In 2016, I presented a paper that built upon the Big History story, and humanity’s role in this story, to understand the current compromised state of planet earth as complex system. I called for a Big Science Project and Research Agenda, on the scale of the Big History Project, as the urgently-needed pathway for unlocking complexity. Due to today’s rapid and escalating system change, I called for acceleration of innovation and co-adaptation to re-provision the planet and humanity for a sustainable future; while simultaneously addressing today’s needs and profound problems caused by unsustainable development.
I would love to start a conversation about the topic. The article can be read on ResearchGate or in the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics, Vol. 11, No. 4 (2016) 563–572.
Hi John, Can you explain what you mean in your paper by 'unlocking complexity'?
Unlocking complexity is the term I use to refer to enabling socio-ecological systems to re-activate the deeply interconnected physicality and co-adapted behaviors through which they, as complex adaptive systems, thrive. I contend that the ability of these systems to thrive -- and for humanity to thrive within them -- is currently compromised by a history of escalating human actions that arrest the ability of complex co-adapted systems to sustain their whole-system functionality and their ability to co-adapt and regenerate whole-system complexity. At the most basic level, this includes the complexity through which, in the early stages of biological complexification of the planet, living systems co-adapted with complexity to use low energy photons of light to power the transformation of planet Earth from a gray orb into a highly-complex, interconnected, productive and regenerative web of life. It also includes the continuously unfolding big history of biological complexification of the living planet.
In the “Whole-Systems Approach to Sustainability”, that has been accepted for the Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education, I talk about how to unlock complexity by re-provisioning complex socio-ecological systems to function as biologically-complex systems. I then talk about re-empowering these biologically-complex systems, so they can promote regeneration at the higher levels of complexity and biocapacity needed for completion of their currently-arrested transformation to cognitive complexity. I talk about removing the residuals of Anthropocene 1.0 behaviors that currently lock-up biologically-complex systems and that compromise their ability to sustain full-functionality, regeneration and transformation into cognitively-complex systems. I speak to unlocking complexity by empowering the massive numbers of cycles of innovation and co-adaptation as feedstock for feedforward-feedback loops. I explore the on-going building of the wisdom needed to enable the co-adaptation of deeply-coordinated behaviors, re-empower biologically-complex adaptive systems, and unlock currently-arrested maturation of planet earth as a cognitively-complex adaptive system. I address these as dimensions of the emerging Anthropocene 2.0 consciousness that can build the transformative resilience needed by humanity to thrive in this period of rapid socio-ecological system change.
You're speaking in such abstract terms that I'm not understanding what you mean on a concrete level.
Complex adaptive systems operate through the co-adapted behaviors of immense numbers of diverse players. For example, in ecological systems as complex adaptive systems, the actions of each player serve that player and due to co-adapted behaviors also serves other players of that system. For example, in sustaining their metabolic functions, bacteria transform wastes produced by one lifeform into food for other lifeforms. Immense numbers of actions of diverse participants in these webs of life, collectively sustain the needs of all entities in the biological system while also regenerating the complexity needed for the system to continue to provide clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, and fertile soils to produce food and fiber.
For centuries humanity has been modifying complex adapted systems with an inadequate awareness and appreciation of their co-adapted behaviors. For example, modern agriculture has been replacing ecological systems with less-complex monoculture crop production. To help crops survive, herbicides have been added to soils to kill co-adapted species so they cannot out-compete the crops. Over time, the accumulation of petrochemicals in the soil has locked-up the soil’s ability to regenerate ecological diversity and to renew the deeply coordinated behaviors needed for full ecological functionality. To “unlock complexity”, areas of row-crop monoculture food production can be replaced by smaller areas of high-yield ecosystem-based food production, including integrated agriculture and aquaculture, aquaponic production, permaculture or other sustainable agricultures. “Unlocking complexity” in these areas can also be accelerated by soil management to accelerate the break-down of industrial residuals and thereby empower ecological processes to more quickly build higher levels of complexity.
As a second example, let’s consider how traditional urban development has locked-up complexity and how development can change to unlock complexity. Typically, development infrastructural systems (for energy, water, sewerage, etc.) have been planned as independent rather than collaborative systems; and have therefore reduced co-adapted complexity and the deeply interconnected behaviors needed for optimal whole-system performance. Unlocking complexity begins by appreciating ecological systems as our primary supports that provide clean air, fresh water, and productive soils. With this appreciation, we can plan development infrastructure (as secondary support systems) in ways that support ecological system health and productivity. We can then design buildings and landscapes as humanity’s tertiary support systems that appreciatively participate in fully-functional and thriving ecosystems while optimizing our ability to thrive as integral parts of these systems.
I hope these examples clarify. I look forward to continuing and expanding the discussion.
Now I understand what you mean. Interesting ideas. Are your ideas related to Cradle to Cradle Design?