I intend for this to be a series of diaries since the topic will require that. This is the introductory one and we should have lots of fun using it as an open thread for our pet ideas. That's fine as long as we realize that I am trying to make a few points here. You may disagree with them, but please do so by commenting on them, not your own straw man version. Other than that I am curious about how others view the relationship between systems in general and the political system in particular. My own view comes from having worked to further develop the ideas of Robert Rosen after his death in 1998. Rosen was a student of Nicholas Rashevsky and he received his PhD in the Program in Mathematical Biology created and run by Rashevsky. Look below the break and I'll tell you how this all unfolds from a historical perspective.
If you google Nicholas Rashevsky you will find the first entries are things that refer to me so I guess that makes me an authority of some kind. The Rosen story really begins in 1929 when Robert Maynard Hutchins became the youngest person to be a major University President, taking the post at the University of Chicago after two years as Dean of Yale Law School.
In 1929 he moved to Chicago to become President of the University of Chicago at the age of 30. Over the next several years, Hutchins came to question Legal Realism, which he had previously championed, and grew skeptical of the ability of empirical research in the social sciences to solve social problems, especially in the face of the Great Depression. Particularly through contact with Mortimer Adler, he became convinced that the solution to the philosophical problems facing the university lay in Aristotelianism and Thomism. In the late 1930s, Hutchins attempted to reform the curriculum of the University of Chicago along Aristotelian-Thomist lines, only to have the faculty reject his proposed reforms three times.
Hutchins served as President of the University of Chicago until 1945 during which he recruited a commission to inquire into the proper function of the media. By 1947, the Hutchins Commission issued their report on the "social responsibility" of the press. Later, he served as the University's Chancellor until 1951. After leaving his position at the University, Hutchins founded the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in 1959, which was his attempt to bring together a community of scholars to analyze this broad area. Hutchins described the Center's goal as examining democratic institutions "by taking a multidisciplinary look at the state of the democratic world -- and the undemocratic world as well, because one has to contrast the two and see how they are going to develop." He further stated, "After discovering what is going on, or trying to discover what is going on, the Center offers its observations for such public consideration as the public is willing to give them".
Throughout his career, Hutchins was a fierce proponent of using those select books, which have gained the reputation of being great books, as an educational tool. In his interview in 1970 titled, "Don't Just Do Something", Hutchins explained, "...the Great Books [are] the most promising avenue to liberal education if only because they are teacher-proof." Illustrating his dedication to the Great Books, Hutchins served as Editor In Chief of Great Books of the Western World and Gateway to the Great Books. Additionally, he served as coeditor of The Great Ideas Today, Chairman of the Board of Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica from 1943 to 1974, and published his own works, No Friendly Voice (1936), The Higher Learning in America (1936), Education for Freedom (1943), The University of Utopia (1953), and The Learning Society (1968).
Rosen was an admirer of Hutchins, but it went a lot further than admiration. Rosens view of complex systems grew out of what he learned from Hutchins and Rashevsky and if you understand the links I have included you will have an idea why we still suffer from both scientific and political systems that never quite got the point.
Rosen has written many books, but the one he wrote during his stay at The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at Hutchins invitation in 1979 is replete with the ideas that were seeds sowed by Hutchins along the path to that point. The book is Anticipatory Systems: Philosophical, mathematical & Methodological Foundations and was published by Pergamon Press in 1985. The delay was due to Rosen's bad health. He died of complications from diabetes thirteen years later.
Why is this story of any importance to us now? For one thing, the critique of our thinking these men put forward could have been the warning we needed to prevent most, if not all, of the disasters we are now suffering. That claim will get me in trouble, but that's OK for I know a bit more than I have revealed up to now. Because of his illness Rosen had to give up the opportunity to speak at an Important meeting in Europe and instead created an interview TAPED INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT ROSEN (transcript)
JR: Now, your book, Life- Itself. How do anticipatory systems relate to living systems?
RR: Well, living systems are anticipatory in general. The way they adapt, the way they learn to navigate in the world is by means of models. Actually, I didn't use the concept of anticipation much in that book. I was trying to really come to terms with some aspects of complexity... trying to explore some of their philosophical or epistemological consequences... why organisms are different from trying to do physics. I was really trying to explore the limitations of the machine [metaphor] rather than the full fabric of complexity in that book.
JR: Now, if life is an emergent property of a complex system, and all living systems are anticipatory, your book on complexity is going to explore how these things develop in a complex system?
RR: Well, again, complexity is more than life. Complexity is, I feel, a basic feature of the world, the material world, even the world of physics, the world of machines.
JR: From the atomic level on?
RR: Yeah. And I want to explore the... sort of, well, they're quasi-biological... they're not part of biology themselves, not originally biology...
JR: Will you talk about how complex systems develop? Or how they become more complex?
RR: I hope to, insofar as I understand it. But again, complex systems-- their nature is that they avoid one mode of understanding of them. They are ----, they have more capabilities than any one formalism, say, can grasp. What you need to be able to do it is to put all of these formalisms together to indicate sort of the very rich mix of properties that these have, which you wouldn't expect from approaching them in a straightforward physical way. It's just Re-doing mathematics. Mathematics is richer than any one part of itself. Mathematics is richer than geometry, say. Mathematics is richer than algebra. And richer than any finite single combination of parts of mathematics. And so if you want to understand the full potentialities of mathematics as a habit of mind, say, you have to go more by example. You can't do it by construction, which is basically collapsing everything down into one formalism again.
That snippet is but a taste of what this is all about and you can see why this diary is only going to be a part of the introduction.
Let me say in closing this installment that the reason this could have changed us enough to prevent mush of what we are into right now is that the thought processes that dominate science are the same ones that dominate all areas of thinking at any period of history. That was Hutchins message and it has meaning for us right now.
I have recently been linking Rosen's notions of complexity to George Lakoff's work and it makes a great deal of sense. The affinity of neo-liberalism with 18th century enlightenment thinking has its parallel in science. That is the story I will develop with this series of diaries. Even if no one reads them, writing them will be worth the effort if only because I am 73 and I need to get this out where someone can give it a look. Thanks for your patience if you do.