Friday, April 23, 2021

The Problem of Complexity: Summary

In the final chapter of her dissertation, Preiser summarizes her argument by looking at how her interpretation of the problem of complexity develops over three parts. In Part I, she presents complexity as a problem for traditional science that relies on the Newtonian/Cartesian reductionist paradigm. Complexity calls into question our traditional knowledge claims that our theories mirror the world. Rather, our models of the world are always a reduction of complex reality and expose the limits of knowledge. In short, complexity presents any rigorous study of complexity with more questions than answers.

In Part II, Preiser examines the philosophical implications of complexity, situating the study of complexity within poststructural and postmetaphysical positions that challenge any grounding norms from which to launch a critique, questions inherited theories and models for explaining the world, re-examines our meaning-making strategies, and thus, undermines its own ability to be critical. She claims that we can reinvent the notion of critique as originally conceptualized by Kant and revive critique. Her re-reading of Kant's notion of judiciary critique connects critique with Derrida's concepts of stricture and diffĂ©rance to change critique's role as a measurement grounded in some normative framework to a generative, reflexive movement that informs a certain kind of thinking. For Preiser, critique becomes a dynamic process of cutting and joining opposing paradigms, working within both without being grounded in some fixed ideology and without reconciling them or reducing one to the other. Through its liminal, provisional position, critique legitimizes itself and operates by exposing the limits of both paradigms. This revision of critique fits best within Derrida's concept of general economy, which overcomes the restrictions and reductions of thinking about oppositions in a binary juxtaposition. Critique becomes at once a mode of questioning the limitations of inherited thought structures and a strategy of thinking about complex reality. In short, complex critique grounds itself in reference to its limitations, its horizons.

Finally in Part III, Preiser claims that critical complexity is a radically critical and normative turn in the the study of complexity as it reframes complexity as a human condition that needs to be negotiated afresh every day and not as a problem that can be resolved and put away. Her three self-undermining but non-arbitrary normative imperatives mandate a perpetual and radical self-critique that calls us to proceed differently in the world by remaining sensitive to how the self, the other, and society as a whole is co-constituted relationally.

Preiser believes that critical complexity implies that any intervention into complex systems is always provisional and temporary in nature as it cannot promise any unambiguous solutions to wicked problems. Moreover, interventions cannot be based on an a priori set of rules or programs but must remain based on the dynamic interactions of the components of complex system as a whole. Critical complexity is not a foolproof method for solving problems but a flexible engagement with the intractable human condition that can lead us to the edge of what analysis can accomplish and then point beyond to what the human spirit can attempt.

Then, Preiser claims that critical complexity as she has developed it makes a number of contributions to the study and critique of complex systems:

  1. To counter the absence of any general theory of complexity, her study presents a list of ten common characteristics of complex systems to form an economy of concepts that can help orient newcomers to the field and guide complexity studies.
  2. Critical complexity follows a middle way through the dilemma of critiquing reductionism on the one hand while using reductionist strategies on the other in order to say something meaningful about complex systems. Critical complexity thus avoids the loss of reference by maintaining a dialogical point of reference to a complex reality.
  3. Critical complexity challenges the strict distinction between epistemological and ontological complexity — between knowing complexity and living complexity — through the issue of wicked problems, ultimately claiming that such complex issues remain insolvable because of our incomplete, contradictory understandings of changing parameters. Thus, complexity issues are better approached as conditions to be engaged — accepted, understood, and wisely managed — rather than problems to be resolved and dismissed.
  4. Preiser insists that her study of critical complexity responds to the call to think differently by redefining key concepts in terms of the double bind that can be teased out from their conceptual structures so that complexity becomes general complexity, knowledge becomes difficult or hybrid knowledge, critique becomes critique as stricture, and thinking becomes complex thinking — all of which leads to critical complexity.
  5. The three critical imperatives form non-foundational (or self-undermining) groundings for provisional, open-ended strategies by which to respond to complexity.
  6. Critical complexity is distinct from other understandings of complexity in two ways. First, it converges critique and complexity in the general economy of the double bind which builds a path for complexity to engage the humanities in addition to the natural sciences. Second, it makes no claim to be better than other approaches to complexity. It calls us to think differently but acknowledges no prescriptive devices by which to measure how critical complexity is better than any other approach.
  7. Critical complexity can serve as a transversal meeting place between the natural sciences and the humanities, allowing both sides to illuminate shared issues through the common lens of critical complexity.
  8. Finally, Preiser's study serves as an example of how such a transversal process that weaves together ideas and methodologies from various fields of study can be implemented.

After listing her study's unique contributions, Preiser lists several limitations:

  1. Preiser first notes her focus on Kant's interpretation of critique, with too little engagement with the larger field of critical philosophy.
  2. Then, her study does not engage the ethical aspects of complexity thoroughly enough as she has already done that in previous studies.
  3. Her study does not clarify the epistemological status of the three imperatives, presenting them mostly as ethical formalisms. She recognizes that more analytical and conceptual work is needed.
  4. The study weaves together the ideas of a number of philosophers, all of whom could have been explored more deeply.
  5. Finally, the study fails to provide a concise Theory of Complexity, with solid answers for how to apply its concepts.
Preiser concludes her study with several suggestions for future research:

  1. She insists that while such complex phenomena as non-linear causality, emergence, and self-organization have been studied in-depth by the analytic sciences, this phenomena has received too little attention from other philosophical traditions.
  2. She is intrigued with Niklas Kompridis' elaboration of Heidegger's concept of world-disclosure and thinks his work is a new generation of Critical Theory scholarship.
  3. Critical complexity could inform other fields of study such as neo-institutional theories of global culture, global legal pluralism, and global civil society as all these theories acknowledge the importance of difference and moral pluralism.
  4. Because the notion of the general economy of thought depends on the presence of an excess of thought that refuses to be incorporated into the calculating structures of the restricted economy, then an in-depth study of a theory of excess could be valuable for understanding the general economy of thought.
So Trumpism is a wicked problem, and just maybe Preiser offers me a pathway toward understanding this problem better than I do now and situating myself in relation to this problem. I think the question becomes for me: do I have faith that Preiser's critical complexity can help me generate some actionable knowledge that will, first of all, match reality well and, secondly, benefit my community? I have enough faith to try it, and I'm certain that critical complexity as Preiser outlines it has enough rigor to enable my journey. So try it.

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