Our complex world : understanding it, living in it, sustaining it

Benfield, Ian Lindsay (2003-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: We live in a complex world. We have questions and face problems that defy conventional reductionist approaches to finding answers and solutions. This is because we find ourselves dealing with complex systems that are dynamic, self-organizing and adaptive, while maintaining a balance between static order and chaotic change. The Earth, or Gaia, is such a system. So is the biosphere, and so is an ecosystem, an economy, a business and any living organism, including homo sapiens. By concentrating on the connections and interactions between entities, and not things in themselves, complexity research is enabling us to grasp a better understanding of the spontaneous, self-organizing dynamics of our world. Complexity studies can have an enormous impact on the conduct of economics, business and politics. This thesis describes the characteristics of complex systems, analyzes the Earth and its evolutionary story as a complex adaptive system, discusses how we can harness complexity, and how through cooperating and caring we can survive and even prosper in the world of today. A pluralistic moral 'world vision' is argued for, founded on an ethics of universal compassion for all living things, that can lead to responsible and pragmatic action. As human beings, if 'He are to uplift the poor and restore and preserve the ecology of the Earth, what will be required is a major transformation of our environmentally destructive world economy into one that can sustain progress and human flourishing. This will entail a change of mind and heart, a sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility. The challenges we face are immense. However, there are encouraging signs that worldwide people are becoming increasingly aware of what is called for. More and more people are showing their willingness to rise to the occasion. It is a time of transition. It is complex, daunting, yet exciting.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Ons leef in 'n komplekse wêreld waarin ons gekonfronteer word met vrae en probleme wat nie beantwoord of opgelos kan word deur middel van die gebruiklike reduksionistiese benaderings nie. Die rede hiervoor is dat ons te make het met komplekse sisteme wat dinamies, selforganiserend en selfaanpassend is, terwyl dit tegelykertyd 'n balans handhaaf tussen statiese orde en chaotiese verandering. Die aarde, of Gaia, is so 'n sisteem. Ook die biosfeer, 'n ekosisteem, 'n ekonomie, 'n besigheid en enige lewende organisme, insluitend homo sapiens, konstitueer komplekse sisteme. Daarom kan kompleksiteitsnavorsing, wat klem lê op die verbande en interaksies tussen entiteite, eerder as op die entiteite self, dit vir ons moontlik maak om die spontane en selforganiserende dinamiek van ons wêreld beter te begryp. Kompleksiteitstudies kan dan ook 'n enorme impak hê op die manier waarop ekonomie, besigheid en politiek beoefen word. Hierdie tesis beskryf die eienskappe van komplekse sisteme, en analiseer die Aarde en haar evolusionêre verhaal as 'n komplekse, selfaanpassende sisteem. Verder bespreek dit ook hoe kompleksiteit ontgin kan word, en hoe ons deur samewerking en sorg kan oorleef en selfs floreer in die wêreld van vandag. Op grond van 'n etiek van universele medelye met alle lewende dinge word 'n pleidooi gelewer vir 'n pluralistiese morele "wêreldvisie" wat kan lei tot verantwoordelike en pragmatiese optrede. Wat egter vereis word indien ons, as mense, armoede wilophef en die ekologie van die aarde wil herstel en handhaaf, is 'n daadwerklike transformasie van ons omgewingsvernietigende wêreldekonomie in die rigting van 'n ekonomie wat vooruitgang en menslike florering kan onderhou. So 'n transformasie sal 'n verandering van denke en ingesteldheid vereis, asook 'n sin vir globale interafhanklikheid en universele verantwoordelikheid. Dit is duidelik dat die uitdagings wat ons moet trotseer kolossaal is. Daar is egter bemoedigende tekens wêreldwyd wat aandui dat mense toenemend begin bewus raak van wat vereis word. Meer en meer mense toon hul bereidwilligheid om die situasie die hoof te bied. Dit is 'n tyd van verandering. Dit is 'n komplekse en angswekkende tyd, maar uiteindelik tog ook 'n opwindende tyd.

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