August 8, 2009

Harnessing Social Complexity: my thought process


I woke up very early today again. I am developing into a full-blown insomniac, but it does not seem to bother me much, as I get the chance to experience the sun rising every day, along with all the beautiful sounds of the birds as they are welcoming the new day. Some days feel better than others; today somehow I feel more cheerful than usual. It is early morning and I already finished a number of tasks set out to do for my day's worth of work.

Last night, I went through a particularly difficult thought process. Again, I found myself still wandering about the reach of our scientific understanding of complex social behaviors in real world systems and experience-rich settings. My concern is not as much as to the individual characteristics of the social system itself, or its various components, as much as its functionality in diverse and heterogeneous social, environmental, cultural, economic and geopolitical conditions and settings.

My impression is that we are good on understanding the revealed or experimentally verified systemic behavior when such complex environmental conditions are confounded or well bounded in our scientific investigations. Under such simple assumptional settings, often highly complex social patterns of systemic behavior are revealed or emerge. We, thus, often don't really know how such boundary initial or confounding conditions influence systemic behavior. It is not simply a matter of varying such conditions (e.g., sensitivity to model parameters, initial conditions, or hypothesis settings). Seemingly unrelated sets or bundles of conditions may suddenly become critical to systemic evolution, or give rise to even more complex organizational forms of social emergence. The opposite might be also true, that is that the complex interacting and interwoven sets of conditions might be causing the system to become static and trapped into relatively steady attractors.

From a scientist point of view, the key question is how do we generate a relevant level of plasticity in our understanding (and interpreting) of systemic functionality in such complex, yet realistic social settings? How can we facilitate the emergence of systemic robustness and resilience? How far do we reach in specificity of social dimensions of our models? How open or closed we frame our systemic boundaries and study of interactions?

Some of the questions above are rather technical by nature, and require experimentation, including the introduction of computational modeling and simulation approaches. Others, yet, are theoretical or methodological and require adjustments of our observational views or our tools we use to study them. In any case, my feeling is that we need to revise the ways we think, approach and study complexity of social interactions in our systems.

For now, I need to return back to these thoughts after I have revisited some of the methodological issues and complex systems approaches. I don't know exactly how a different view (under the auspices of complexity framework) can be epistemologically formulated in ways that enhance its validity. Nevertheless such views must host and embrace uniqueness and robustness in ways that promote our adequacy to avoid the shortfalls of past theoretical and methodological approaches and particularly those of the disciplinary views. Insofar, such an advancement is incomplete, at least in the level of providing a convincing confidence level in my investigation.

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