From Complexity to Construction to Intersecting Processes: Puzzles for Theoretical and Social Inquiry

Although stable systems may be extremely rare as a fraction of the complex ecological systems being sampled (as shown in the 1970s theoretical work of Robert May), they can be readily constructed over time by the addition of populations from a pool of populations or by elimination of populations from systems not at a steady state. The implications of such a constructionist perspective could challenge not only ecologists, but also theorists in all fields that make use of models without a process of construction over time of the complexity of the situation studied.

A paper to appear in the journal Ecological Complexity centers not so much on advancing this perspective, but on two consequent puzzles:

1. Why does the constructionist view seem difficult for theorists to take up?
(Why it has not been discovered and enunciated by many others and why, once someone knows about it, they tend not to dwell on its implications?)

2. What social implications should be drawn from the resulting view of complexity, especially to the extent that critical events cannot be predicted?
(There seemed to be an overlap between Hayek’s neoliberal critique of attempts to model complexity well enough to make predictions and economic policy and my view that “knowledge, plans, and action [have to] be continually reassessed in response to developments — predicted and surprising alike” — see previous post.)

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