Concreting Complexity

I’ve been thinking about the urge to scale things lately – see here and here. I understand the concern with being able to effect big social change and simultaneously see how easily that urge can be used to block small changes in an unconscious urge to be in control.

Chris Rodgers is pretty vigorous in his scepticism about efforts to take control of complexity, as in this post – Mystic Megaproject – Predicting the future with Big Science and Big Data (or not)Chris argues:

A view of leadership and organizational dynamics that is congruent with people’s lived experience – in all of its hidden messy and informal ‘humanness’ – cannot be modelled by information and communication technology, however advanced it might become. And its very sophistication is likely to imbue the resulting analyses with a ‘false concreteness’ that is far removed from the complex and uncertain reality of everyday life.

I fear that any effort to produce hard data on a system must inevitably leave other stuff unsurfaced. I really understand the allure of producing intricate maps of attitudes and behaviour but I don’t see how they can penetrate what is “really going on”. That’s the problem with much of the hype around neuroscience – we might have some notion of which bits of the brain light up but we don’t really know why, or how the more and less and unlit bits influence each other.

Now if these models can be held lightly, then I can see how they might help to generate thought-provoking hypotheses about the future. But we don’t have to look very far to see how once you put numbers on something, the urge to manage by numbers seems irresistible. Chris picks out how descriptions of the project he criticises lapse into grandiosity and what I would call pomposity.

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