In the language of “chaos” theory, America – if not all of Western civilization – is in a state of turbulence of such intensity that efforts to restore order by recourse to traditional systems and policies will be to no avail. On the contrary, it is our insistence upon established practices that has led us to our plight; and only a fundamental, creative change in our thinking and behavior can extricate us from the destructive consequences of our prior assumptions. -- Via Butler Shafer

I started getting interested in complex systems by listening to David Snowden describe his work. The first time was almost 3 years ago to the day. I heard him again almost a year later and it reinforced his ideas and concepts.

Dave introduced me to the idea that some spaces are complex and in such spaces cause & effect is a retrospective coincidence so that the tools and techniques that used to yield results may cause unpredictable future effects. The challenge of complex spaces is that, when you're in them, they don't necessarily look any different to the knowable spaces we are comfortable with. (Dave also introduced me to the exploits of the incomparable Mulla Nasrudin for which I am very grateful).

From that point onwards I got very interested in sense-making and, given my background and my fascination for blogging, I became very interested in topics and topic maps as a tool for understanding and representing things of interest. In a sense my topic map defines my world, or at least the subset of my world I choose to make public. What has always tripped me up is how poor are the tools we have to work with. My own efforts in addressing this situation, small as they were, have stumbled and failed.

Originally my interest in these things was purely theoretical but over the last 3 years my interest in politics and the nature of the world around me has blossomed and my interests in complexity, systems, sense-making, and reasoning have seemed more practical. I have gone from being an unthinking socialist to a thinking... for want of a better word libertarian. I hesitate when I use the term because I still understand so little of the philosophical underpinnings that define it.

What I do know is that many people who hear me talk about politics and life these days appear to think I am, at best, misguided and, at worst, delusional. I'm treating that as a good sign. For people who believe they are in an ordered space where the old answers remain true then anyone who acts like they believe they are in a complex space may appear to be out-of-step or irrational. Of course I cannot utterly dismiss the possibility that I am misguided or delusional but I see no way to address that other than to keep asking questions.

Recently (although not so recently as I would like) I started studying psychology. I found it to be a fascinating subject both from the perspective of personal discovery but also as a source of tools for thinking about human problems. Social psychology has many interesting things to teach us. From a political perspective one need only consider GroupThink and then look around.

Lately I have been thinking about my future and what I would like to do, if finances and personal situation permit. I am a generalist and aspire to be a PolyMath. I believe that much of interest lies at the interstices of the sciences and arts. I have expressed an interest in doing research and am looking for the right opportunity.

In the meantime I continue to self-educate as best I can. Right now I am honing up my logical argument skills and beginning to read about the very interesting area of Systems Theory. Systems Theory seems to be the ultimate polymath science that seeks always to unify, it's exciting.

The goal of all this effort, like most of my goal, is not yet directed to any specific purpose (not even a political one) but to providing myself, and hopefully others, with better tools to master life. In Gregory Benfords fantastic novels about human future (e.g. Great Sky River) he describes how humans have an enhanced sensorium and access to the aspects of the wisdom of their dead.

I see the shearing forces that act on our society, like the evolution of technology outstripping the pace of social change, and the increasing uncertainty and turbulence we face and cannot but believe that we need new and better tools if we are to survive. Right now I believe that my lifes work is in researching, developing, and using such tools.

Phew... This post went somwhere other than I where I was expecting and, despite being something of a ramble, wanted to be written. I think that reflects my growing uncertainties about my present and my future: my own personal turbulence.

16/06/2006 10:37 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments: