A complex system is a system in which ‘participants’ and their contexts are either modified by other participants and events in the system or self-modify in response to those participants and events. All living ecologies are complex systems, including social systems. Complexity has several important, and routine, implications including:
Complex systems are dynamic and fluxing, producing patterns rather than lasting structures.
Systems are rarely lone systems. Patterns tend to overlap having fuzzy boundaries with other systems. This can involve nesting and hierarchies, which may provide temporary limits on variation, but also makes ‘interference’ (both within the system and from ‘external’ systems) normal.
Actions taken will frequently produce unintended consequences. Even simple conversations may go in completely unexpected directions with lasting unintended consequences.
We cannot understand the world completely due to the numbers of linkages, the variety of effects and the possible changes in participants. Consequently, there will always be gaps in knowledge and expectation, which add to uncertainties and unexpectedness. We can call this unknown a social ‘unconscious’, and explore its dynamics and effects.
Large-scale transitions can arise from quite small events. Greater accuracy of measurement may not give greater certainty, but give completely different predictions, as actions do not always cancel each other out statistically. Similarly, statistical ‘long tails’ can have large effects.
While systems are unpredictable in specific, they can sometimes be predictable by trend and pattern. For example, we can predict a continuing rise in global temperature and climate turmoil if we do not change various activities, but we cannot predict weather patterns at a particular time, and our accuracy decreases the further into the future we go.
Despite this variability, there seem to be patterns of transition which can be used to postulate, or interpret, the type of course events may take.