061204 – Monday – Soros II

I continued to read George Soros over lunch today and got into a new section in the book in which he refers to an insight he developed during the breakup of the Soviet Union when he and his foundations were deeply involved in trying to influence an orderly transition from a Closed Society/Central Economy into an Open Society/Capitalistic Economy.

Prior to this, he’d seen Open Societies and Closed Societies as two polar opposites. Following this, he reevaluated and decided that a better model was one in which the Open Society model sits midway between the closed and the too open extremes. He learned that a weak system with no goals for people to identify with and a huge amount of ambiguity and uncertainty can foster a desire for order and control that easily leads back into closed totalitarian systems.

This reminded me of an E-mail conversation that has been spinning out between myself and my friend, MD, over the past week in which we’d been focused on this same idea. I.e., that closed societies, wherein dogma has become ascendant, are stagnant and repressive and resist change but societies in which anything and everything goes (such as the US youth culture of the hippy 60’s), are essentially unstable because a lack sufficient structure and quickly fall apart.

But, more than this, I saw another parallel from the relatively new science of Complex Systems and Emergent Properties.

In complexity theory, new emergent properties can manifest only when the overall system is nicely balanced near the transition point between static order and dynamic disorder. Here at this border zone, the various bits and pieces which have the potential to combine to yield a new emergent something, have the flexibility to move around and find each other and to seek an emergent pattern together. Here, the disorder is not so strong that it will keep tearing the forming patterns apart before they can coalesce nor is the order so strong that the bits and pieces are locked into an existing structures within which they cannot move and flex.

The boundary between steam and ice, that we call water, is a tangible example of the idea. And this relates to the fact that for life to evolve, the sorts of molecules involved and the local conditions had to be somewhere between the molecular chaos of too much heat and the molecular rigidity of too much cold.

Much of what I know of Complexity and Emergent Properties, I learned from Waldrop’s 1992 book, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos.

And finally, this entire line of thought; the correspondence between Soros’ insights, my conversations with MD and the ideas of Complexity Theory, reminded me strongly of Herman Hesse’s book, The Glass Bead Game: (Magister Ludi) for which he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.

An amazingly deep book in which one of the major threads is the idea that there are profound correspondences between the various disciplines such as math, music, history, art and etc. Indeed, the ‘Glass Bead Game’, in which these correspondences are revealed is, in Hesse’s future world, the ultimate intellectual pursuit – the attempt to show and experience the interrelatedness of all things.

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