How do Complex Systems Age?
Think of how a forest grows after a fire removes the previous forest. The cycle has 4 phases:
- Fast Reorganization (Pioneer Exploration-First Weeds)
- Fast Exploitation (Entrepreneurial Expansion-Most Successful Weeds)
- Slow Conservation (The Evolving Ecosystem-The Forest Developing).
- Slow Degradation Followed by Fast Release (Collapse due to brittleness, the end result of ever-increasing complexity).
This final phase of collapse creates the circumstances for the next complex system, whatever that collapse might specifically be.
These cycles are not entirely predictable. But the larger phases can be recognized if not foretold by simple observation. At least if you are looking for them.
Some Problems of an Aging Complex System
As complex systems age, they produce other problems for a community like ours:
- A General Corruption of individuals, and more importantly, corruption of the original purpose of the complex support system.
- A Civil War between the original purpose and maintaining the system.
- Functional Psychopathy which values human beings less and less over time as a direct result of the aging of the complex system.
- A kind of Compounding Error as poorly made fixes create unintended consequences, which become new problems.
The fact that all complex systems age doesn’t mean that we can’t improve parts of the system. If I have arthritis in my hip and it gets bad enough, my pain and reduced mobility may seriously interfere with my normal activity. Perhaps I choose to have hip replacement surgery. If the surgery is successful, my ability to engage in my activities can be dramatically improved.
But, I’m still aging.
The same is true for all complex systems.