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Copyright © 1998 V. Dimitrov
Centre for Systemic Development
University of Western Sydney, Australia
From experience everybody knows that life dynamics are complex. Life phenomena, events and processes emerge out of interaction of many interwoven factors.
Complex is the physical organization of human body, extremely complex is the emotional life of people, their thoughts, ideas and endeavours. Quite complex is organisation of human society, complex - tangled and interdependent are dynamic processes manifested in our planet, in our solar system and universe. So complex that contemporary science can see only a tiny little bit of this overwhelming COMPLEXITY. Experts from different branches of science hurry to divide this tiny bit into even tinier particles, to analyse some of them and draw conclusions, then to repeat or extend the analyses and to re-write these conclusions, then again to look at the particles and come possibly to entirely different conclusions, and so on.
To divide, separate and analyse - this is what science does very well. To unify, unite and synthesise into an organic and indivisible wholeness is not easy for fragnemted approaches used by the scientific disciplines. It is easy for nature and she does this perfectly!
Chaos theory and complexity science try not to divide. Their mission is not to divide because at the focus of their research is INTEGRITY - interconnectedness, relationship and interaction of the myriad of complex dynamics, whatever their specific manifestations are. Chaos and Complexity try to understand characteristics and laws of behaviour that are common for all dynamic processes. And as far as non-dynamic processes simply do not exist in universe, chaos and complexity study something very fundamental, essential and vital for understanding unity of all existential forms.
What chaos theory teaches is that dynamics of complex processes are nonlinear and chaotic - small changes in the initial conditions of such processes may give birth to unforseen transformations in future. Chaotic dynamics are ubiquitous - from the behaviour of molecules to the interaction of planets and galaxies, from the behaviour of cells to the interaction of people and civilisations.
It is not a problem at all to accept that dynamics of human life are complex and chaotic. What is problematic is to grasp that these dynamics are extremely susceptible to our actions, to our thoughts, stories, feelings, beliefs and attitudes. In an almost mysterious way, small changes in the flow of our thinking processes can bring forth radical transformations in the overall dynamics of our life.
In its physical manifestation individual life dynamics are dissipative - life starts, evolves, and then gradually (or suddenly) shrinks and stops.
Four Principles of Life Complexity
Dissipative dynamics of life follows four basic principles.
1. Principle of Attraction
The first is the principle of attraction: dynamic behaviour of life processes always gravitates to some relatively stable dynamic patterns called in chaos theory strange attractors. Being in the 'basin' of some strange attractor, life dynamics continue to be chaotic, that is, sensitive to initial conditions and, therefore, unpredictable. What is predictable is that dynamics 'stay' at this strange attractor.
The attractors of life dynamics are usually driven by human desires of different kind: desires for power, for love, pleasures, freedom, etc.
2. Principle of Fractality
The second is the principle of fractality: There is always some kind of nested similarity in chaotic dynamics. Chaos theory defines fractals as similar structures that repeat at different scales of generalisation.
If we consider, for example, complex dynamics of human health, we can see that individual health dynamics are not only similar to, but also nested in, the family health dynamics. Nested implies interdependence, that is, the individual health of a family member not only influences the state of health of the whole family but also reflects this state. Family health dynamics are similar to and nested in community health dynamics, which are similar to and nested in the health dynamics of society.
Of course, social health dynamics have not only physical dimensions but also environmental, economical, political, cultural, ethical and moral. The health of society as a whole both reflects and strongly influences health dynamics of the environment, which are similar to and nested in chaotic dynamics of the health of our planet (considered as an unified complex living organism), which are similar to and nested in the 'health' dynamics of the universe.
Nested dynamic structures are always open for mutual interaction - dynamics of each structure S are strongly influenced by the dynamics at least of two other structures: the one which is nested in S, and the other which envelopes S. For example, life dynamics of our environment inevitably reflect both the life of human society (internal dynamic structure), actively intervening with the environment, and the life of the planet considered in its integrity (external dynamic structure).
3. Principle of Emergence
The third is the principle of emergence. Complex systems are open for emergence of new dynamic patterns. When billions years ago complexity of the protein structures in the primordial soup increased, simple life forms emerged. With the increase of their complexity, different species appeared. So the inorganic matter gives birth to organic. And from the organic matter the realms of plants, animals and humans emerges.
4. Principle of Self-Organization
Emergence needs self-organizing forces to sustain it. Without such forces, no one emergent form can survive. In physical systems, self-organizing forces usually appear out of vortices.
Vortices are inherent in chaotic dynamics. The spiral turbulence of a whirlpool is driven by interacting streams of moving water, each stream with different physical (or/and chemical) characteristics. The spiral turbulence of a tornado is driven by interacting streams of moving air, each stream with diferent physical (or/and chemical) characteristics.
Whirlpools and tornadoes generate powerful self-organizing 'sucking' forces. Due to these forces, emerging vortical structures of whirlpools and torandoes are sustained. And vice versa: due to vortical structures of whirlpools and tornadoes, the emergence of self-organizing forces is sustained. Thus, the nature of emerging forces is self-referential: self-organizing forces are both cause and effect of one and the same vortical (spiral) chaotic dynamics.
The spiral vortex of our galaxy, once emerged from the interacting 'streams' of ionised matter, has given birth to powerful self-organizing forces which continue to energise (create, sustain and destoy in never ending evolutionary cycles) the existence of all galactic formations.
The four principles of chaotic dynamics help us to navigate through the tides and ebbs of life.
In 1973 Maturana and Varela introduced the concept of autopoiesis as an ability of biological systems to reproduce their organization in a co-evolving structural coupling with the environment. Changes in environment give birth to changes in species - both structural and behavioural, and vice versa: changes in species lead to changes in their environment. (H.Maturana, F. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge, London: Shambala, 1987).
1. Integrated Ecological Space (IES)
This vital interconnection (interdependence) between dynamics of living forms and their environment allow us to introduce the concept of the integrated ecological space (IES) where life dynamics of species and environment are considered inseparable. IES includes dynamics of all animated and non-animated forms in nature. Plants and rocks, volcanoes and animals, stars, planets and humans - they all change and co-evolve due to activity of the same natural forces. And their dynamics obey the same four principles of life complexity described above: principle of attraction, principle of fractals, principle of emergence and principle of self-organization.
2. IES Strange Attractor
Like the famous butterfly attractor of Lorenz, the basic strange attractor in IES consists of two inseparably connected regions ('butterfly wings') - one is the region corresponding to dynamics of non-animated environmental forms such as rocks, minerals, planets, stars, human-created forms; the other region corresponds to dynamics of animated living forms such as micro organisms, plants, animals, humans. Neither of these two regions has independent existence - complex evolutionary dynamics of living organisms are structurally coupled to the complex evolutionary dynamics of non-animated environment. Moreover, evolutionary dynamic trajectories of some living forms pass to non-animated region of the attractor every time when death-bufurcations occur, and vice versa: evolutionary dynamic trajectories of some non-animated forms 'jump' into animated region of the attractor every time when life-bifurcations occur.
3. Chaotic Rhythm of Nature
Chaotic dynamics of all forms of matter in IES are driven by common self-organizing and self-propelling forces - the same natural forces which constantly emerge from the galactic vortices and energise quasars and stars, planets and comets, oceans and volcanoes, atoms and molecules. The same forces responsible for the growth and reproduction of species, for the pulsation of our hearts and the rhythm of our brain-waves. We cannot predict the rhythm of natural forces as we cannot predict the precise position of the Earth in its orbit, the outbursts of supernovas, the number of fruits on a tree, the number of offsprings of an animal, the exact amplitude of the next beat of heart, the occurence of moments of death or birth. The rhythm of natural forces is inherently chaotic.
The strange attractor which holds chaotic dynamics of all possible forms of matter in the integrated ecological space supports a new form of autopoiesis that we shall call autopoiesis of dynamics or dynamical autopoiesis.
Dynamical autopoiesis characterises ability of all forms of matter to reproduce and co-evolve their dynamics in tune with the chaotic rhythm of the forces of nature.
Dynamical Autopoiesis manifests the unbreakable unity of all existential forms. Dynamical Autopoiesis illuminates a new perspective in understanding Evolution of Life. Depending crucially on ever existing chaotic dynamics of the myriad of life-creating, life-preserving and life-destroying processes in the universe, life evolution can never stop. It goes forever.
Seven Attractors of Human Life Dynamics
Chaotic dynamics of human life have their own evolutionary trajectories in the integrated ecological space. These trajectories reflect people's activity during their life time. Driving forces of this (quite diverse) activity are permanetly emerging human desires of any kind.
According to the ancient Vedic literature, people's actions are usually directed towards achievement or acquisition of power, knowledge and freedom, as well as towards experiences of love, pleasures and longevity. Whatever an individual does, his or her actions are pulled towards one (or more than one, in parallel) of those six attractors.
There are enough experiential evidences supporting the ancient Vedic wisdom: it does not matter how diverse our every day life activity appears to be, it is inevitably driven (consciously or unconsciously) towards securing our long time survival (longevity), towards exercising power in various forms (acquiring of possessions and money, higher social status and prestige, advantage in force or skills), towards extending the degree of our knowledge (intelligence, education, cultural or spiritual enrichment). The thirst for freedom is crucial for opening spaces of new possibilities for realization of our skills, creativity, intellectual and artistic ability, talents, dreams, etc. And, of course people's lives are powerfully driven towards the experience of love and a multitude of pleasures, some of which could be quite addictive and even threatening individual or social survival.
Longevity, Power, Knowledge, Freedom, Love, and Pleasure represent six dynamically stable patterns - six chaotic (strange) attractors in the turbulent flow of human life.
Usually human desires drive life dynamics to more than one attractors, for example: pleasure and love, or knowledge and power, or freedom and knowledge and long life.
Although one cannot predict a specific life trajectory of an individual or group, one can find out the attractor (or attractors) at which this trajectory is located. Each attractor or combination of attractors strongly influence people's behaviour, emotions, mentality, moral, cultural and spiritual life.
There is only one non chaotic (fixed) attractor for human life dynamics - the attractor of death. As far as life dynamics of each individual are dissipative, they 'shrink' with time, gradually (or suddenly) stop to be connected with any strange attractor of life activity and fall into the fixed attractor.
Are we destined to spend our lives 'stuck' to some chaotic attractors and to do nothing but repeating one and the same dynamic patterns all the life through - pursuing power, pleasure, knowledge, love, freedom, longevity, and finding eventually only death?
Not very attractive perspective to such intelligent creatures as humans - to dance helplessly to the tunes of attractors' chaotic dynamics, blindly following an inherited self-organizing drive towards increasing complexity, criticality, and bifurcations, without being able to escape from this drive even for an instant.
Unfortunately, most of us do exactly this - simply 'stretching' and 'foding' their activity in the basin of some chaotic attractor without any specific direction, or forcibly jumping from one basin to another, without having even a slightest clue what is the purpose for all these strestful jumps, or frighteningly existing as trembling fractals near to the bottom of a huge and complex vortical structure furiously whirled by monstrous universal forces ungraspable by the human mind.
The fight with gravitational forces of chaotic attractors, particularly when the forces have roots deeply in unconscious human psyche, is extremely difficult, if not impossible. The studies of alcoholism and drug addiction - complex phenomena with dynamics 'stuck' at the chaotic attractor of pleasure, demonstrate that fighting against addiction not only fails but has totally opposite effects: fighting intensifies the degree of attraction, that is, makes the attractor more robust and statically stable. The energy feeding the attractor puts into operation a special self-protecting and self-justifying mechanisms which produces impossible to untie 'double binds' eventually reinforcing the drive to addiction (G. Batson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, San Francisco: Chandler Publ. Co., 1973).
And yet, it is possible for humans to become free from the repetitive patterns of attractors' dynamics.
Ways to Escape from Chaotic Attractors
The ways to escape the basin of an attractor are either
€ to bifurcate to another (more powerful) attractor
1. Bifurcation to Another Attractor
Human life dynamics can bifurcate from one attractor to another which appears to be more powerful for a certain period of time (or lifelong). For example, there are many practical cases showing how the attractor of love helps people with addiction. In these cases, the strength of gravitation towards the experience of a genuine love relationship becomes great enough to resist the temptation of the drug (or alcohol) consumption, dynamically related to the chaotic attractor of pleasure.
There are practical cases when the attractor of knowledge becomes more powerful in comparison with the attractor of pleasure. However, this can only occur at some earlier stages of addiction, when the brain of the addict is still able to function 'normally enough' in order to
The main problem with the attractor of knowledge is that the logic of human reasoning can hardly resist the fire of emotions irrationally erupting from the attractor of pleasure where the seeds of every strong attachment (addiction) abide.
Stability of a new attractor crucially depends on its energy supply - for how long this supply will be higher than the supply of energy feeding the old attractor. For example, for how long the intensity of feelings and emotions, desires and passions, thoughts and realisations, related to the attractor of love (or to the attractor of knowledge) will keep higher in comparison with the intensity of still living desire to experience again the pleasure of an addictive. Reversible bifurcations, that is, bifurcations from new chaotic attractors to old ones happen quite often in the dynamics of human life.
2. Exhaustion of a Chaotic Attractor
Chaotic attractors are dissipative dynamic structures - they consume energy to keep going. When the energy supply decreases and stops, the attractor shrinks and disappears. When the rate of energy consumption by a chaotic attractor is higher than the rate of its energy supply, the attractor gradually dies.
In the examples with the addiction, if the intensity in manifestation of an addiction increases up to such degree, that the organism of the addict becomes unable to deal with the effects emerging as a result of this increase, then the addiction 'naturally' approaches the zone of its exhaustion. The addiction to nicotine usually leads to irreversible changes in the function of the respiratory system that can eventually bring forth diseases which makes it impossible for the addict to continue. Similar is the picture with the exhaustion of the addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, and every other manifestations of the attractor of pleasure. When a gambler loses everything - friends, relatives, and every other means for self-subsistence, the gambling stops - chaotic attractor of pleasure received by gambling is exhausted. It is clear that such 'natural' exhaustion could be very disastrous for the addict.
To passively wait until chaotic attractors of life dynamics exhaust themselves is the most dangerous (in respect to human health) way to escape from their basins. This way of escape often lead to fatal consequences.
3. Transcendence of a Chaotic Attractor
The best way to overcome the pulling power of a chaotic attractor is to transcend its basin - not to fight with the attractor's dynamics, neither to yield to them and passively wait for their self-exhaustion, but:
- to be constantly aware of the forces operating at the attractor;
A calm and indifferent observation of the interplay of forces, both emerging from and contributing to the attractor's dynamics, helps to discover that unique complement of internal factors (state of mind, emotional state, spiritual attitude and experience) and external conditions (surrounding nature, people, relationships and activities) which makes possible the transcendence of the attractor.
Transcendence of an attractor cannot happen without the following preparatory phases:
€ recognition of attractor's activity and its supporting sources of energy;
This capacity for self-awareness, alertness and self-control is decisive when transcending any chaotic attractor. It is a capacity that empowers individuals to become free from routine. It is a capacity for deliverance from any habit, from any mechanical and repetitive way of existence, from any addiction.
The capacity for self-awareness, alertness and self-control opens a new inspired way of living when the individuals themselves (and not the chaotic attractors) assumes responsibility for realization of the evolutionary dynamics of their own lives.
Example. Searching ways of transcending chaotic attractor of pleasure.
(1) Recognition of attractor's activity and its supporting sources of energy
The chaotic attractor of pleasure acts in the life dynamics of every human being. It is the most difficult for transcendence attractor. Its driving force is enormously powerful - its source is in the human search for happiness. Through experiencing pleasures people feel happy. The addicts look for happiness in very dangerous for their health pleasure-experiences.
(2) Exploration of factors affecting attractor's activity
Happiness comes spontaneously, so one cannot repeat it. Pleasure can be repeated. The more one tries to repeat the unrepeatable moment of happiness, the more one repeats the repeatable moments of pleasure, and the stronger becomes the desire for repetition of those moments. So, the desire for pleasure is nothing but our past experience in search of another repetition again.
Happiness is a deep personal experience which depends only on our inner emotional, mental or spiritual states. The experience of pleasures depends on something or somebody outside us. Such a dependence inevitably (earlier or later) brings pain. Dependence is always a misery and those who depend in their happiness on this or that, they are helping their own misery.
Any 'accumulation' of human pleasure (usually related to an excess in eating, drinking alcohol, use of drugs, gambling, sexual indulgence) has a tendency to become a vice (bad habits, a degrading practices, immoral ways of conduct).
(3) Seeding changes
The process of seeding changes starts with understanding the transient nature of pleasures, their unsatisfactoriness for the development and growth of personality, their self-propelling potency to impede inherited individual drive towards self-realization.
For alcoholic and gambler anonymous crucial for transcending the attractor of pleasure is the acceptance of a specific spiritual attitude leading to a deliverance from the addiction.
People believe that time flows from past to future. This temporal asymmetry is deeply ingrained in our thinking. The reason for this is because we consider change and time inseparable. We become older, therefore time moves from past to future. And vice versa - because time moves from past to future, we become older. So we can't help but judging about the flow of time from a position which is rooted in time.
Could we try to look at time from a position which is out of time? Price called this 'view from nowhen' (H. Price, Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point, NY: Oxford University Press, 1996). According to Price, from such a position, the notion of 'time flow' becomes senseless: if time flows, we must be able to define how fast it flows: second per second?, minute per minute? - such 'dimensionless' answers do not seem sensible.
Is there any objective reason to take for granted that the positive time axis lies toward what we call the future? Answers like "because the hands of our clocks move clockwise" or "because the sun 'moves' from east to west" cannot provide a serious grounding for such a convention. None of the basic principles and laws of classical or quantum physics indicate any basis for the common belief that time flows only in one direction - the physical laws work equally well in both temporal directions.
Even the notion of now is observer-dependent - according to Einstein's theory of special relativity, now doesn't happen simultaneously for two spatially separated observers. So now cannot be accepted as an objective category. Now is dependent on an observer's point of view in much the same way that here is. The profound philosophical question: is any ontological (existential) difference between the past, the present, and the future? seems to have an essentially fuzzy answer - more no than yes !
Price considers time irreversibility as an illusion - "a kind of artefact of the particular perspective we humans have on time". But the majority of scientists and philosophers continue to describe phenomena in terms of the direction of time of commonsense experience, as if all causal influences exist and act only in that strongly linear direction .
In 1890 the great French mathematician Henry Poincare - the chaos pioneer who discovered chaotic patterns in the dynamics of planets' interaction, proved his famous Recurrence Theorem: systems return infinitely close to their initial positions in the state space . For systems that vary its state continuously, the interval between arbitrary close returns is not fixed but can vary. If the interval is fixed, the system is periodic, if not - it is chaotic. (Most systems which evolve under Newtonian laws are not periodic, but chaotic, which means that their evolution is unstable: a tiny changes in the initial conditions results in an enormous change in systems behaviour.) Poincare's Recurrence Theorem strongly supports the idea of time reversibility .
The mistake made by all those who consider time irreversible is that they automatically agree that interacting systems are not correlated before they interact. This is the case when demonstrating some chemical reaction or a physical experiment. In the reality of life, where everything relates to everything, SYSTEMS ARE CORRELATED LONG BEFORE WE SEE THEM INVOLVED IN DIRECT INTERACTION. Nature simply does not tolerate non-correlated systems. A cell when isolated immediately put into action its genetically programmed mechanism for committing a suicide (a phenomenon called apoprosis). The theories of Complexity and Chaos are entirely permeated by the idea of an all-embracing connectivity (interdependence, intercorrelation) of the phenomena. processes and systems manifested in the universe .
Reality represents an integrated entity of which time is only one of many other dimensions introduced by humans to understand and deal with complexity of their existence. The reality is not something dropped into time (when our universe was born) with a special purpose to see it changeable.
In its unbreakable unity, reality is changeless - it remains within itself - all that 'was', 'is' and 'will be' is included in this unity. What we see as an apple seed contains simultaneously its present form (it 'is' a seed), its past form (this seed 'was' inside an apple belonging to an apple tree) and its future (it 'will be' an apple tree when suitable conditions repeat).
In order to sustain its unity, reality relies on itself. In order to explain this unity, reality refers to itself. This self-referentiality is a crucial factor for understanding changes which happen with reality. Changes do not happen because of time but because they reveal the way reality exists. When reality refers to itself or REFLECTS ITSELF, IT CREATES AND THE CHANGES MANIFEST THEMSELVES. That is why we speak about dynamic nature of reality and about the changes we see, study and live with, and not because time is irreversible.
The Principle of Fractality described above (in the second chapter) helps us to understand both time reversibility and changes manifested in complex systems.
Fractals demonstrate similarity at different scale levels. Not that fractals exactly repeat themselves, they are similar to one another. Time events in complexity of life do not exactly repeat themselves, they are similar. When we speak about time reversibility, we apply the approach of fractals - while saying that history repeats itself, we emphasise similarities in the events occurring at different levels of time dimension of social complexity.
The fractal approach helps us to map the scenarios of complex systems. These scenarios are nothing but chaotic attractors of systems' behaviour. As far as the structure of chaotic attractor is fractal, when we see what changes are likely to manifest at one level of the structure, the approach of fractals helps us to construct a picture or a map of what is likely to occur at another level. As complexity of fractals increases when we 'zoom' deeper into the fractal structure, it is easier to reveal the changes occurring at a higher (more general) level of system's description structure and then to 'project' them onto the description of patterns of change possible to occur at the lower (more detailed) levels of description.
Towards a Virtual Systems Methodology
What kind of methodology would be appropriate for studying social complexity? Human systems are usually approached by soft systems methodology (SSM) originally proposed by Checkland. According to him, "models in SSM are constructs which represent, from some explicit pure point of view, purposeful human activity."(Checkland P. and A. Casar, 1986 Vickers' conept of am appreciative system: a systematic account, Journal of Applied System Analysis, 13, pp.3-17). Unfortunately, 'purposeful human activity' is not of much help in chaotic dynamics of social life, where economical, political, ecological, cultural, etc. phenomena, events and processes emerge unpredctably out of the intricate web of many self-propelling interactions.
Any purposeful activity assumes a pre-selected purpose or goal, objectives, value standards, milestones and plans. These rational human constructs are simply inapplicable in a reality full of dynamism, surprises, and paradoxes.
We live in a ninlinear world of spontaneous emergence and bifurcations, chaotic attractors and fractals, autopoiesis and self-organization. For such a world to be explored and dealt with, we need methodologies which are free from the requirement of 'purposeful human activity'. And not only from this requirement, but also from the burden of 'optimal' value judgements and standards, from fragmentarity of experts' knowledge, from linearity of cause-and-effect explanations, from the entire ideology of seeking improvements - an ideology which permeates most of the approaches under the umbrella of SSM.
'Improvement' does not make sense when trying to cope with the vortices of individual or social life. How can we improve a vortex? Improvements always imply purposive interventions, that is, interventions guided by preliminary defined purposes. Such purposes inevitably turn to be misleading when dealing with sparkling spontaneity of self-organizing processes of reality. And it is this sparkling spontaneity which propels the best of our capabilities as humans - to create, discover and discriminate between truth and illusions.
A purposive rational inference or intervention, be it individual or participatory, hard or soft, precise or fuzzy, linear or cyclic, ontological or epistemic, action-research or action-learning based, cannot help but limiting serendipity of those who navigate through the labyrinth of chaos and complexity.
Serendipity is a virtual faculty - it could be evoked, explored, nourished and energized, but never purposed or imposed, inserted or transferred from one place to another, prescribed or ordered, directed or controlled. It needs freedom in order to self-realize and blossom. It needs a different type of logic - a logic which underlays processes in their becoming, in order to sense the meaning of what is going to emerge.
The logic underlaying processes in their becoming is a virtual logic. The meaning of what is going to emerge is a virtual meaning.
Virtual Systems Methodology applies virtual logic and operates with virtual meanings when exploring the whirling dynamics of complexity and chaos.
Virtual Logic and Semiosis
According to Kauffman (Kauffman L., 1997 Virtual logic - fixed points and paradoxes, Cybernetics and Human Knowing,4, p.65), virtual logic is "that which energizes reason": "Virtual logic is not logic, nor is it the actual subject matter of the mathematics, physics or cybernetics in which it may appear to be embedded... It is the pivot that allows us to move from one world of ideas to another."
Kauffman is convinced that what empowers us 'to move from one world of ideas to another' is not necessarily itself purposive, reasonable or logical. "There are many ways in which we encounter this sort of virtuality. One way is to proceed from within an apparently logical system and push its boundaries, find its limits. Another is to arrive from without in a leap, a bound, a jump into something new."
The way we proceed is the way of semiosis - a process of using (consciously or unconsciously) various sign structures in order to navigate through or transcend the world of complexity and chaos. According to Peirce (Peirce C., 1931-58 Collected Papers of Charles Peirce in Eight Volumes, Eds. A. Burke, C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss, Cambridhe: Harvard University Press, 6.190), semiosis inevitably includes appearance (emergence, discovery, creation) of connections (relations) between things (events, phenomena, signs, processes), a priori seen as not interacting with each other. With the virtual logic of semiosis we try to grasp the wholistic nature of reality where 'everything relates to everything', and to elicit possible ('virtual') simple patterns in seemingly tangled web of its complexity.
The roots of semiosis are in the rich 'soil' of individual (and social) experience, 'ploughed' by one's vigour to understand its emergent enigmas and paradoxes. It is the continuity of this experience, as well as continuity of the search for meaning of its emergent phenomena, that provides virtual logic of semiosis with unlimited freedom crucial when inquiring complexity and chaos.
Let us use virtual logic of semiosis to elicit the relations between the constituents of the following three complexes:
€ body, mind, and nature
Each complex has a triadic fractal structure. As we alredy know, fractals manifest wholeness and continuity of complex formations - being embedded into one another, they are essentially inter-dependent and co-evolving. Fractals are essential for understanding virtual (possible, potential) behaviour of complex formations.
In the first complex, 'body' has a strong potential to virtually affect the function of 'mind', and 'mind' could be empowered (energised, inspired) to affect the function of 'body', while they both exist in 'nature'. 'Nature' manifests through them, keeps their integrity, and nourish their functioning.
Interesting is the virtual interplay between the fractals of the second complex: perception, representation and consciousness, described by Kristeva (Kristeva J., 1984 Revolution in Poetic Language, NY: Colubia University Press). For Kristeva semiosis is a 'process of signification' - that is, the set of processes which open a virtual space for understanding of signs and symbols. She characterises these processes as "waves of attack against stases": both perception and representation demonstrate a potential to (virtually) prevent unchanging items from entering consciousness. The waves of attack reveal continuity of co-evolving dynamics of perception and representation in the complex process of signification: at the level of representation, it becomes possible for the images of repeated stimuli to be continuously constructed, against which perception matches incoming items. The effect is a virtual defence of consciousness against penetration of repetitive stimuli.
In the third complex, existence unfolds in a spatio-temporal continuum. Animated and non-animated existential forms need space to manifest their virtual properties. Through their spatial changes, it becomes possible for time to express itself. Thus time also needs space for its virtual manifestation. And vice versa, every point in space needs time to exhibit potentiality for self-organization of the existential forms located at this point. Both time and space determine continuity of existence demonstrated by the eternal triad of CREATION, PRESERVATION and TRANSFORMATION.
Virtuality of Meaning
Among the sign structures used in semiosis, human expressions have a unique temporal property. The meaning of any expression reflects past, present and future of individual's (or group's) experience.
Past has to do with the probabilistic characteristics of an expression as the most probable response under experience and knowledge accumulated in the past.
Present has to do with the actual circumstances of forming an expression as a conditionally stimulated response.
Future includes a possibility for an entirely new interpretation of the expression, different from any conventional (probabilistic) or dependent on actual conditions interpretations. It is this possibility that reflects the virtual meaning of expressions.
The processes of thinking and communication, together with diversity, complexity, dynamism, unpredictability and evolution of human experience permanently contribute in the emergence of virtual (future oriented and yet inseparable from the past and the present) meanings.
In the continuity of experience, meaning is always a virtuality, that is, a possibility to emerge. This was perfectly understood by Peirce who wrote in 1905: "No present actual thought has any meaning, any intellectual value; for this lies, not in what is actually thought, but in what this thought may be connected with in representation by subsequent thoughts; so that the meaning of a thought is altogether something virtual" (Peirce C., 1982-93 Writings of C. Peirce: A Chronological Edition in Five Volumes, Manuscript 291, Eds. C. Kloestel et al., Bloomington: Indiana University Press).
Virtual Systems Methodology
As far as semiosis is a process common to all existential forms, it can be used as a source for developing an integrated methodology for studying complex and chaotic dynamics of these forms. We refer to it as virtual systems methodology.
Virtual systems methodology (VSM) aims at discovery or creation of connections (relations) between events, phenomena and processes of existence.
VSM reveals integrity and wholeness of animated and non-animated systems at different scales of their manifestation in the universe.
VSM serves as a navigator in the 'phase space' of human system under consideration, that is, the virtual space of all possible developments of this system, both at the individual (intrapersonal) and social (interpersonal) scale(s) of the space.
VSM provides opportunities
When researching with VSM, we consider all systems as being made up by signs.
1. Signs and Fractals
The signs make it possible to reveal the differences and similarities between the individual forms. This is important when applying VSM to study fractal properties of complex dynamic systems. As far as fractals are similar structures which repeat at different levels (scales), it makes sense to extract signs pointing to the similarity between fractals belonging to different levels, to estimate the strength of this similarity, and to explore how this strength varies when moving from one fractal level to another.
2. Dynamic Sign Structures
Signs used when researching with VSM are rarely interesting in and of themselves, but in terms of what they stand for. They are not data to be verifies as to whether they are true or not, but are instead clues about what various things and circumstances in systems under study could mean. Often signs group into dynamic sign structures of different degree of complexity. It is through such structures that living organisms (including human beings) mediate both their external and internal worlds.
3. Meaning as Perception of Sign Dynamics
It is obvious, that unchanging environment communicates nothing. According to Allot (Allott, R. 1997 Language and the Origin of Semiosis ), "each sign is a perceived change in the environment". In order to be able to perceive a change, the perceiver must have retained the pattern of what constitutes an expected flow of events (situations, phenomena), that is, a flow of events considered as a 'normally expected'. Allot underlines that complexity of our brains must be structured in terms of some kind of 'expected' environment and "perception is the result of interaction, or matching between the expected environment and the current environment by which change is detected". If no change is detected, Kristeva's 'waves of attack against stasis' (described in the example above), will prevent emergence of signs with meaning for the perceiver. Thus any meaningful sign is a messenger of a perceived change, a bearer of dynamics captured by the senses and mind. Allot continues: "There must then be restructuring in response to the perceived change, possibly not as a separate process - the awareness of the perception may in fact be this restructuring."
4. Butterfly Effects in VSM
Practical applications of VSM in human systems require high level of individual and group awareness necessary to perceive the changes occurring in studied phenomena. Even seemingly tiny changes can stimulate creation of entirely new meanings of this phenomenon for the observer. This reminds very much the famous 'butterfly effect' in chaos studies. Among the factors which help to deal with such type of effects in VSM are:
€ ability to think in dynamics
5. VSM and Narratology
Inseparability of the emergence, creation and discovery of meanings from the human experience manifests in people's narratives - what makes sense for us, we describe in our stories. Some of the stories we share with others, some we keep in our 'minds and hearts'. Whether 'sharable' or not, whether true or imaginary, all narratives are characterised by an intrinsic wholistic power that reflects human ability to connect together diverse and seemingly disconnected events into a coherent and meaningful unity. This unity mirror the wholeness and continuity of human life.
The same techniques used in the explanatory narrative inquiry, that is, a qualitative inquiry aimed at construction of a narrative account explaining 'why' a situation or event has happened, can be applied in VSM to explain the spontaneous emergence (or creation) of new meanings. Once explained, meanings lose their characteristics of being new, and can be analysed using tools typical for the qualitative type of analysis (Polkinghorne D., 1995 Narrative configuration in qualitative analysis,Qualitative Studies in Education, 3, pp.5-23).
The narratives which people construct about their life and about themselves, strongly influence the processes of emergence, creation and discovery of meanings in their 'minds and hearts'. For example, a narrative, where individuals see themselves as victims destined to suffer, will facilitate the emergence (creation, discovery) of meanings impregnated with negativity, intolerance and even hostility towards others. Optimistic narratives with a prevailing positive attitude to life, will stimulate the emergence (creation, discovery) of meanings expressing 'easy-going' and friendly relations towards others.
System Interventions with VSM
Self-organizing systems are impossible to be influenced directly. Such systems have an embedded 'mechanism' to reject every external intervention. Influences can occur only through internal restructuring. This is clearly demonstrated in autopoietic systems, that is, complex systems able to reproduce their structures while co-evolving with environment. According to Teubner, "any attempt at intervention must now recognise the internal dynamics of autopoietic systems which direct any external force away from the paths and goals sought by the external influences" (Teubner G., 1997 Law as an autopoietic system, Presented at the London School of Economics Compexity Study Group, Meeting No 3, 18 June 1997)
The approaches of 'paradoxical intervention' and 'creative misunderstanding' can be applied to stimulate the emergence of internal restructuring in self-organizing dynamics.
1. Paradoxical Intervention
Teubner explains the approach of paradoxical interventions as interventions "in which the external intervener perturbates the internal world exposing its paradoxical situation. The intervener then, waits to see how internal solutions are reached to the paradox before intervening again".
As far as paradoxes are imbedded in chaotic dynamics of human systems, VSM can be used to generate signs (or sign structures) which help to expose the paradoxes and make it possible for systems to 'see' them. By seeing and reflecting on them, internal changes can be trigger. For example, the signs of a full fiasco of paradoxical behaviour of an addicted, often trigger changes in his(her) behaviour. Or an involvement of a person in a complicated and paradoxical relationship with other people, often makes this person to re-think and eventually to withdraw from continuation of this relationship.
The success of paradoxical interventions depends on internal sensitivity of autopoietic systems and their (virtual) abilities to see wider spectra of opportunities created by the perturbations.
2. Creative Misunderstanding
When discussing Luhmann's ideas on social autopoiesis, Teubner characterised creative misunderstanding in the following way: "Creative misunderstanding offers an escape from the impossibility of ever being able to transfer accurately the language of one person's (or group's) world into another communication domains. One discourse uses the meaning materials of another as a provocative stimulus to reformulate it as something new in its own internal context. Since a real translation is impossible, something is invented - this inventiveness creates the surplus value of communication, which is added to the autopoietic dynamics within and between systems".
Creative misunderstanding plays an important role in narrative based applications of VSM. The fact that one and the same sign structure can be (mis)understood in different ways by two different organizations (or individuals) opens virtual space for seeking complementarity and cooperation. One-way understanding does not add a 'surplus value' in communication. Luckily, under dynamic conditions of complexity and chaos, creative misunderstanding is rather a rule than an exception.