Confronting Complexity

The book you are seeing on your screen may look like a normal book; it is not. It is a conversation in which you are a participant. The book does not offer pat answers to hard questions. In fact, it barely even gives definition to hard questions. Rather, this book presents that stage in which science is most challenging and, arguably, most interesting—the period of identifying just what the problems and issues are. That is why we solicit your help in writing this story—the story of extreme events in social systems.

The participants in this book-writing enterprise are independent thinkers who wish to understand the forces impinging on social systems and the systems’ often dramatic and extreme responses to those forces. Extreme events, the sudden and discontinuous response of social systems to these forces, are what we for shorthand term X-Events. X-events We imagine the reader to be a person who wants to intelligently manage his or her actions and behaviors in the midst of an X-event—in short, to manage an organization in chaos. And not only manage, but be a beneficiary of that event. Explicitly, we understand that there are no simple answers to social questions. But but there is at least a gestalt that can help an individual anticipate and manage X-events. The program outlined here is to build the gestalt by total immersion in the topic—by examining the issues from many perspectives.

Self-infanticide

Gödel did something very clever. He found a solution of Einstein’s field equations in which the world lines circled back on themselves. This means that if you were traveling along a world line you would eventually encounter yourself as a baby. Suppose you kill yourself as a baby. Would you still be alive? It would be disturbing if you were both alive and dead. Unlike quantum mechanics, Einstein’s theory does not address ambiguity explicitly. The great challenge of modern physics is to unite the general theory of relativity with quantum mechanics. This has not yet been done.