117: Complexity and Postmodernism by Paul Cilliers

by Gerard


117: Cilliers, Paul. Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding Complex Systems. London: Routledge, 2002. 142 pp. ISBN 0-203-01225-9.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 110: Metaphysics
  • 117: Structure

Paul Cilliers’s Complexity and Postmodernism lies at the intriguing intersection of philosophy and science. It has long been theorized that the rules and equations that govern scientific processes and physical models could also pertain to complex, philosophical structures. One of the interesting notions of the postmodern school of thought is that there is the possibility to get away from traditional notions of order and morality, a way to escape structured thought. Complexity, on the other hand, deals with the notion that all the parts of a system are indelibly tied to each other, preventing the system from collapse. Complexity seems to evade understanding, but you don’t have to understand a system for it to still work.

Cilliers’s discussion of these two notions helps the reader parse through some of the thick language regarding modern systems of thought to get a better understanding of the modern world. He starts by approaching the world of complex systems the way a computer scientist would approach a algorithm. There are rule sets and patterns, and most things fall inside those two buckets to varying degrees. To that process, he adds a layer of postmodern thought that allows for a richer, relativistic understanding of complex systems. From there, he fleshes out a system of what he calls “connectionist” thought, which can be likened to a neural network or a self-defining language.

The more I think about the world today, the more this system of thought seems to work. Many of the forces in our world are interconnected in a large complex system. World economies, social forces, religious theology, and many other structures have both internal complexity and fit inside a large framework. While this book is relatively short, it isn’t a very easy read, and there were large sections during I just dutifully went along with the text. But there were some interesting nuggets of thought that I’ll take to the next book. A short but dense book.