Complex systems are at the forefront of our civilization’s knowledge.
They stretch us conceptually and mathematically. They are difficult in ways that we’re only beginning to understand. But they are fundamental to the behavior of almost everything in the natural world. And we’re increasingly understanding how they work.
Lots of different complex systems have the same basic structure:
- They are made up of relatively simple elements.
- It takes a lot of those simple units before the behavior happens.
- There is a tipping point: you add a few more simple units and suddenly things change dramatically.
- The overall effect is very different from the behavior of the units, it isn’t just a bigger version of the same thing.
This applies to the immune system, to the ecosystem, and to chemistry of the cell. It generates the fads of fashion and the fashions of politics. It has been studied in the context of military strategy, of marketing campaigns and of drug discovery. Every one of us sees the science in use every day in weather forecasts, and it influences our lives as the basis of government economic planning.
Markets solve extraordinarily complex logistical problems on global scales. Yet each individual is making simple egocentric decisions.
There is purpose, creativity and intelligence in the design of every living thing. Countless numbers of individual creatures, each simply trying to reproduce, gave rise to the most incredible diversity of species and strategies for living. One turn of this complex dance brought enough neurons together to make the transition from reactive automaton to mind.
Your mind emerges from the firing of vast numbers of simple neurons. If we manipulate those firings (with drugs, surgery or direct electrical stimulation), we manipulate the mind. Yet the interaction of those dumb elements makes you astoundingly smart, creative and purposeful.
We don’t need to imagine gods to explain why we see design everywhere. There is intelligence everywhere. The very same dynamics that conjures our intelligence out of dumb neurons, gives life on earth its intelligent design.