Complexity is not complicated

There’s a big difference between complex and complicated systems. An aeroplane is a complicated system. You could take it apart, and if your understanding allows, put it back together. Then it could fly again. That’s possible because it has a finite number of parts and the relationships between its parts are fixed.

A bird is a complex system. You could take it apart and put it back together in some form, but it would no longer fly. You’d have taken the life out of it. That’s because the number of its parts and the number of their relationships is unimaginably large, almost infinite. Moreover, these relationships are changing.

This applies to all living systems: soil, an ecosystem, a human community, and the whole biosphere. And this means we can never gain control over it. The problems in the world can be traced back to the fact that we deal with complex systems as if they are complicated. We live under the illusion that we just need to do more research in order to find out exactly how something works. But this moment will never come. If we learned to trust complexity instead, we could make use of the self-organisation that arises from it. When you let go of control, even more relationships arise. This in turn grows complexity, and with it the health and resilience of a system.

What applies at micro and meso levels also applies at the macro level: this planet and all life on it is a living, complex system that needs complexity to be healthy.