Category Archives: Creativity

The Age of Integration and Emergence

What Drives Evolution and Emergence?  Physics tell us that to understand the world we need simply to understand “the dynamics of cause and effect”; in reality however, the simple dynamics of cause and effect fail quite miserably when it comes to explaining “Natural Evolution and Emergent Complexity”...

“So What?…” you might say.  Well understanding evolution and emergent complexity is going to turn out to be more important than most anyone might previously have thought.  Because although science may have spent the last 400 years honing its understanding of The Linear Dynamics of Cause and Effect, the reality of everyday life in the 21st century is that the really interesting stuff is increasingly the result of “The Nonlinear Dynamics of Adaptive Integration and Emergent Complexity”…


The Source of Complexity

My journey to understand Complexity was kick-started back in 1994 by the book “Complexity – The Emerging Science at the edge of Order and Chaos”.  In this book the author suggested that complexity should not occur naturally because it seems to defy the Second Law of Thermodynamics (SLOT) and the concept of maximizing “Entropy”.

I had come across the SLOT as a student and knew it dealt with the spontaneous distribution of energy, but could not remember much about the concept of “entropy”.  A little research revealed, much to my surprise, that seemingly entropy is generally associated with “disorder”; and that according to physicists everything in the universe spontaneously moves towards maximum disorder — which was certainly not my experience, nor my understanding of nature’s natural evolution to ever-greater complexity.

This apparent conflict between natural evolution and a fundamental law of physics sparked my curiosity.  I became curious to understand why physicists would believe such a thing, but furthermore, and more importantly, I began to wonder “what is the source of nature’s self-designing complexity?”

The Interplay of Feedback

“So?…” you might ask.  Have I managed to formulate any sort of an answer to this tricky question?  Well yes, I think I have.

Since the SLOT effectively operates like a negative feedback system in that it pulls (or dampens) a system to a equilibrium, it should be no surprise that the movement away from equilibrium might be the result of resistance to this pull.  But moreover, and more interestingly, it is the interplay of two different types of resistance that can naturally drive evolution away from featureless thermodynamic equilibrium to  extraordinarily creative complexity.

All spontaneously Self-Designing Complexity is simple the interplay of  Weak Negative Feedback and Strong Positive Feedback; simply the interplay of creative “Incompressible Dynamics” and reinforcing “Emergent Dynamics”

  • Insufficient negative feedback allows the surfacing of “Incompressible Fluid Dynamics”,
  • Strong positive feedback reinforces local symmetry-breaking and “Emergent Conformity”,
  • And the interplay of both drives the “integration of co-emergent diversity” and the resultant “Emergent Complexity”


The Interplay of Entropy

Interestingly, the systems matrix above can also be represented in terms of thermodynamic entropy and “Information Entropy”.   Information entropy is a different type of entropy to thermodynamic entropy.  Whereas thermodynamic entropy is a measure of disorder, information entropy is a measure of uncertainty and unpredictability.


The Interplay of Integration and Emergence

Essentially complexity is “integrated information”.  All complex adaptive systems are characterized by the fact that they have “low thermodynamic entropy, but high information entropy”; consequently these types of systems can be considered to be highly organized but unpredictable nonetheless.

So while most people might generally think about evolution in terms of “an ecosystem of plants and animals”, the reality is that plants and animal (and the ecosystem itself) are really just “information structures”, and evolution simply creates evermore complex and unpredictable information structures.

At the most fundamental level, evolution is not about biology, it is about unpredictable “emergent information”; and the wheels of evolution just keep on turning.

Evolution created us, and we in turn have created complex information structures; but in these early years of the 21st century the wheels of evolution might just be speeding up.

It could reasonably be argued that in our ever-more rapidly interconnecting world (in 2016), we are likely fast approaching a phase transition in human development, a transition to a whole new age ; “An Age of Accelerated Evolution”.  And this new age of accelerated creativity will not be dominated by the old linear paradigm of predictable cause and effect, but by the new nonlinear paradigm of unpredictable “Integration and Emergence”…

Why this will be the Century of Complexity…


ALTHOUGH science may have spent the last 400 years honing its understanding of The Linear Dynamics of Cause and Effect”, the reality of everyday life in the 21st century is that the really interesting stuff is increasingly the result of “The Nonlinear Dynamics of Adaptive Integration and Emergent Complexity”…

Linear and Nonlinear Dynamics

“Physics” is the ultimate science of cause and effect.  Physicists like to describe their science as the hardest of “hard science” because physics can claim to be governed by hard and fast scientific “Laws”.  This of course would seem to imply that many of the so-called “soft sciences” are in some way not quite as elevated, not quite as good.

In truth however we could say that physics is an “easy science”, and the soft sciences are “difficult” because the “laws” of physics only really work in the absence of “noise”, and yet the everyday world of the soft sciences is full of noise because most everything is continually battered and buffeted by “constantly changing feedback” which can generate wild “nonlinear dynamics”.

In reality all dynamics have feedback (and resultant nonlinearity), it is just that some dynamics have much less feedback than others.  Physics is, in a sense, the science of “dynamics with negligible feedback”, the science of “linear dynamics” — or in other words it is the science of the nonlinear stuff that can be safely “compressed” into neat linear differential equations which express neat linear “cause and effect”.

New Paradigm

In the simplest possible terms, linear dynamics are dynamics where the effect is proportional to the cause, and nonlinear dynamics are where the effect can be disproportional to the cause.

Physics, it would be fair to say, has throughout its 400 year history, actively tried to steer clear of messy nonlinear dynamics, and in so doing has actively established a paradigm of linear dynamics; a linear paradigm of cause and effect.

But then, out of the blue, in the latter part of the 20th century, along came “Chaos Theory” and “Complexity Theory” which between them hinted strongly at a completely different paradigm; a nonlinear paradigm of “integration and emergence”…

Chaos Theory and Complexity Theory

Unfortunately however nobody seems to have been paying the proper attention, and so chaos theory and complexity theory as they stand today are still a bit of a mishmash of concepts and don’t really have agreed upon definitions.

Chaos Theory, for example, is generally associated with the relatively vague notion of the so-called “Butterfly Effect” (or as the academic community like to say “sensitivity to initial conditions”), but this association has, in my opinion, done more harm than good for it is misguided, and its misdirection has merely served to mask the true nature of chaos.  Complexity Theory is similarly afflicted, but rather than analyse all the pros and cons of all the various definitions of both Chaos and Complexity, I will instead simply offer my own definitions…

Defining Chaos and Complexity

In my opinion chaos is not primarily characterised by sensitivity to initial conditions; but by emergence of decisions points and the resultant sensitivity to choice.  Chaos is simply “adaptive instability”; it is “unresolved internal adaptation to feedback, surfacing as turbulent diversity on the system level”.  So, in the simplest possible terms, we could say that

“Chaos is Incompressible Creativity”…

Complexity is simply the resolution of adaptive instability.  Complexity is the result of the “adaptive  integration of co-emergent diversity”, which ultimately results in “emergent complex systems” that have effectively “organised themselves into existence”.  So, in the simplest possible terms, we could say that

 “Complexity is Integrated Creativity”



Integration for Free

So is any of this important?  Absolutely it is!   We live in a world of nonlinear dynamics, some of it compressible, most of it not.  Physics and Chemistry generally deals with the compressible stuff, but Evolution and Emergent Complexity deals with the rest…

To understand Emergent Complexity is to understand how in any system of adaptive entities many diverse things can randomly occur and be reinforced; but furthermore, and much more importantly, it also tells us that

with the Co-Emergence of Diversity

“Complex-Creative-Integration comes for free!…”

This “Integration for Free” is evolution’s secret sauce.  Evolution drives the emergence of great diversity, which leads to the natural integration of co-emergent diversity, which drives the next level of emergence.  This constant interplay of integration and emergence means that evolution naturally ratchets-up complexity over time, and consequently “the complex whole is forever becoming greater than the sum of its less complex parts”

Natural Creativity

Some years after its publication, the English philosopher Herbert Spencer summarised Darwin’s theory of evolution as being the “Survival of the Fittest”, but unfortunately this description, although popular, is somewhat misleading.

Evolution is not about the “Survival of the Fittest”; evolution is about the “Integration of the Optimally Adapted” (or more precisely, the optimal integration of optimally adapted diversity).

There is a subtle difference between these two descriptions; the former implies anti-synergistic competition, while the latter implies synergistic collaboration.  When we look at the natural world it is obvious that Nature favours integrated diversity over uniformity.  Mother Nature does not employ an asymmetric “winner takes all” strategy, but prefers a more chaotic, but ultimately more creative, strategy of “mutual reinforcement”…

Accelerated Evolution

More and more in the early part of this 21st century we are being made to realise the creative power of complexity dynamics and its potential for system self-organisation and emergence.  In some arenas such as a multicultural society, the economy, technology, the arts, and even our daily lives, self-organisation and emergence is a source of great diversity and creativity; but in other areas such as financial markets, terror networks, and the global climate it can be a source of great instability and destruction.

Over the last 400 years cause and effect has told us a lot about the dynamics of simple systems without feedback, but the dynamics of complex systems with feedback is a subject that is becoming increasingly relevant and important to understand.

Fundamentally complexity is consolidated “information”.  People might generally think about evolution in terms of “plants and animals”, but in reality plants and animal are really just “information structures”, and evolution simply creates evermore complex information structures (structures that are ever more difficult to mathematically compress).

So essentially evolution is not about biology, it is about “emergent information”.  Evolution created us, and we in turn create complex information structures.  In fact it could be reasonably argued that in our ever-more rapidly interconnecting world, we are likely fast approaching a phase transition in human development, a transition to a whole new age ; “An Age of Accelerated Evolution”.  And this new age of accelerated creativity will be dominated not by the old linear paradigm of simple cause and effect, but by “The New Nonlinear Paradigm of Creative Integration and Emergence”…

Algorithmic Search

The new physics of the 21st century and beyond, will be the physics of self-organising systems and accelerated evolution.  Understanding this “new physics of evolution” will be essential if we want some control over our ever-increasing inter-connected, co-dependent world.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) is seen by many as a means of dealing with complexity and already AI is being used to get computers to learn, but ultimately this will turn out to be really rather small potatoes; the really big pay-off will come from getting computers to explore.

After studying chaos and complexity for so many years, it strikes me that the universe is not fundamentally (as it so often suggested) purely mathematical, but is more generally “algorithmic”.  The process of evolution is, as Darwin himself more or less suggested, a continual process of the emergence of ever greater complexity; a process which would seem to suggests that Mother Nature is, in fact, ceaselessly executing a form of algorithmic search, constantly seeking out the most successful combinations of integrated diversity.

If this is indeed the case then it begs the question, “is what Nature finds random, or are some things more likely to be found than others?”  Well, as it turns out, chaos suggests the latter…

Chaos has alerted us to an algorithmic universe that was previously hidden from our awareness; a nonlinear universe of “strange complex attractors”.  The existence of such algorithmic attractors begs yet another question, “are there some, or even many, hidden gems (or dangers for that matter) in this nonlinear universe that we are as yet unaware of?”

In these early days of the 21st century, we are only just beginning to reach the computational power needed to address this question and although computational exploration of complex system behaviour is still an activity very much in its infancy, it is destined to grow to great importance because

For good or bad, it is safe to say, that the 21st century will be the century that demonstrates the awesome Creative Power of Evolution and Complexity Dynamics…