manager, or scholar. Over the years, Churchman has presented many definitions of a universal “god” (cf., [1-3,5]). For example, he maintains, in the sense of Plato “god” can be considered as an archetype of “good,” “kind” and “care” the humanity strives for. In a Descartian or Leibnizian sense, on the other hand, “god” is a perfect existence and objective
      of intelligence, beauty, knowing, and power [1]. In addition to these ways of defining “god,” Churchman holds that “god” can also be defined in terms of the collective intentions of humanity. Churchman: “We note then that the rationalist has added one very important property of the ‘whole system’ … that the whole system is basically good. That is, we could not say that collective humanity is the real whole system unless we could show that its intentions were good. If we could do so, we might then speculate on whether it is appropriate to call
      such a collective ‘God.”‘([l], p. 70). This last definition of “god” is central. If the collective humankind does not subscribe to common ideals or shared “good” intentions, it is a collection of Lockean systems with no “god” and an indifference to human suffering outside the immediate collective [1]. Also values such as behind empirical science in the sense of Kant may lead to considering “god” less than essential [1]. But according to Churchman, a universal “god” is essential. Therefore, it is important to learn what this difficult concept entails for humanity. Instead of attempting to define the characteristics of a universal “god,” however, Churchman has suggested other, more pragmatic ways of making sense of this concept. For example, “god” can be included into a “design.” Such a design would be an expression of a classical notion that the nature of humanness lies in his/her “god.” From this pragmatic design perspective “god” plays a role in all human inquiry and implementations. This idea is not new but stems from the times of Augustine. According to Augustine, the “God” is the designer and the decision maker of the real system [1]. Also, Spinoza held that “God” is the design. For him, “God” is the whole system [2]. According to Churchman, thinking about “god” as a design makes a universal “god” real and imperfect.

      The idea of a universal “god” is a difficult one to comprehend. In the global realm, problems of the humanity are complex beyond our current imagination. Similarly, global solutions are extremely demanding to design and implement. Some have suggested that wicked problems such as global crime cannot be solved at all because they are beyond humankind’s intellectual capacity [6]. But according to Churchman, ” … extremely difficult problems such as global crime are exactly the kinds of problems, we should spend our time solving.” [4]. One of the important tools in this quest, holds Churchman, is systems thinking.

      1. Churchman often speaks of these notions together without clearly distinguishing the terms. Rather. they appear to be several aspects of the same idea. To him. “kind” means “humankind”. To Churchman this means that human beings are naturally “kind” to their “kin”-other humans. While “good” is an ideal. “kind” actions are actions that have “good” intentions and thus strive to achieve this ideal. “Care” refers to “us”. In “caring:’ “I want”· is replaced by “we share”. Thus. from the viewpoint of “good” it is not possible to say: “I want to care” Churchman in Porra. 1996b and 1996c).
      1. Churchman, CW, The Design of Inquiring Systems: Basic Concepts of Systems and Organization. New York. NY: Basic Books. Inc .. Publishers. 1971.
      2. Churchman, CW. The Systems Approach and its Enemies. New York. NY: Basic Books. Inc. Publishers. 1979.
      3. Churchman, CW. ETHICS. Part I. Management. University of California. Berkeley. Walter A. Haas School of Business. Working Paper Series in Management Science. Working Paper MS-47. 1994.
      4. Churchman, CW. Global Ethical Management Seminar. University of California. Berkeley: Walter A. Haas School of Business. June 24th 1996. a video tape. close shot.
      5. Churchman, CW. Unpublished notes. 1997.
      6. Mumford, E. Dangerous Decisions-Problem Solving in Tomorrow’s World. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publisher, 1999.
      7. Porra, J. Colonial Systems,Information Colonies and Punctuated Prototyping. Jyvaskyla Studies in Computer Science, Economics and Statistics, 33. Jyvaskyla, Finland: University of Jyvaskyla Press, 1996.
      8. Porra, J. An Interview with C. West Churchman, Berkeley Women’s Club, Berkeley, CA, October 10th, 1996.
      9. Porra, J. Personal Notes. C. West Churchman’s Global Ethical Management Seminar Series, University of California, Berkeley, Walter A. Haas School of Business, Fall, 1996, 1999.
      10. Porra, J. Colonial Systems. Information Systems Research, 1999; 10(1):38-69.
      11. Von Bertalanffy, L. The Theory of Open Systems in Physics and Biology, Science, 1950; lll:23-29. In: Emery F, ed. Systems Thinking. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1950.
      12. Von Bertalanffy, L. Problems of Life-An Evaluation of Modern Biological Thought. London, UK: Watts & Co, 1952.
      13. Von Bertalanffy, L. General Systems Theory-Foundations, Development, Applications. New York, NY: George Braziller, 1968.

  5. Yoshinori Shiozawa
    March 11, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Thank you, Dave.

    I have downloaded the precis you have indicated. But I have no enough time to read it through for this week. I will be back after I have read the “precis”.

  6. Meta Capitalism
    March 11, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    Labels can missleading.

    • Ken Zimmerman
      March 11, 2020 at 12:46 pm

      Yes. But so can detailed descriptions. It depends on the intentions of the author. And the attention of readers.

      • Meta Capitalism
        March 11, 2020 at 10:26 pm

        “Yes. But so can detailed descriptions.” Yes, agreed. Churchman (your notes above) sound interesting. Take: “That there no parts outside of wholes and that ethics is essential for the wholes in which humans are involved.” Reminds me of Evolution by Natural Experiment.
        I have almost all the books published by the Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology, which notes:

        Theoretical biology has important roots in the experimental biology movement of early-twentieth-century Vienna. Paul Weiss and Ludwig von Bertalanffy were among the first to use the term theoretical biology in a modern scientific context. In their understanding the subject was not limited to mathematical formalization, as is often the case today, but extended to the conceptual problems and foundations of biology. It is this commitment to a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary integration of theoretical concepts that the present series intends to emphasize. Today theoretical biology has genetic, developmental, and evolutionary components, the central connective themes in modern biology, but also includes relevant aspects of computational biology, semiotics, and cognition research, and extends to the naturalistic philosophy of sciences. (Robert G. B. Reid. Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment (Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology) (p. xi). Kindle Edition.)
        Natural selection has to do with relative differences in survival and reproduction and the numerical distribution of existent variations that have already evolved. In this form it requires no serious re-invention. But selectionism goes on to infer that natural selection creates complex novelty by saving adaptive features that can be further built upon. Such qualities need no saving by metaphorical forces. Having the fundamental property of persistence that characterizes life, they can look after themselves. As Ludwig von Bertalanffy remarked in 1967, “favored survival of `better’ precursors of life presupposes self-maintaining, complex, open systems which may compete; therefore natural selection cannot account for the origin of those symptoms.”” (Robert G. B. Reid. Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment (Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology) (p. 6). Kindle Edition.)
        Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1952) lamented: Like a Tibetan prayer wheel, Selection Theory murmurs untiringly: ‘everything is useful,’ but as to what actually happened and which lines evolution has actually followed, selection theory says nothing, for the evolution is the product of ‘chance,’ and therein obeys no ‘law. (Robert G. B. Reid. Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment (Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology) (p. 8). Kindle Edition.)
        Modern complexity theory is sometimes called “anti-chaos theory,” since it tries to make sense of how local complex stabilities can persist in chaotic non-biological systems. Complexity theory sensu lato, as it pertains to biological systems, has quite a long tradition within biology, in the writings of E. S. Russell, D’Arcy Thompson, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Joseph Needham, Karl Weiss, Ivan Schmalhausen, C. H. Waddington, and the early emergentists. But whatever direction complexity theory has come from, it has not been from Darwinism or selection theory. (Robert G. B. Reid. Biological Emergences: Evolution by Natural Experiment (Vienna Series in Theoretical Biology) (p. 68). Kindle Edition.)

    • March 11, 2020 at 2:37 pm

      I guess Meta is here referring to ‘Capitalism’ and ‘Socialism’.

      Yoshinori, I hope you will read the precis of PID as well as the one on Churchman. Having read the PID precis more closely, while the understanding (as I thought) came from steering ships, the wiki explanation seems to have been written by mathematicians rather than engineers. There is no mention of Cybernetics (steering), and the application of PID to it is described in terms of the size of angles and not triangular relationships between complex coordinates. Which misses the point that in steering the I (integer) correction is of position (the integral of motion), so correcting not the angle but being out of position sideways to the direction of motion. The dates confirmed my understanding that PID process control was new when I worked with it in 1960-61, where adjustment to the D feedback was indeed used to prevent overloading and control stability. Something else not noticed in the article was that in parallel wound dc motors the P feedback is automatically generated by the back emf. What came out in work on operational amplifiers c.1968 was that the three types of feedback are generated using resistive, capacitive and inductive components (circuit designations R, C and L), with other types of component converting other physical quantities to one of these (as in temperature sensitive resistors and pressure sensitive capacitors).

      I wish Craig could see beyond his own paradigm change obsession to this difference between quantitative and complex numbers being “the one that got away”. Economics is about
      reproduction, employment and dangers like corona virus as well as prices and incomes.

      • Meta Capitalism
        March 11, 2020 at 11:15 pm

        The ultimate biological control mechanism is the CNS and its endocrine system.

        In a world dominated by thermodynamical forces of disorder and disintegration, all living systems, sooner or later, fall in disarray and succumb to those forces. However, living systems on Earth have survived and evolved for ~3 billion years. They succeeded in surviving because a. during their lifetime they are able to maintain the normal structure by compensating for the lost or disintegrated elements of that structure, and b. they produce offspring. The ability to maintain the normal structure, despite its continual erosion, indicates that living systems have information for their normal structure, can detect deviations from the “normalcy” and restore the normal structure. This implies the presence and functioning of a control system in living organisms. In unicellulars the control system, represented by the genome, the apparatus for gene expression and cell metabolism, functions as a system of heredity during reproduction. Homeostasis and other facts on the development of some organs and phenotypic characters in metazoans prove that a hierarchical control system, involving the CNS [Central Nervous System] and the neuroendocrine system, is also operational in this group. It is hypothesized that, in analogy with unicellulars, the control system in metazoans, in the process of their reproduction, serves as an epigenetic system of heredity. (Cabej, Nelson R. Neural Control of Development: The Epigenetic Theory of Heredity. New Jersey: Albanet; 2004; p. 11.)
        Under the influence of external/internal stimuli, the CNS may induce adaptive changes in morphological and life history characters without any changes in genes. Commonly, these changes are not heritable, i.e. they do not reappear in the offspring if the offspring is not exposed to the same stimuli. This is the case for the overwhelming majority of described examples of predatory-induced defenses, polyphenisms, and adaptive camouflage. But reproducible cases of transgenerational changes, without changes in genes, changes that are transmitted to the offspring for one or more generations, occur and are described. All the cases of non-genetic, inherited changes are determined by underlying neural mechanisms. Such changes may represent the “primed”, ready-made material of evolution. The evidence on the neurally induced transgenerational nongenetic changes cannot be overestimated in respect to possible evolutionary implications of the epigentic system of heredity. (Cabej 2004: 201)

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