No. 022 


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A 4-Dimensional Bifurcation Map





SISWO (Netherlands Universities' Center for Coordination of Research in Social Science)
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July, 1998

A Paper for presentation in WG01 Session 13 Thursday, July 30, 20.30-22.30
14th World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, July 26 - August 1, 1998

Introduction: accelerating rates of change and increasing emergence of novelty:

Both future studies and sociocybernetics deal with change. Actually, everybody has to deal with it in one way or another. There are those in the forefront of change, sometimes not even aware of it until later, sometimes trying to channel it, riding the tiger. There are those who feel threatened by it, and either apathetically withdraw from wider societal involvements, or try in vain to prevent it, or fight it with a fanaticism worthy of a better cause. And finally, there are those one meets every few hundred yards in the center of our big cities, who seem to have a more positive attitude, and ask: "Can you spare me some change?"

But seriously, let me start with a cliche: we live in interesting times. Many people must have said this since the dawn of human history. They probably said it because something in their environment changed, or because something new emerged that was not there before, and certainly not because they merely repeated the lives of their parents. And all of them were correct, but none more so than we, at the turn of the millennium.

Nature has stayed pretty much the same, to the extent it has not been influenced, often negatively, by human activity. It is human society that is changing, at an ever more accelerated rate, as a result of human activity. Mainly driven by what Alvin Toffler1) already in 1970 aptly called the knowledge-cum-technology explosion, human society seems to have reached what in development studies used to be called the take-off stage. Change is not only here to stay, but the rate of change itself is increasing, also as a result of increasing global interdependence in all imaginable areas of human activity, and shows no signs of ever slowing down. This leads not only to change in existing procedures, institutions, ideologies, etc., but also to the emergence of completely new phenomena in the present information age.

History has stopped repeating itself, except perhaps in small cycles that are themselves part of larger developments and therefore have a different meaning than they used to have. This creates a dilemma: the admonition that those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it is not true anymore nowadays; yet, one can hardly learn from the lessons of a future which is not there yet.

Life itself as a process of accelerating change and resultant complexification:

The great biologist C.H. Waddington, in one of the most fascinating and simple accounts of the systems view of the world ever written2 deals extensively with its increasing complexity. He distinguishes two basic philosophies regarding the world of nature, deriving from Socrates, resp. Heraclitus:

"One view is that the world consists essentially of things, and that any changes we notice are really secondary, arising from the way things interact with one another. The alternative is that the world consists of processes, and that the things we discern are only stills out of what is essentially a movie."

Waddington argues that the weakness of the "thing" view has recently become most apparent in the intermediate range of subjects in between astronomy and geology on the one hand, and chemistry and physics on the other hand, i.e., in biology, where living beings are best described by the "process" view."

Recent work by Ilya Prigogine3), and more recently by the group of scientists working at the Santa Fe Institute4) has concentrated on developing this process view. Laszlo5), for example, refers to Prigogine when describing two varieties of (chemical) catalytic cycles: autocatalytic cycles, in which the product of a reaction catalyzes its own synthesis, and crosscatalytic cycles, where two different products or groups of products catalyze each other's synthesis. An example of a model of a cross-catalytic cycle, developed by Prigogine and colleagues, is the Brusselator:

(1) A ( X

(2) B + X ( Y + D

(3) 2X + Y ( 3X

(4) X ( E

With X and Y as intermediate molecules, there is an overall sequence in which A and B become D and E. Step 3 can be seen as autocatalysis, while steps 2 and 3 in combination describe cross-catalysis. Autocatalytic sets (A ( B ( C ( ...... ( Z ( A) bootstrap their own evolution, provided the complexity of interactions is rich enough; the system then changes from a subcritical to a supercritical state, and autocatalysis follows.

At the Sante Fe Institute, Kaufmann6) even uses the concept to explain the origins of life from a "primal soup" of simple chemical elements as an inevitable production of order, rather than as a unique and extremely unlikely historical accident. Simple chemical laws coupled with the presence of a sufficient number of frequently interacting elements produce ever more complex elements, with new characteristics, that often turn out to be part of new catalytic processes at higher levels of molecular complexity—processes which in turn boost the emergence of still higher levels of complexity. Along similar lines, Swenson7) likewise maintains that—in spite of the Second Law of Thermodynamics—"the world is in the order production business".

The economist Arthur8), collaborating closely with Kaufmann at the Sante Fe Institute, applied the concept of autocatalytic sets to the economy: the economy too bootstraps its own evolution, as it grows more complex over time. Beyond a certain critical threshold, phase transitions occur; stagnant developing countries can enter the take-off stage when their economy has diversified sufficiently. Increased trade between two countries in a subcritical state can similarly produce a more complex and interwoven economy which becomes supercritical and explodes outward. Catalytic effects might also operate in phase transitions that are considered negative, where critical thresholds of violence are passed as in Northern Ireland or Bosnia.

Need for stability vs. need for change:

Now, how do these processes of change in the direction of increasing complexity, apparently already there since the beginning of life on earth, and recently indeed reaching the take-off stage in a sociological rather than a biological sense, affect the average human individual—if there is indeed such a thing as an average human individual?

Obviously, there is a well-researched individual human need for both continuity, stability, etc. and for change, novelty, etc. Toffler even defined the universal search for happiness as a striving for an optimal degree of stimulation, below which ensues desinvolvement, boredom, apathy and so on, and above which follows information overload with all its attendant "postmodern" stress.

Now, there is quite a problem here: if we assume—with Prigogine and others who are developing the new "sciences of complexity"—that the accelerating rate of change and the increasing emergence of novelty signify an irreversible complexification process, then the "bandwidth" within which happiness is possible is moving in the direction of ever more environmental stimulation.

In other words: to prepare individuals for reasonably happy lives in the new millennium, socialization has to emphasize and demonstrate by example that change is inherently pleasurable, and preferable over non-change; otherwise, the number of alienated, insecure and potentially dangerous dropouts, looking in vain for a stability and permanence that have disappeared forever, will increase to levels that even Marx and Freud did not foresee.

The social sciences and the study of change:

Evidently, the social sciences should lead the way here by concentrating more than they presently do on finding and explaining the general rules that govern processes of accelerating change, emergence and complexification. More specifically, this should be a task for future studies. It is still difficult for the social sciences to make relevant forecasts over a much larger time frame than meteorology does—a science, by the way, that gave the impetus for the development of chaos theory. And perhaps sociology, in its often all too transparent desire to become comparable with the natural sciences (or at least with the stereotypical and outdated image of exactitude which many sociologists have of the natural sciences) should give up the pretense to be able to forecast anything more than the immediate future, and should try to engage more in postdiction than in prediction.

Under conditions of accelerating change even brilliant futurologists can be terribly wrong in their as such correct predictions by being insufficiently aware of the speed of change: in 1889, for example, Jules Verne forecast the development of television—in about 1000 years!9)

Awareness of accelerating change seems to be a precondition for efficient steering—even in a literal sense, as a truly cybernetic simulation experiment with captains of large oil tankers proved; in the simulator, the good captains were able to estimate not just the speeed, but also the acceleration of the bow over the horizon, while the excellent ones guesstimated the acceleration of the acceleration of the bow over the horizon, and made a limited number of small but efficient moves on the rudder accordingly.10) (reference: Gerard)

Unfortunately, however, apart from areas like multivariate analysis and simulation (itself the most visible consequence of the systems approach in social science) which could be considered as modern and semi-empirical variants of the older search for "grand theories", much of sociology has withdrawn from the search for such "grand theories", without quite loosing its obsession with finding laws within more delimited areas of applicability, and concentrating on finding correlations between a usually all too limited number of phenomena.

Admittedly, it is difficult to build—let alone to empirically test—adequate models in social science; as especially second-order cybernetics has shown, the observer is always endogenous in his inevitably self-referential model, which moreover includes self-organizing individuals and groups whose future actions and reactions are difficult to forecast—even by themselves!—let alone to influence.

Of course, much of sociology consists of an enormous body of ex post facto empirical research about how people have reacted to certain changes, policy measures, etc.; however, this usually is research within a rather specific and limited domain, which does not lend itself to a great amount of generalization. Moreover, hypotheses about how people will react rather than how they have reacted often turn out to be wrong, as there are often too many unforeseen or overlooked variables, including self-defeating and self-fulfilling prophecies that become visible only over many iterative cycles.11)

Empirical research about the effects of accelerating change itself still hardly exists, both on a societal level ("what are the megatrends?") and on the individual level: what are the possible individual reactions to accelerating and unceasing change?

Individual reactions to increasing levels of change and resulting complexification:

Contrary to, for example, Hinduism and radical constructivism, we do hold that an external reality exists, though that is not necessarily the same as an objective external reality. External reality cannot be perceived directly, but is always perceived through one's model of the world. One reacts to the model, and not to the world, although one normally regularly updates one's model of the world as new information becomes available.

However, such models of environmental reality are invariably highly subjective, or at best intersubjectively shared by a more or less wide group (one's political party, one's nation, the scientific community, etc.). One has minimally to take into account one's "programming" through early-life socialization, the myriad subjective filters, prejudices, experiences, etc. which one has accumulated in the course of a lifetime, and has to reckon also with the limited factual knowledge and computing capacity of the human brain which can hold only so many variables simultaneously.

Environmental models are observer-dependent, time-dependent and problem-dependent. It is highly unlikely that two observers will have the same model, even if cumulative interactions have provided for many iterations. An observer who does not regularly update his models is inevitably not a good observer, especially in a rapidly changing environment. And an observer who works with the same model, irrespective of what problem has to be solved, will surely not solve many problems. These three dependencies make a convergence towards a shared world model highly unlikely, even among a small and closely interacting group of people.

The German sociologist Luhmann12) speaks about a "complexity differential" between the individual and his/her environment. To be able to act on the environment, a certain amount of environmental complexity reduction is therefore necessary. However, on top of the above three dependencies, one's models do not always show an optimal amount of environmental complexity reduction: they run the risk of being either too simple or too complex.

Four basic types of reaction to increasing levels
of change and resulting complexification:

This is obviously a disadvantage in all situations, but especially so in an environment that demonstrates accelerating change. The number of possible individual reactions to accelerating change and the resulting societal complexification seems to be limited:

1) One may like change and thrive on complexity. Those who will probably function best in the emerging world society of the future will have the following characteristics:

- they will be fully aware that their models are observer-dependent, i.e. they are open to new information from those with different models, and will engage in a sufficient amount of self-reference

to be at least roughly aware how their own models have originated, depending on their early-life conditioning, subsequent socialization and resulting psychological make-up;

- they will be sufficiently flexible to realize that their models are not eternally valid, but time-dependent, and therefore should be updated regularly as new information becomes available, or is even actively sought;

- realizing that their models are also problem-dependent, they will certainly not strive to obtain a single, monolithic model of their world, but will develop a set of different models to deal with different situations.

Having developed a sufficient amount of self-reference to neither be prevented from decisively acting on the world as a result of their overly complex models, nor to act without thinking as a result of overly simple models, they will learn to like high levels of change, and prefer the stimulation and opportunities for personal goal-realization they offer compared to a more constricting low-change environment. These are the people who will not only be in the forefront of change, but will be its driving force, adapting quickly to new circumstances they have themselves helped to create. Usually, they come from the rich countries, had a nurturing early-life environment, and have a high degree of education.

2) One may dislike (too much) change, and may not be socialized to thrive on complexity.

In those cases, one will want to limit one's confrontation with change and will try to withdraw from complexity, and thus often from wider societal involvements, trying to find happiness in limiting one's interactions as much as possible to simpler primary or mediating groups which offer the satisfaction and clarity of direct feedback—whether "reward" or "punishment" in Skinnerian terms. Such feedback is impossible to obtain in reactions with the wider societal environment, where reactions often take such a long time in coming that they are not recognized as reactions to one's own efforts anymore. While this type of reaction does not necessarily imply an overall large degree of alienation, it certainly correlates with political alienation and powerlessness in a political sense—or, to put it in another intellectual framework: a low degree of internal locus of control. Internal locus of control—a low degree of powerlessness as exemplified in the idea that one can influence one's environment, especially it if is a highly complex one—implies a pattern of postponed gratification and a high tolerance of ambiguity which most people do not have. Without being alienated in a personal sense, they therefore tend to limit their interaction circuits to those that elicit more direct reactions from their relatively more simple interpersonal environments. This group may well comprise the majority of people in the Western world.

3) Change is seen as a threat, and the growth of complexity is resisted.

One may feel more or less explicitly threatened by change and as a result hate the intrusion of environmental complexity in one's life to such a degree that one tries to resist it. In this case, the reaction—usually a group reaction rather than an individual one as in the second case—is not so much to withdraw from environmental complexity to a simpler environment which offers more direct rewards and punishments, but to engage in an ultimately fruitless fight against change, usually with the support of an oversimplifying and consequently often fanatical ideology. Such a group reaction to change obviously occurs especially when previously existing power positions are threatened, as in the case of the Shah's modernization efforts in Iran, which resulted in an unlikely alliance of landowners and clergy. However, it also can occur when the lines are less clearly drawn, and a way of life is felt as being threatened as seems to be the case in present-day Algeria, where the miltary elite represents the forces of modernization. Or, especially in the Western world, those who feel left out by change, or for one reason or another cannot (yet) find their place in society, will strive mainly towards a change in their own position and will often resort to oversimplifying and usually not very articulated anti-establishment "philosophies", from neo-Nazis to skinheads and the like.

4) Change is just passively experienced, without much awareness of increasing complexity.

One may just passively undergo change and try to cope with it, while being barely aware of the increased complexity of one's environment: a minimal amount of food and comfort is a very first prerequisite for even thinking about the changes in one's environment in terms of increasing environmenal complexity. This situation seems to characterize most of the poor, especially in the Third World, trying to get through the next few days without an empty stomach. These are the downtrodden, usually not living in the most excellent of democracies, to put it mildly, unable to do anything about their exploitation, unable to protest when radioactive waste is exported from the West with a sufficient bribe to interest the local elite, etc. However cruel this may sound, the harsh reality is that they are outside of this world and do not influence its course.

The relevance of these four basic types of reaction to
increasing levels of change and resulting complexification:

Of course, the above is a very idealtypical distinction between the four main ways to react to accelerating change and the resulting increasing environmental complexity. Overlap between these possible reactions certainly exists, while in-between reactions are also possible: certainly not everyone in the Western world is either in the vanguard of change (type 1), or more or less politially alienated, withdrawing on low-change enclaves (type-2). Nevertheless, in spite of their idealtypical character, these possible reactions to accelerating change and increasing complexity should be interesting to future studies. First of all, it might be interesting to guesstimate with what frequencies these different reaction types occur in the world at large, and in specific regions. Second, the direction the world will take will to a large extent be determined by the interactions between these four reaction types.

The type 1 reaction seems at first sight the most desirable one, given the fact that change is permanent and complexity will continue to increase. Type-1 persons will therefore be best adapted to the emerging society of the future. However, there are a few problems here: first of all, type-1 persons will tend to come from the affluent sectors of the Western world, and have the initial advantage of a high degree of education and opportunity. Second, we can pose the question already posed by Karl Mannheim13) in the 1930s: who plans the planners? Are type-1 persons really the ones we like to be able to influence the course of the world?

The type-2 reaction can be a latent danger for democracy, to the extent it really implies an active withdrawal from wider societal involvements, with a resulting high degree of political alienation and powerlessness. Type-2 persons are not necessarily alienated in a personal sense, but on the contrary they tend to find their preferred niches in often warm, satisfying and direct interpersonal relationships, and feel it to be senseless to get involved in large-scale societal processes and issues which they feel they cannot influence anyhow. However, this may lead to an increase of "television democracies", with election campaigns being characterized by daily 30-second sound bites the average voter is supposed to be able to understand. Obviously this leads to a manipulative and cynical oversimplicifcation of issues, a training of politicians in mediagenic behavior, and a post-election feeling of being let down among many voters—which in turn will increase their political alienation during the next round of voting. A fairly high degree of education is unfortunately needed to see through these manipulative efforts, vote for "the right party" and remain politically involved. The problem in this case is not "who plans the planners", but rather "how to involve the non-planners".

Type-3 reactions not only occur because change is seen as a threat, but they may be a threat themselves for national or even world stability, as in the case of internationally organized terrorism. Usually, they are indeed more or less collective reactions, imbued with a certain degree of fanaticism; as long as a person merely deplores that his way of life and his culture are being threatened by the intrusion of modernity, or that societal changes deprive him of chances in life, there is no acute problem for his environment. Obviously, we are not making a conservative plea here for stability per se; on the contrary, the world experiences an accelerating transformation process, which is inevitable, and for that reason alone should be supported. The point here is merely to prevent the excesses. In these cases, solutions are difficult and obviously different in cases of religion-based national fanaticism (Iran), also religion-based intra-national strife (Algeria), and political-economical fanaticism of extremely discontented subgroups within Western culture (neo-Nazis, skinheads and similar groups).

Type-4 reactions refer to the injustice in this world: much of the world population, especially in the Third World, remains subject to extreme and continuing economic exploitation. An end to that exploitation is unlikely, as long as Marshall Lin Piao's forecast for a world war between the world city (basically the Western world) and the world village (the Third World) has not become reality. Chances that Western democracies will legislate and on top of that also enforce an end to the exploitations of Western capitalism are very unlikely indeed. One can only hope that (largely, but certainly not exclusively) Western capitalism will develop some enlightened form of self-interest, and will increasingly switch from exploitation of raw materials to exploitation of Third World labor as a result of rising labor costs in the West.14) This will at least guarantee a minimum standard of living, which will allow the dirt-poor to fill their stomachs sufficiently to realize they live in a fast-changing world which they may one day hope to influence. For the time being, however, they barely contribute to change, and their awareness of complexity will be limited to the realization that they do not understand the forces shaping their lives.

The shape of the world to come:
increasing self-reference and increasing self-organization:

The contribution of sococybernetics to future studies needs not to be limited to investigating the consequences of accelerating change and increasing complexity. Two other concepts of sociocybernetics warrant a closer look: self-reference and self-organization, themselves probably byproducts of increasing environmental complexity.

Increasing self-reference:

Self-reference, though having language as a prerequisite, is not limited to humans. While language is a prerequisite, the ability to speak is not. Experiments with chimpanzees (e.g., the famous case of Washoe 15)) have demonstrated that chimpanzees are able to learn a sign language with a considerable vocabulary, and can learn to refer to themselves and express their intentions and even emotions.

Self-reference among humans has experienced several accelerations in the course of history, though these accelerations may seem terribly slow compared to the present pace of change. While oral history undoubtedly already provided occasions for identification and self-projection over and above interpersonal contacts, as did the Greek plays of antiquity, possibilities for self-reference increased considerably with the invention of the alfabet, initally only used by a small elite, and later with the invention of the printing press. The resulting large-scale availability of books extended the horizons of those who could read, and also increased the pressure to learn to read. According to Luhmann's thesis, stated before, increasing environmental complexity can only be reduced and made manageable by an increase in internal complexity; it is after all the individual who experiences enironmental complexity, and has to relate to it in one way or another. Self-reference aids in this process of building up internal complexity.

Thus, the acceleration of environmental complexity caused by the industrial revolution resulted in improved methods of self-reference. Psychoanalysis came into being towards the end of the 19th century as a rather elitist therapy for the unhappy few, and up till the 1940's largely concentrated on identity problems: "Who am I, and how and why did I become this way?" Obviously, these questions are only relevant in a society that is still relatively stable, and are posed by people who are only starting to be aware of the complexity of their environment, and assume there is only one answer to it, one single identity which, if found, can react adequately to the outside world.

The acceleration of societal change and increasing complexity after World War II shattered this illusion. Sartre was one of the first, in 1944, to stress the inevitability of the individual taking his lonely and to a large degree arbitrary decisions. Psychoanalysis was complemented by literally hundreds of other forms of therapy, many of them reflecting the increased speed of a society on the move. Behavioral therapy is a case in point. Freud, more or less stuck as a Jew in relatively stable pre-WWI antisemitic Vienna, tried to explain the similar position of his patients and made an effort to provide them with some maneuvering room by increasing their self-knowledge, knowing full well that most of them could not change their actual position in life. Skinner, on the other hand, as an American a member of a highly mobile immigrant society where the sky seemd to be the limit, developed behaviorism. What else can one do, arriving as a new immigrant in Ellis Island, entering a new and completely unknown continent, and striving to be successful there, but try out different behaviors and discover which ones are punished and which ones are rewarded?

In the last decades, the inexorable march of increasing self-reference has continued, to such an extent that present-day society has been characterized as the therapeutic society. Courses in self-awareness, body awareness, neurolinguistic programming, Gestalt therapy etc. abound, while even no hard-boiled top manager worth his mettle has escaped being subjected to a sensitivity training.

It remains to be seen, of course, to what extent this increase of self-reference will continue, in tandem with the continued increase of environmental complexity. One surely cannot "mindfuck" all day, but on the other hand the emergence of "modular" individuals shaped after ant-like societies is equally undesirable.

Increasing self-organization:

Like self-reference, self-organization is an important concept in second-order cybernetics that may prove useful for sociology in general, and for future studies especially. And like self-reference, self-organization is nothing new, but has been there since the beginning of life, as argued earlier in this paper. Work at the Sante Fe Institute and elsewhere makes it highly probably that life originated from a primal soup, with katalytic reactions like the Brusselator making the appearance of more complex molecules not only probable, but almost inevitable. It is at the edge of chaos, somewhere in between strict hierarchical order and relatively random processes of self-organization, that more complex forms of life evolved. It should be a task of sociocybernetics for the near future to investigate to what extent analogues of such katalytic reactions also occur in a societal context, leading to the spontaneous emergence of more complex forms of social organization, such as the United Nations for example, which are now in the stage of forming a new hierarchical level.

Hierarchies finally have become impopular over the last few decades, after centuries of an overly hierarchical organization of society. However, like the iterative sequence of variety-selection-stabilization has become a more or less accepted paradigm in evolutionary studies, societal evolution likewise seems based on, first, proliferation of variety (i.e. self-organization), then selection of those self-organized units that can stand the test of time, and finally emergence of a new hierarchical level to coordinate these self-organized units.

Sociology has always been rather ambivalent about hierarchy, and an important issue in social science has always been whether one should opt for the "katascopic" or the "anascopic" view of society; in other words, should the behavior of individuals and groups be planned from the top down, in order for a society to survive in the long run, or should the insight of actors at every level, including the bottom one, be increased and therewith their competence to handle their environment more effectively and engage more succesfully in goal-seeking behaviour? A logical question then becomes: what should be the role of the social sciences in view of the above choice? Should it try mainly to deliver useful knowledge for an improved steering of the behaviour of social systems and individuals, or should it strive to improve the competence of actors at grass roots level, so that these actors can steer themselves and their own environment with better results?

Aulin 16) clearly favours the latter possibility: he followed a cybernetic line of reasoning that argues for non-hierarchical forms of steering. Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety 17) indeed implies a "Law of Requisite Hierarchy" in the case where only the survival of the system is considered, i.e. if the regulatory ability of the regulators is assumed to remain constant. However, the need for hierarchy decreases if this regulatory ability itself improves—which is indeed the case in advanced industrial societies, with their well-developed productive forces and correspondingly advanced distribution apparatus (the market mechanism). Since human societies are not simply self-regulating systems, but self-steering systems aiming at an enlargement of their domain of self-steering, there is a possibility nowadays, at least in sufficiently advanced industrial societies, for a coexistence of societal governability with ever less control, centralized planning and concentration of power. And indeed, strict top-down hierarchical structures seem on their way out forever, at least in the Western world; and even the world as a whole has become too complex and interdependent to sustain simplistic dictatorships much longer: they either place themselves outside of the world economy and go bankrupt sooner or later, or have to bend to the inherently democratizing demands of the IMF.  


It will have become clear from the foregoing that sociocybernetics and future studies are to a large extent related fields of study which may cross-fertilize each other. Whether the social sciences as a whole will profit from this cross-fertilization will depend on the extent to which future studies and sociocybernetics will be able to move from their rather peripheral place in international sociology to a more central one. Even if that will be the case soon, this does not yet mean that future developments can be forecast with any degree of exactitude; postdiction seems to be the name of the game, rather than prediction.

We have argued here that a few very general factors will be important in shaping the society of the future—like the relative frequencies of the four different types of reaction to accelerating change and increasing complexity—but it is virtually impossible to predict the relative strength of these reaction types, let alone their interactions. For example, will the group exhibiting the type-1 reactions increasingly consist of hyper-specialized technocrats, that will increase the number of type-2 withdrawal reactions, thus posing a threat to the Western democracies by increasing the sense of powerlessness among voters? Will those exhibiting type-3 reactions learn to accept the high pace of change and give up their fanatical resistance, or will they intensify their fight against it, using modern armaments and communication technologies in an increasingly interdependent and therefore vulnerable world? Can the present economic and political exclusion of most of the world population continue without having long-term deleterious effects? No specific and concrete answers can be given to these questions as yet, and it can only be hoped that a combined effort of future studies and sociocybernetics will help to provide workable answers in time.

The degree of self-reference and the degree of self-organization will also be important in shaping the society of the future: will both continue endlessly as long as enviromental complexity continues to increase, as the history of the last millennium seems to suggest, or will feedbacks originate at a certain level and pose limits to both?

In antiquity, self-reference was more or less limited, on a societal scale to philosophers who analyzed and criticized their society, and on an individual scale to monks who sought personal bliss and equilibrium through meditation. Nowadays, starting early this century and especially after WWI, there is a proliferating industry that promotes both individual and societal self-reference, in reaction to the growing complexity of the environment which both individuals and society as a whole have to deal with. On the level of individual self-reference, the game is not played anymore exclusively by psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychologists, but the need for "self-reference guides" has apparently grown to such proportions that many other helping professions have crystallized around this original group—admittedly many of them quacks from a scientific viewpoint. On the level of societal self-reference, it is obvious that most of the social sciences fulfil this self-referencing role for society as a whole.

Self-organization received a boost somewhat later. One might say that just like World War I formed the impetus for increased self-reference, World War II was the still rather timid start of the "self-organization era": not only did the post-war period produce near-chaotic situations in which many of the pre-war institutions had crumbled or were considered to be ineffective, but also the renewed stress on developing stronger democracies that would not fall prey anymore to ambitious dictators paved the way for less authoritarian structures, and made experiments in self-organization more likely.

However, these are what might be called the "megatrends". On a more specific level, concrete developments are of course much harder to forecast, even with well-directed and themselves already quite complex simulation studies, which take all the important variables and parameters into account. Neither Bill Gates nor Mikhail Gorbachev, though both astute professionals in their respective fields, could have predicted less than a decade ago (!) the almost exponential growth of the computer industry and its lock-in with related telecommunications industries, or the desintegration of the Soviet empire. Moreover, evolution does not always proceed smoothly; even in biology, the neo-Darwinists had to introduce the concept of punctuated equilibrium18) for sudden and inexplicable changes, after finding sudden discontinuities in fossil records that had not changed much for millions of years. On such a geological time scale, the societal changes that await us in the next millennium ar very small indeed.


1. Toffler, Alvin (1970), Future Shock. New York: Bantam Books.

2. Waddington, Conrad Hal (1977), Tools for Thought. London: Paladin, 1977.,

3. Prigogine, Ilya, and Isabelle Stengers (1984) Order out of Chaos—Man's new Dialogue with Nature. London: Heinemann.

4. A good overview of the work done at the Sante Fe Institute is presented in:

Waldrop, M. Mitchell, Complexity—The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos. New York: Simon and Schuster (Touchstone), 1992

Some further recent work of persons related to the Santa Fe Institute, apart from Brian Arthur and Stuart Kauffman:

Casti, John L. (1997), Would-be Worlds: How Simulation is Changing the Frontiers of Science. New York: John Wiley & Sons

Gell-Mann, Murray (1995), The Quark and the Jaguar—Adventures in the Simple and the Complex. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company

Goodwin, Brian (1996), How the Leopard Changed its Spots—The Evolution of Complexity. New York: Simon & Schuster

Holland, John H. (1995) Hidden Order—How Adaptation Builds Complexity. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Langton, Christopher G. (ed.), "Artificial Life". Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, Proceedings, vol. 6 (Proceedings of first Artificial Life workshop, 1987). Redwood City, CA: Addison-Wesley, 1989

————, Taylor, C., Farmer, J.D., and Rasmussen, S. (eds.), II. Sante Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, Proceedings, vol. 10 (Proceedings of second Artificial Life workshop, 1990). Redwood City, CA: Addison-Wesley, 1992

5. Laszlo, Ervin (1987), Evolution—The Grand Synthesis. Boston: Shambala, The New Science Library; and also:

———— (1986), "Systems and Societies: The Basic Cybernetics of Social Evolution", pp. 145-172 in Sociocybernetic Paradoxes—Observation, Control and Evolution of Self-steering Systems (R.F. Geyer and J. van der Zouwen, eds.). London and Beverly Hills: Sage.

6. Kauffman, Stuart A. (1991), "Antichaos and Adaptation", Scientific American, August, pp. 78-84

———— (1992), The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press

———— (1995), At Home in the Universe—The Search for Laws of Complexity. Harmondsworth, UK : Penguin Books.

7. Swenson, Rod, "End-directed Physics and Evolutionary Ordening: Obviating the Problem of the Population of One", pp. 41-60 in The Cybernetics of Complex Systems - Self-organization, Evolution and Social Change (R.F. Geyer, ed.), Salinas, CA: Intersystems Publicatons, 1991.

8. Arthur, W. Brian (1990), "Positive Feedbacks in the Economy", Scientific American, February, pp. 92-99

9) CNN, Future Watch, November 2, 1997.

10. Wagenaar, W.A., "Supertankers: Simulators for the Study of Steering", American Psychologist, 30(3): 440-44.

11. Henshel, Richard L., "Credibility and Confidence Loops in Social Prediction", pp. 31-58 in F. Geyer and J. van der Zouwen (eds.) Self-referencing in Social Systems. Salinas, CA: Intersystems Publications, 1990

———— (1997), "Hypothesis testing for positive feedback models: some uses of a modified Poission distribution for loops involving the self-fulfilling prophecy", pp. 769-786 in "Sociocybernetics: Complexity, Dynamics, and Emergence in Social Science" (R.F. Geyer, guest ed.), double issue of Kybernetes 26:6-7.

12. Luhmann, Niklas (1975) Soziologische Aufklärung-2, esp. pp. 204-220: "Komplexität". Köln: Westdeutsche Verlag.

———— (1978) "Temporalization of Complexity", pp. 95-111 in: Sociocybernetics, vol. 2 (R.F. Geyer and J. van der Zouwen, eds.). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

———— (1986) "The Autopoiesis of Social Systems", pp. 172-192 in: Sociocybernetic Paradoxes—Observation, Control and Evolution of Self-steering Systems (R.F. Geyer and J. van der Zouwen, eds.). London and Beverly Hills: Sage.

13. Mannheim, Karl (1968, orig. 1936) Ideology and Utopia: Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

14. Reich, Robert B. (1992), The Work of Nations—Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism. New York: Random House, Vintage Books

15. Project Washoe started in 1966 and still continues. It includes the continuing study of washoe and four other chimpanzees who have acquired AMESLAN (AMErican Sign LANguage) and use it among themselves. Washoe taught AMESLAN to her adopted baby. Extensive litterature can be found via the "Friends of Washoe" website at: <>.

16. Aulin, A. (1982), The Cybernetic Laws of Social Progress: Towards a Critical Social Philosophy and a Criticism of Marxism, Pergamon Press, Oxford

———— (1986) "Notes on the concept of self-steering", in Sociocybernetic Paradoxes, op. cit., pp. 100-118.

17. Ashby, W. Ross (1952), Design for a Brain—The Origin of Adaptive Behavior. New York: Wiley and London: Chapman and Hall

———— (1956), An Introduction to Cybernetics. London: Chapman & Hall

18. Eldredge, Niles (1995), Reinventing Darwin. New York: John Wiley