by michael.heiss

Language and System Complexity

Reading about language, dialogue and complex systems used to be paralell readings with some things in common. Today, language and complexity seem to clearly show their interdependency as we have been exploring social systems as meaning systems based on communications.

System Complexity and Language

This connection reminded me of Murray Gell-Mann’s definition of complexity and it’s connection to language. In his book The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex, Gell-Mann correlates complexity with the extension of our language description of its identity and relations.

Scenarios for Complexity

Scenarios to explore Complexity

The picture is an example inspired by the book. Uses dots and connections between them to explore the concept of complexity. Scenario A is a simple one to describe compared to Scenario B – let’s say: A shows dots 1 to 5, no connections between them. How would you describe Scenario B? Certainly identifying the connection between dots and describing it.

What is interesting on Gell-Mann’s approach is that Scenario C, which apparently would induce us to think it’s a complex one, actually could be described much like A: C show dots 1 to 5, all connected to all.

Scenario C then shows the same complexity as Scenario A. The first show randomness (all connected), the other absolute control (no connections).

The description of B, on the other hand, requires more words and would be therefore more complex.

This structure of dots and connections representing elements and its relations is a theory of system complexity, a theory that intuitively describes the complexity of the natural world: patterns between elements are responsible for complexity (certain organelles only connect to certain parts of the organism).

Patterns, not the quantity of relations, indicate complexity.

Would that be true for social systems as well?

If we consider humans as the elements constituting society and communications as relations between them, we would get by analogy that a more complex social system is the one that communications are restricted to identified patterns.

In the next article I’ll explore why this system complexity as a theory might not be suitable to represent social systems.

Read More

  • The Simple and the Complex: The Science of Complexity – Transcription of interview with Murray Gell-Mann

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2 replies
    • Andre
      Andre says:

      Once more, Great article!
      Writing this comment I suspect I might have misunderstood you. Nonetheless it triggered some thoughts I would like to share.

      You identify scenario C with randomness, because everything is connected to everything. Hence, no pattern would follow from anything that is random. It got me thinking about the difference between random and pattern. It seem that there is some sort of intention, a propelling force from natural laws or from will, a intention to communicate and to receive communication. “intention” to act and interact.

      Another difference, might be what the way the images are considered they are depicting different things. It seems that when you say that C is random, I see the parallel if I consider C as if its possibilities are open, while in B there is a intention selecting possibilities. However, I would say in C, as in A there could be a lot of complexity, according there is intention creating a pattern of supper connectivity or none connection.


      I am waiting for the next article!

Comments are closed.