ON SITUATIONAL CONTEXT AND MULTIPLE UNIVERSALITIESWiggins
, at Opposed System Design
, had the following comment in a post " Evolving Thoughts on Terrorism
" recently which I had meant to blog about at the time but have only gotten around to addressing now:"As a rule I am wary of metaphors that involve the second law of thermodynamics, Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems, quantum physics and evolution. Sometimes they are truly appropriate (this is why John Boyd rocketed to the top of my esteem). Usually they are not. I’m not passing judgment here yet. Just musing that when making comparisons to nuanced concepts, it is very easy to slide into sloppy generalizations. "
A very useful caveat in my view, and one that spurred me to further thought.
There are a number of such metaphors applied to complex adaptive systems, including social ones. I do it frequently here myself. Sometimes I am simply making an analogy and at other times I am writing about a phenomena that is actually in play in a given situation. Some of these phenomena are considered universalities - the Laws of Physics being one example - that seemingly govern all situations or at least enough of those in a humanocentric scenario as to be perceived as being universal. Evolution would be another example and Robert Wright
once wrote a well-considered book
on that very topic.
Sometimes, however, these universalities do not seem to apply very well to a specific situation, one noted by Wiggins in his post. Most of the time this may be due to the "sloppy generalizations" to which Wiggins alluded. At other time it may be that the role of a universality in a particular situational dynamic, that while still present, is not very important for the following reasons:
a) Time frame of the scenario
b) Relative effect in comparison to that of other universalities is not significant on human scale
c) Perspective of the observer
d) Local vs. Global scenarios
e) Complexity of net variables
I'm certain Dr. Von
or Wiggins could think of more possibilities than can I.
Analysts attempting to game the probable outcomes of hypothetical scenarios for complex social systems ( say " Invading Iraq") have to weigh the universalities against each other as well as the particularities of the context. The greater the simplification
employed in making an analogy between two dissimilar contexts affected by the same universality then, I would argue, the longer the time frame required to see if the analogy has validity.