"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking
we used when we created them."
- Albert Einstein
Complex systems exist on the edge of chaos. Sometimes they show regular predictable behavior. But they can undergo massive unpredictable changes in response to emerging new patterns in the world. That’s what we see happening now. Complexity science seeks to discover and understand these new patterns. Novel dialogue processes such as TAP meet the need to provide a way to understand these emerging patterns and draw from them imaginary new solutions to prepare for the unknown future.
Properties of Complex Adaptive Systems Relevant to Social Systems
This new science is a science of collective behavior that is full of surprising dynamics, as human and natural systems co-evolve in a mutual search for renewal and balance.
Below are a few examples of some of the properties that underlie the theory of Complex Adaptive Systems science that are especially helpful in problem-solving in complex adaptive social systems.
The Buddhist principle of not-knowing, the beginners mind, and a tolerance for the unknowable and even the inconceivable captures the excitement for researchers and practitioners who adopt CAS thinking. The paradigm shift toward planetary balance begins here with the individual.
Much of the reason for embracing radical uncertainty is that most of the universe is nonlinear, meaning inputs to the system are not additive. In linear systems, the whole is the sum of the parts, a straight line of cause and effect that becomes predictive when applied to similar conditions. This is what most people understand. However, we cannot predict the weather or the stock market as two examples, because the nonlinear conditions and dynamics are changing too fast to intervene. This is harder to understand since we are taught the fatal illusion that we can control these systems.
Resistance movements like the recent Black Lives Matter protests happen spontaneously when initial conditions change. One small action, like the killing of a black man by police that is filmed and goes viral on the internet, initiates a spontaneous and leaderless mobilization that can self-organize into a critical mass. A large protest is a nonlinear system that adapts rapidly to the changing conditions inside the march and to the conditions outside from law enforcement deployment.
Complex Adaptive systems can quite often become chaotic. When we feel that we are standing on the edge of chaos we may be watching a system cross a critical threshold called a tipping point. When a careless camper leaves a small campfire unattended, that small condition may quickly become the tipping point that explodes into a raging and uncontrollable wildfire.
Complexity science is the science of surprise, the surprises that happen when conditions change suddenly and something completely new and unexpected emerges--sometimes from our best efforts to intervene without specifying an outcome. When we bring to the work of assuring a more balanced and sustainable planet the knowledge that our imagined control is just a distraction, we open our hearts and minds to the spontaneous, the unpredictable, and the surprise of new strategies for renewal. This is a paradigm shift in the way we’ve been taught to solve unprecedented systemic problems.
The Adjacent Possible (TAP)
The Adjacent Possible is a term that Complexity scientist Stuart Kauffman coined to describe his dramatic insight (and resulting equation), about the historic process of technological innovation and its consequences for human well-being in the near future. He found that fossil-fuel based technology has grown exponentially since the industrial revolution, pushing our living systems to “the edge of chaos” and climate catastrophe. The Center for Emergent Diplomacy has borrowed the term as a metaphor to describe the global search for a paradigmatic shift to planetary balance and regeneration. A tool box and methodology based on Complexity science principles that inspire generative dialogue is being co-created by the Center and its partners, in order to aide local community-based regeneration and social justice mavericks in their journey into an adjacent possible future full of surprise and emergent solutions waiting to be discovered.