Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Placeholder: The Illusion (and Lie) of "Complexity"

I've said before that the world is no more complex today than it ever was, that human beings, through the division of labor, have become simpler and, therefore, less capable of understanding the world as it is (i.e., as it always has been and as it always will be).  In this sense, complexity is an illusion.

I've recently come to the conclusion that complexity is not just an illusion, but a lie.  Throughout the ages, the "complexity" of the current era has been pointed to as an excuse for maintaining the current power structure.  Founders like Hamilton and Monroe relied on complexity, as did proto-neoliberal Walter Lippmann. Nieburh points to additional examples.  The argument always goes something like this (although it is sometimes turned on its head): "the modern world is far too complex for any one man to fully understand, therefore, democracy is impossible and undesirable."  Unspoken is the fact that all societies form so that both physical and intellectual labor can be divided among several people, which implicitly requires that no one person in society will ever know everything that is needed to run the society.  "Efficiency" demands this.

The lie of complexity is often unwittingly employed by smart people like Charles Hugh Smith.  Why?  I believe it is because people like CHS are rationalists, that they honestly believe that human beings are "rational" in the manner economists and other social scientists (witch doctors) describe, and that the only way to describe "irrational" choices embraced by most people is by identifying a limit to rationality.  But the commonly peddled definition of "rationality" is itself a lie, one that those in power ignore constantly.  (And, not to mention, it is the alleged limits of human rationality the elite use to maintain their power.)  At the end of the day, rationalists are the enablers of the power addicts (the hallmark of a co-dependent relationship).

The best way for me to demonstrate the lie of complexity is to use fractals.  Fractals are often described as defining complexity or even chaos, but they are, in fact, the purest form of order: a pattern that iteratively repeats itself.  As I've said before, I believe that humans behave fractally, that they apply the same basic decision-making function iteratively and at different levels of abstraction, thus explaining why markets appear fractal in nature.  To understand (and even control) a society, all you need to do is understand the seed function employed by the mean of that society.  Basically, all human action is determined by comparing what is experienced to what was expected and reacting to the emotion created by the mismatch, if any, between the two.  The easiest way to control human action is to define expectations, as humans will work tirelessly (and violently, if necessary) to ensure that expectations are met.  But propaganda is a useful tool for playing upon the cognitive biases of people to help them see perfect alignment (when expectations and experience are actually in conflict) and conflict (when expectations and experience are fully aligned).

The specific fractal I'm thinking of is called the Koch Star.  As explained quite well by Wikipedia:

The Koch snowflake can be constructed by starting with an equilateral triangle, then recursively altering each line segment as follows:

1.divide the line segment into three segments of equal length.
2.draw an equilateral triangle that has the middle segment from step 1 as its base and points outward.
3.remove the line segment that is the base of the triangle from step 2.
After one iteration of this process, the result is a shape similar to the Star of David.
The Koch snowflake is the limit approached as the above steps are followed over and over again. The Koch curve originally described by Koch is constructed with only one of the three sides of the original triangle. In other words, three Koch curves make a Koch snowflake.

Let's visualize the explanation:

So, here's the lie of complexity.  Mathematically,

The Koch curve has an infinite length because each time the steps above are performed on each line segment of the figure there are four times as many line segments, the length of each being one-third the length of the segments in the previous stage. Hence the total length increases by one third and thus the length at step n will be (4/3)n of the original triangle perimeter: the fractal dimension is log 4/log 3 ≈ 1.26, greater than the dimension of a line (1) but less than Peano's space-filling curve (2).
But we can see intuitively from the animated .gif above that after the fourth iteration of the fractal, the area enclosed by the "infinite length" curve does not change, i.e., an infinite length bounds a finite space:

So the area of a Koch snowflake is 8/5 of the area of the original triangle, or \frac{2s^2\sqrt{3}}{5}.[2] Therefore the infinite perimeter of the Koch triangle encloses a finite area.
Thus, in spite of the beauty and certainty of mathematics, increasing the complexity of the fractal Koch curve to infinity does not change the fundamental, finite nature of what that curve actually describes. 

The Koch Star is no different than our current reality.  You can divide labor as much as you want, to infinity even, but that will not change the fact that we live in a finite world.  The complexity of the modern world is just as illusory as the infinite length of the Koch curve.  Yes, in theory, if you keep on dividing things in two forever, you theoretically create perpetual exponential growth, but reality quickly intrudes by placing real limits on what can be achieved.  Anybody who attempts to sell complexity beyond the limits of reality is, by definition, a liar and a fraud.  Even if they don't realize it.

A separate but related thought I will develop is that Taoism (as set forth in the original Tao Te Ching) is not a spiritual or religious tract at all, but a timeless description of the seed function of the human societal fractal.