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« My annual reminder of human nature's darker side | Main | Is Obama passing the acid test? »

August 11, 2009


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I was hoping your posts would help clarify something I have been struggling over for a while .....The tough question; Does increased complexity of an Ecosystem lead to incresed stability?
I've read numerous accounts both in favour and opposed to the hypothesis and now I find I'm not even sure about the complexity tag-should we be talking about diversity?
Maybe there is no clear cut answer..perhaps increased complexity (that word again!) reduces resistance to change (by external perturbations)but increases resiliance of recovery (from aforementioned perturbations) But does that depend on how we measure and what creteria are used? I'm confused just trying to explain....
The reason the answer is so important is that attempting to increase the complexity of an utopian society, by 'mimicing' natural ecosystem interrelations may have unexpected repercusions- positive or negative.
What are your thoughts on this George?..apologies if you have already covered it or it is forthcoming.

George Mobus

Hi GaryA.

Someday this series may end up in a book form. It is actually just a stream-of-consciousness outline for said potential book. If so I hope to go into much greater detail in this whole complexity/stability thing. I didn't mention Tainter who basically asserts that at some level of complexity social systems are unsustainable. Thomas Homer-Dixon asserts that it is the size scale more than complexity that accounts for degradation and collapse. Jared Diamond covers both ideas to some extent.

From a purely theoretical point of view, I think there is evidence (mostly from computer models) that the stability as a function of complexity goes through a maximum (and one needs to be exceedingly careful about what is measuring as complexity) after which there is a diminishing return -- an inverted U curve.

Some people count redundancy in with complexity. Redundancy does improve recovery/stability up to a point but with obvious costs.

In my own view, as the complexity (as I tried to describe it) increases, e.g. more, larger combinations of atoms, then either emergence of new larger-scale properties that allow the system to retain more potential energy from the energy flow stream, or the combinations increase dissipation which leads to degradation. Of course if a steady state obtains, both could be operating at the same time, but then complexity would no longer increase.

In any case, I think it is still very much a problem with definitions and details. I would hope to dig deeper into this if I do decide to write the book, or maybe in some future blog. I would love to hear more of your ideas though. Feel free to e-mail me if you think it is too much for a blog comment.



That makes sense..reading it I had a vision of the Human brain complex system giving us the emergence of consciousness which at higher levels has a tendancy to become 'less sure'(stable) as it processes more complex and subtle information. Insanity and genius at the tipping point sort of thing..... Babbling this because still have no sign resolution of the complexity/stability dilema!
Will have think and may post further, if need be, via E-mail Thanks for the offer!

George Mobus

I look forward to any thoughts you have on it.


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