Essential 21st century ideas > Modernism and complex systems
Things can reach a point where they are entire and unalterable (e.g. Einstein’s struggle for a unified theory). Perhaps the original archetypal world postulated by Plato was a product of the distant source of this idea. To take one example, the resulting legacy from Gnostic dualism is still with us (e.g. ‘good’ and ‘evil’). Together with the concepts below, it has led to such errors as social Darwinism and other kinds of rigid and potentially dangerous concepts based on the superiority of one thing over another, evaluated by its perceived degree of approximation to whatever is held to be ‘perfect’.
Time goes in a straight line (the ‘arrow’ of time) and there is such a thing as ‘progress’; that things are ‘going somewhere’. Also that choosing one path excludes others (because of causality—see below), and that some things cannot run simultaneously. Led to historical errors and cultural bias, for example where previous cutures are seen as ‘less developed’ and persists in phrases such as ‘the developed world’, to theories based on time that may fail wherever time as we understand it changes.
One thing leads to another in a linear manner, and the train of causality can be traced with exactitude, based on observed pattern, and that this is irrevocable. Produced many concepts from the big bang theory to social and organisational hierarchies. The illusion of the Newtonian universe persists in popular thought, and is tacitly supported by the popular misconception that science is based on definite causalities and certainty.
There has to be an ‘imperfection’ to induce change—for example, complex systems need ‘noise’ to prevent them from lapsing into stereotypical fixed patterns. If things become ‘perfect’, they crystallise into rigidity unless they can be stimulated into change by some external force; but the more ‘perfect’ they become, by definition the more self-contained and resistant to change they are, and consequently immune to external influence.
Time is just one way to interpret a property of the universe, based on our own position in it, but some ideas presume it to be absolute, and the conscious self receives it as such. Debunking the myth of ‘progress’ is a well-debated post-modern issue. Perhaps we have constructed the perception of time so that order is given to the stream of sensory experience we have to process—for instance, the elements of complex dreams can occur non-sequentially within a very small timeframe, only to be ordered on waking into a sequence acceptable to consciousness.
In a complex system, one thing may cause another, but they are all part of an interwoven web of interactions where causality becomes impossible to trace—the smallest change in one part of the system can cause large changes elsewhere; multiply this factor by however many interacting elements there are, and causality becomes unworkable. This is how parts of the natural world are modelled, and how human activity tends to find pattern—not by evoking an abstract Platonic ideal, but through emergent relationships.