The Architecture of Complexity: Understanding the development and dynamics of the System, Part I

Architecture of complexity

Complexity and hierarchy go hand in hand (illustration: source)

In the publication “The architecture of complexity” (1962), Herbert A. Simon makes some observations concerning the typical structure and dynamics of complex systems.

In three articles, I discuss two questions concerning the development of the System. To answer these questions, I make use of Simon’s perspective on the structure and functioning of complex systems. The two questions are:

(1) How can the phase transition the System experienced during – by means of – the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945) be explained? and (2) What can Simon’s insights in the functioning of complex systems contribute to our understanding of the condition of the current international order and what can – according to Simon’s perspective – now be expected?

In this article I discuss several of Simon’s observations, before discussing these two questions in Part II and III

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Applying network science to current developments: With the election of Trump, Al-Qaeda achieved its objective


In this article, I apply insights in the relationships between network topology and ‘error and attack’ tolerance of networks to the dynamics of the System.

The (current) decoupling (disconnecting) of the United States from the international order can be interpreted as a response to the attack of Al-Qaeda on the WTC in New York, September 11, 2001.

The attack has set in motion – and has shaped – a series of responses from the United States (an attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, an attack on Iraq in 2003, etc.) and events that then followed (the Arab Spring, the collapse of states in the Middle East, terrorist attacks, the fragmentation of Europe).

Despite the efforts of president Obama of the United States (2008-2016), the United states – as the most central and dominant state in the international network – was not able to maintain its own and the System’s stability and coherence.

In response, the United States in 2016 (under president Trump) de facto ‘decoupled‘ from the international order, in efforts to promote its own – now narrowly defined – interests (America First).

Insights in network dynamics help explain (from a network perspective) what the impact is on the stability of the (global) System when the United States disengages – decouples – from the international order.

Not surprisingly, the decoupling causes the fragmentation of the international order, and consequently states and radical communities will intensify their efforts to shape local and regional issues in accordance with their own interests as well (and by doing so, confirm Trump’s self fulfilling prophecy).

In this article, I explain the impact of the ‘decoupling’ of the United States from the international order from a network perspective.

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