The Evolution of Complexity - Abstracts.

Dialectic, Systems, and Organization: The Philosophical Implications of the New Science

By Anthony Mansueto

  • Foundation for Social Progress
  • P.O. Box 59875
  • Chicago, IL 60659
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  • 312/465-3137
  • Abstract:

    There has been growing interest in recent years in the philosophical implications of complex systems theory and such related disciplines as cybernetics, artificial life, and artificial intelligence. Among theorists working in this area, there is a growing tendency to regard complex systems theory as providing scientific sanction for what amounts to a sophisticated neoliberal philosophy centered on "the spontaneous emergence of higher levels of organization or control (metasystem transitions) through blind variation and natural selection (Principia Cybernetica Project, Symposium on the Evolution of Complexity, Call for Papers)." This interpretation of complex systems theory has its roots in the "negentropic" or "information theoretical" interpretation of organization first advanced by von Neumann, Shannon and Weaver, and finds parallels in the positivistic interpretation of the new physics advanced by Frank Tipler (1986, 1989) among others.

    This paper will argue that the neoliberal interpretation of complex systems theory is marked by serious errors. Neoliberal interpereters of complex systems theory fail to situate the new discipline properly in the context of equally important developments in physics (unified field theories) and biology (especially postdarwinian theories which stress the role of problem solving genetic algorithms and symbiosis, as against blind variation and natural selection in the evolutionary process). There are powerful theoretical and empirical grounds to support the idea that competition and natural selection (whether in the ecosystem or in the marketplace) are not only an inadequate basis for explaining development, but in fact hold back the emergence of dynamic, organized complexity.

    The paper will advance an alternative dialectical interpretation of the new science (including complex systems theory). Specifically it will argue for

    a) a radical, dialectical holism which recognizes being as system, structure, and organization, and treats "things" (particles, individuals) as merely the nodes at which complex relationships intersect,

    b) a cosmology which stresses the role of underlying, implicit structures, complex relational interaction, and emerging conscious creativity rather than blind variation and natural selection as the motive force behind the emergence of complex organization and thus the whole cosmohistorical evolutionary process, and

    c) a theory of value grounded in the immanent teleology of the cosmos itself, in which complex organization, and not the survival of particular elements, is the telos and thus the highest value of the system.

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