(P3): Models Summary

Standard Model Diagram of a Complex Adaptive System. Nothing Special in the Diagram.
Abstract CAS Model

In both of these models, note the following:

  • Every complex system has a history, and there is no way to avoid the effects of that history. This means:
  • You can’t go back to the beginning.
  • You can’t even correct something and try again. There are no do-overs. The effects of history always become part of the aging of the system.
  • You can improve part of the system, like getting a hip replacement when arthritis impedes the use of your leg, but
  • You (and any complex system) is still aging.
  • Improving the function of a complex system makes it more complex and makes the use of affordances more difficult and resource intensive.
  • Eventually, the sum of all this is some kind of collapse. When and how are not predictable, but all complex systems collapse, slowly or quickly.

A good “concrete” example of the overall process of complex system aging is the development and current state of the US freeway system.

I am old enough to remember when the freeway system was built. I was in elementary school and I saw the building process because my extended family all lived in Detroit, while my father worked at Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan. Before the freeway was built it took us nearly 4 hours to drive from Midland to our relatives’ homes. We had a long trip through small towns with two-lane 25mph roadways and stoplights. In bad weather, it was worse.

The first time we drove the freeway to Detroit, it took us less than one and a half hours. It seemed like a miracle. For a long time, the only problem was the increased use of the freeway by other drivers as they got more used to the idea of a freeway and its convenience.

Then the population grew, the number of people who used cars grew, the use of freeways for commutes allowed people to live further from their jobs, etc. So there were traffic slowdowns that increased the length of time it took us to drive to Detroit, and we had to be more careful when we made these trips so we wouldn’t run into the commuter traffic. And, of course, the increase in traffic density led to accidents that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.

Then the roads needed repairs and maintenance, partly because of their increased use.  We all know this led to our current experience of freeways, not a miracle, but an increasingly useless tool which we must use, like airplanes.

If it was possible, we could simply eliminate the entire freeway system and start over again from scratch. We could use modern materials that wouldn’t break down as fast, we could have more lanes, we could rethink the way we use freeways.

But of course, we can’t do that. And the core reason why we can’t start over again from scratch is that we must use the freeway every single day without fail. And buying an entirely new land base for the freeway would destroy the economic system that was built around the existence of the freeway. And all that concrete would have to be removed before the land the current freeway system is on could be used for any economic purpose. And all that concrete would have to be transported and deposited somewhere.

If all of this seems obvious now, the question you should ask yourself is why it wasn’t obvious from the beginning?

(P3): Developmental Model of Aging

A simple model of A Developing Network; The three frames are an Infant and it's developing action abilities; An Affordance Interface, and it's feedback loop between Developing Skills and the Evolving Interface; and The World and it's constant Unpredictable Reconfiguration.
The infant as Developing Network

This model uses the commonly observed process of infant development as an analog for the growth of a complex system.

Infants are surrounded by a large, more or less infinite environment of possibilities. But it is in the nature of developing infants that the vast majority of these possibilities are of no interest and do not at any given moment contribute to the infant’s development. Instead only certain parts of the environment are of interest to the infant and these are exactly what the infant needs to engage with in order to further current development.

These parts ready for engagement are called “affordances” because they allow for action by the infant that supports the infant’s current development.

As development continues, those parts of the environment that can act as affordances shift because of the growing competence of the infant and their consequent shift in focus and interest. So, the infant’s “affordance interface” is constantly shifting as development occurs, and exactly tracks the current development of the child.

The deep part of this model is that even if you are 90 years old, you are still doing what the infant is doing, albeit at a different functional level and with a different set of strengths and weaknesses (i.e., a different affordance interface).