Explanations and complications

Being organisms ourselves, we often find it ‘simple’ – that is, easy and ‘natural’ – to interact with other organic entities, especially if they are closely related to us. This kind of ‘simplicity’ is transparent and implicit. But when we try to explain how complex systems work by naming their parts and their functions, the symbols we use often turn out very complicated.

Living systems are organic systems, which means that they are self-organizing and self-guided. But if we describe how any system works, we are making a map of it from outside the system. Such an external and explicit map has its uses in a universe of discourse, but does not work implicitly like the system’s internal map, which has to be a simplified representation of the territory it maps (Chapter 11). When a geographical map is reduced in scale, minute features of the territory disappear.

The more you analyze an organic system, the more precise, detailed and complicated your description becomes. The more methodically (or ‘systematically’) you map the system, the more its subsystems appear as mechanisms. But an external map which makes an organic system look mechanical is of little or no use for guiding your interactions with that system in real time; for that you have to rely on your internal (implicit) mapping. Biologically speaking, dialogue between members of the same organic species amounts to the structural coupling of their internal guidance systems which we call empathy.

Sometimes, though, real-time dialogue and other interactions with other selves turn awry; and sometimes the only way to restore their implicit simplicity is to investigate how they work. Sometimes, as in restoring a living body to health, an expert analysis of its workings can furnish the key to a healing habit-change. Empathy itself may need to step back from immediacy to inquiry in order to heal itself.

One thought on “Explanations and complications”

  1. “[W]hen we try to explain how complex systems work by naming their parts and their functions, the symbols we use often turn out very complicated.” Ain’t that the truth?!

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