This week I would like to expand on systems. When we (used to, soon will) walk into an elevator we are part of a system. Attending a congregation, or a school puts in a cybernetic mesh. Being an agent in society gives us certain privileges, obligations and affordances. We could ask for milk, help our neighbor — or mow our lawn on Saturday, but not Sunday. These systems can be of various set ups, and as such will have different dynamics. For example classifications of: formal/informal x open/closed which came up last week.

But on a more categorical level they could be complex or complicated.

A system in which interconnectedness overrules design

Elaborate stacking of known constructs to create a sense of design

The difference between these is paramount in understanding the universal shortcoming of over-technologizing. - - -

My working list of axioms around complex systems is:

  • interconnected over rules design: they are not designable
  • in fact: emergence (‘it just happens…’ as one student informally articulated) is the opposite of design
  • a system is as complex as we need it to be: we can exercise reduction if the situation allows, and seek extra details (context) when the solution slides off the problem
  • complex systems are open ended
  • hence a machine can never be truly intelligent by the way (I recommend Marcus’ book for those interested in that point)
  • complicated systems–like a car, computer program or the highway system–are an elaborate stacking of known constructs.

We can model the difference between complex and complicated as the difference between designing a highway system or designing less accidents.


The long and the short of it is that a close ended system cannot be complex. And all thinking human agents–creativity included–are nothing but open-ended. Moreover, that dissonance can only be managed by the aware (examined/intentional) practitioner.

The absence of such inside/out perspective can lead to a dangerous autopilot, lack of explainability and inability to scale creativity. What is doubly ironic is that complicated thinking asks algorithms out in the world to be all of that–autonomous, explainable, and creative–before asking the self–agent to reflect on those.

The correlation between the (mediums/)systems and their implicit nudges on our heuristics results in a rendered snapshot of how elaborate–or plagiarized–is our way of showing up in the world. As we lack the ability to self navigate–travel within our heads–the more monolithic our ways of showing up in the world. The less we are able to self author, the more we will rely on external (complicated) definitions of us, which will undoubtedly come with inaccuracies and missed nuances.

March 21, 2020