Saturday, November 10, 2007

Time & Space in Complex Adaptive Political Systems

My sincere thanks to the friendly, gracious, and enthusiastic folks of Anchorage who are making my visit so stimulating.

A participant in one of the discussions here on Iran and complexity challenged me to think about the implications of interactions in a complex adaptive political system over space and time. I suspect this is way beyond the state of the art of anyone's understanding of the dynamics of a political system, but I thought I would at least lay down a marker that this issue merits some serious consideration. I hope others will chime in...

Remarks are based on the assumption that the system is one containing at least two countries.
I wonder if we need to discuss what is meant by "spatial distribution." Surely it includes geographic distribution, but that would seem to be losing significance with the spread of education and instant communication. Should we include other types of "distance," e.g., cultural distance?

Hypothesis 1 = The greater the cultural distance, the more
irregular the process of adaptation will be over time.

Explanation: Cultural distance will inhibit understanding,
which will interfere with one side's response to the other side by interposing delays between the impact on Side A of some event and Side B's recognition of it.

If the process of adaptation that enables a complex system to evolve is hindered, the implications in international affairs may well be serious, e.g., the provocation of a needless crisis because one side is irritated about the lack of sensitivity on the part of the other side simply because the other side remains clueless rather than because it intends to be dismissive. Progress in relations may be indefinitely retarded because Side A expects a response within a time frame too short for Side B to respond, so Side A gives up and perhaps behaves in a negative way that is more rapidly seen by Side B, which then responds in kind (I.e., also negatively), perhaps leaving Side A wondering why “they only understand the language of force.”
Consider the following quotation on the human heart from

“There are many systems in nature in which a large assembly of autonomous parts
(agents) interacting locally, in the absence of a high-level global controller,
can give rise to highly coordinated and optimized behavior. The complex adaptive
behavior of global-level structures that emerges is a consequence of nonlinear
spatio-temporal interactions of local-level processes or subsystems. This form
of nested co-optation (across levels of organization) constitutes isolated
cells, organisms, societies and ecologies. Systems of this type are governed by
universal principles of adaptation and self-organization, in which control and
order is emergent rather than predetermined and have come to be known as complex adaptive systems (CAS).”

Countries are autonomous parts that interact locally without a controller (except for the UN). If adaptation is hindered by cultural distance, the rate of optimization of behavior is likely to be slowed. Does this help to understand the oft-remarked relatively high speed of technological progress in comparison to the slow progress toward improving the quality of world governance?


Anonymous said...

Dr. Mills,

Many thanks for your thought-provoking presentations last Thursday night and Friday noon. Would there were more advisors with your perspective who were valued by the current administration!

I have quickly read through your paper on Diagnosing Ancient Political Systems and have been also looking at the variables which you have used for your comparative systems analysis. I wonder if there would be useful to the predictive outcome of your model if more specific criteria were used in each of the variable categories - at least for current political events. For example, Under Leadership Cohesiveness, to rate the two entities compared by characteristics such as personal characteristics of the head of state: personal knowledge of opposing state culture, number and diversity of advisors influencing, rigidity/flexibility of responses, depth of experience in world affairs, independence of action, etc. For each characteristic a rating system could be developed. The result would still be qualitative, but would have somewhat more objectivity than an estimate of "cohesiveness". I have other ideas which I will email you directly.

Thanks again for the intellectual stimulation and the jolt of endorphens.

Penny Vasileff

William deB. Mills said...

Your comments are moving in exactly the right direction. I was making the basic point that we could and should create a methodology for measuring the state of health of any (historic or current) political system. As a first step, I proposed several novel metrics for measuring the state of health. If you accept Leadership Cohesiveness as a useful metric, then the next step is to figure out how to do the measurement, and this is where your suggestions are right on target.

Now, someone has to volunteer to do that difficult job of designing an actual research project. If you would care to try, I'd love to help.