Complex Systems Studies and Limits of Prediction in Security Theory and Policy
Cracow University of Economics
Last modified: September 10, 2007
Cracow University of Economics
Changes in the modern world have created a specific demand of practitioners for ideas allowing them to deal more efficiently with growing complexity of social phenomena at micro and macro scale. This demand is even often visible during the International Conferences on Complex Systems held by NECSI when practitioners – policy makers, military experts, economists, managers and management consultants ask for “assistance from complexity people”. At the same time “complexity scholars” purposively or not stimulate expectations of practice by assigning marketing-like names to their works and courses – “Hidden Order”, “Harnessing Complexity”, “Understanding Complex Organizations”, etc.
Such a demand from practitioners and response from science is nothing unusual by itself. A new element in those claims for assistance from “complexity specialists” is resulting from awareness of limited possibility, or even impossibility of prediction of social phenomena, especially at macro and mezo scales. Such an epistemological pessimism can be acceptable in academic discourse but cannot be transferred to practice. Security policy, economic policy and management are most representative examples of the areas in which prediction is a foundation of actions. That is why strive for relevant predictions constitute a foundation of normative social sciences like security theory and management theory.
A question is thus arising. If unpredictability or low reliability of prediction is a key feature of complexity of social phenomena, so what ideas drawn from complexity studies can help policy-oriented social sciences in better understanding the sense of predictability and its limitations.
The aim of the paper is to present a survey of cases when broadly defined complex models can be applied in better understanding limitations of predictability in security theory and policy. Security theory, similarly as normative economics and management theory are viewed as normative sciences, which aim not only at description but also at providing guidance for action. In such areas prediction is the main objective of research.
In the first part definitions of security and the “core concept” of security elaborated in earlier author’s research will be depicted. In the second part, epistemological sense of predictability in social sciences will be described with a special stress put upon normative disciplines. Subsequently limitations of prediction of social phenomena will be exposed. In the next part of the paper, relations between predictability and complexity models will be described. Discussion will include limitations of prediction in application of complexity models in physics and biology.
In the final parts of the paper relevance of conclusions stemming from limits of prediction of complexity models in physics and biology along with specific limitations relevant to security-oriented research will be exposed.
Discussion of predictability of social systems will focus upon two areas. First, limits of prediction of social systems dynamics with direct application of mathematical models of complexity. Second, limitations of prediction, when social systems are treated as learning systems – qualitative interpretations and mathematical models.