Visualising Complexity

I have been thinking about complexity for a good couple of years now, but have not been able to communicate why I think it is important. What I’d like to do, in probably a few posts is to attempt to explain it’s usefulness.

Complexity is the study of relationships.

Complexity students have created images that help us understand different structures of relationships.

This classic diagram describes the different forms a network can take. The dots are commonly called ‘nodes’, the dashed lines ‘links’. These diagrams were developed to illustrate telecommunications systems, but they can help us to visualise many different networked relationships.

Think of a system of relationships you are a part of, or are interested in. Make sure you are clear about 1: what the network represents 2. what the nodes represent 3: what the links represent.

For example:

1: an ecosystem 2: living organisms 3: nutrient exchange, as in a food web

1: twitter 2: twitter accounts 3: connections made on twitter e.g. replies, retweets, favourites (for an elegant representation of this, see )

What would be the positive and negative impact of organising your network in each of these different ways?

Think about what would happen to the whole system if one link or node broke. Would it look the same? This is a question about the system’s resilience.

Think about how long it would take to get a ‘message’ from one side of the network to another. How many links would you have to pass through? This is a question about the system’s efficiency.

Complex systems tend to take the form of a decentralised network, balancing resilience with efficiency. Many organic systems organise themselves in this way, and the internet, with it’s complex mix of computational and social dynamics does so too.

What I’m interested in is how these images help us to understand social relationships. Try looking at these diagrams as:

1: society 2: people 3: power relationships

What are the ethical implications of these different ways of organising?
In my next post, I will write about moments in my life that demonstrate each of these different ways of conducting relationships.