**Principia Cybernetica Web (C)**
Author: F. Heylighen
Date: 20 March 1989
Parent Node(s): Network for Complexity Research
Such problems are characterized by the fact that a multitude of factors influence the evolution of the problematic situation. Moreover these factors interact in such an intricate way that it is impossible by conventional means to predict or to control what will happen if some of these factors are changed. The typical situation is that of a self-organizing system (the ecology, the economical system, society, the planet as a whole, ...) which we as actors try to steer, while simultaneously we are steered by it. Problem and problem-solver cannot be separated.
Although it is debatable whether the present world is intrinsically more complex than it was in the past, there is no doubt that its evolution is much faster, and this leads to the continuous creation of new possibilities, new constraints and new relations at all levels of the world system. At the level of the individual this evolution is experienced as a general stress ("future shock", "techno-stress") due to information overload, too rapid changes, and a lack of stable objectives. It leads to mental and physical exhaustion, to various sorts of psycho-somatical diseases, and to a general feeling of meaninglessness.
Experience has shown that the traditional scientific approaches, based on the reduction of problems to simple, invariant and isolated models, are insufficient for coping with such complexity. Therefore we must search for a new way of approaching complex problems.
The past decennia have witnessed the beginning of the automatization of "mental" processes by means of computers and communication networks. However, it is only in the last few years that information systems have appeared which are capable of modelling complex and dynamical processes in a relatively simple way. Because of their inexpensiveness and user-friendliness these systems are now becoming available to a large, non-specialist public, supporting the solution of problems in the most diverse domains.
In parallel with this technology, many powerful new concepts for analysing complexity have emerged, for example : modularity, self-organization, recursion, autopoiesis, attractors, chaos, cognitive systems, problem representations, ... Some of these concepts have already been implemented in the technology, others remain basically theoretical guide-lines. Still lacking is an integrating framework, in which the different points of view are coordinated in the form of an explicit, global theory.
Yet it seems that already a new encompassing world view is developing, which sees the universe as a complex, self-organizing whole, a "becoming". One must be cautious, however, not to let such a "holistic" world view lapse into mystification and obscurantism, due to a lack of scientifically testable and explicable principles.
The overall tendency seems to be that nations are becoming aware of the fact that the real problems are not due to "the other side" (the rival nations, or the internal enemies), but to the intrinsic complexity of a world in which everybody interacts with everybody. Hence the willingness to make these interactions more transparent and more effective, by promoting cooperation, integration and the exchange of ideas and technologies.
This evolution goes together with an unexpectedly steady economic growth (at least in the Western world), apparently signalling an end to the economic crisis. This means that we may expect that in the near future not only the concepts, the technologies and the willingness for tackling complex problems will be present, but also the necessary money, i.e. the material resources.
The best place to start with a large-scale, systematic study of these problems seems to be the European Community. Indeed the EC is not only rich in the needed resources, people, technologies and ideas (like the USA or Japan), it is also directly confronted with the complexity of integrating a variety of different cultures, political systems, economies, and production and communication systems. If the EC wishes to succeed with this integration, it will be the first to need a global science and technology for handling complex systems. To promote the development of such a science an attractive possibility would be to start a large, community-sponsored research program, comparable to ESPRIT, BRITE, or FAST.