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A study on the components of a civilization

Download PDF Since time immemorial humans have complained that life is becoming more complex, but it is only now that we have a hope to analyze formally and verify this lament. This article analyzes the human social environment using the "complexity profile," a mathematical tool for characterizing the collective behavior of a system.

The analysis is used to justify the qualitative observation that complexity of existence has increased and is increasing. The increase in complexity is directly related to sweeping changes in the structure and dynamics of human civilization—the increasing interdependence of the global economic and social system and the instabilities of dictatorships, communism and corporate hierarchies. Our complex social environment is consistent with identifying global human civilization as an organism a study on the components of a civilization of complex behavior that protects its components us and which should be capable of responding effectively to complex environmental demands.

How often have we been told by various philosophers and universalistic religions about unseen connections between human beings and the collective identity of humanity? Today, global connections are manifest in the economy, in transportation and communication systems, and in responses to political, social and environmental crises.

Sometime during this century a transition to global conflict, and thence to global cooperation, took place. Along the way the conditions of life changed, driven by technological, medical, communication, education and governmental changes, which themselves involved global cooperation and collective actions.

What is generally not recognized is that the relationship between collective global behavior and the internal structure of human civilization can be characterized through mathematical concepts that apply to all complex systems. An analysis based upon these mathematical concepts suggests that human civilization itself is an organism capable of behaviors that are of greater complexity than those of an individual human being.

In order to understand the significance of this statement, one must recognize that collective behaviors are typically simpler than the behavior of components. Only a study on the components of a civilization the components are connected in networks of specialized function can complex collective behaviors arise. The history of civilization can be characterized through the progressive though non-monotonic appearance of collective behaviors of larger groups of human beings of greater complexity.

However, the transition to a collective behavior of complexity greater than an individual human being has become apparent from events occuring during the most recent decades.

Human civilization continues to face internal and environmental challenges. In this context it is important to recognize that the complexity of a system's behavior is fundamentally related to the complexity of challenges that it can effectively overcome.

Historic changes in the structure of human organizations are self-consistently related to an increasing complexity of their social and economic contexts. Further, the collective complexity of human civilization is directly relevant to its ability to effectively respond to large scale environmental challenges.

We, each of us, are parts of a greater whole. This relationship is shaping and will continue to shape much of our existence. It has implications for our lives as individuals and those of our children. For individuals this complexity is reflected in the diversity of professional and social environments. On a global scale, human civilization is a single organism capable of remarkable complex collective actions in response to environmental challenges.

Even constructing a model based upon social interactions is too difficult. To consider the collective behavior of human civilization, one must develop concepts that describe the relationship of individual to collective behavior in a more general way. The goal of this article is to extend the systematic understanding of collective or cooperative behavior so as to characterize such behavior in physical, biological and social systems. All macroscopic systems, whether their behavior is simple or complex, are formed out of a large number of parts.

The following examples suggest insights into how and in what way simple or complex behaviors arise. Inanimate objects generally do not have complex behaviors. Notable exceptions include water flowing in a stream or boiling in a pot, and the atmospheric dynamics of weather. However, if water or air are not subject to external force or heat variations, their behavior is simple.

Nevertheless, by looking very closely, it is possible to see the rapid and random thermal motion of atoms. Describing the motion of all of the atoms in a cubic centimeter of water would require a volume of writing which is more than ten billion times the number of books in the Library of Congress.

Though this would be a remarkably large amount of information, it is all irrelevant to the macroscopic behavior of a cup of water. Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics explained this paradox at the end of the 19th century. The generally independent and random motion of atoms means that small regions of equal size contain essentially the same number of atoms.

Thus, the water is uniform and unchanging. While biological organisms generally behave in a more complex way than inanimate objects, independent and randomly moving biological microorganisms also have simple collective behavior. Consider the behavior of microorganisms that cause diseases. What is the difference between the microorganisms and the cells that form a human being?

From a macroscopic perspective, the primary difference is that a large collection of microorganisms do not result in complex collective behavior. Each of the microorganisms follows an essentially independent course.

The independence of their microscopic actions results in an average behavior on a large scale which is simple.


This is true even though, like the human being, all of the microorganisms may originate from a single cell. There is a way in which the microorganisms do act in a coherent waythey damage or consume the cells of the body they are in. This coherent action is what enables them to have an impact on a large scale. It is only because many of them perform this action together that makes them relevant to human health. The notion of coherence also applies to physical systems.

It is the collective coherent motion of all of the atoms in the object that enables them to have impact on a large scale. Thus, there are two paradigms for simple collective behavior. When the parts of a system have behaviors that are independent of each other, the collective behavior of the system is simple. Close observation reveals complex behavior of the parts, but this behavior is irrelevant to the collective behavior.

On the other hand if all parts act in exactly the same way, then their collective behavior is simple even though it is visible on a very large scale. These examples of behavior can also be seen in the historical progression of human civilization.

Primitive tribal a study on the components of a civilization agrarian cultures involved largely independent individuals or small groups. Military systems involved large coherent motions of many individuals performing similar and relatively simple actions. These coherent actions enabled impact at a scale much larger than the size of the military force itself.

Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, a Complexity Profile

By contrast, civilization today involves diverse and specialized individual behaviors that are nevertheless coordinated. This specialization and coordination allow for highly complex collective behaviors capable of influencing the environment on many scales. Thus the collective behavior of human civilization arises from the coordinated behavior of many individuals in various groupings. The complexity profile focuses attention on the scale at which a certain behavior of a system is visible to an observer, or the extent of the impact it can have on its environment.

Both of these are relevant to interactions of a system with its environmentan observer can see the behavior only when the behavior is sufficiently large to affect the observer. A formal definition of scale considers the spatial extent, time duration, momentum and energy of a behavior.

  • The formation of such branching structures allows an inherently more complex local behavior of the individuals, and a larger complexity of the collective behavior as well;
  • The energy of this light is reemited into space at a much lower effective temperature;
  • The energy of different actions of the system is also relevant.

More intuitively, when many parts of a system act together to make a single behavior happen, that behavior is on a large scale, and when few parts of a system act together, that behavior is on a small scale. The energy of different actions of the system is also relevant. When the amount of energy devoted to an action is large, then it is a large scale action. In essence, the units of energy are working together to make a large scale behavior. A more systematic treatment of the scale of particular behaviors leads to the complexity profile.

The complexity profile counts the number of independent behaviors that are visible at a particular scale and includes all of the behaviors that have impact at larger scales. The use of the term "complexity" reflects a quantitative theory of the degree of difficulty of describing a system's behavior. In its most basic form, this theory simply counts the number of independent behaviors as a measure of the complexity of a system.

The complexity profile characterizes the system behavior by describing the complexity as a function of scale. The central point is: When the independence of the components is reduced, scale of behavior is increased.

To make a large collective behavior, the individual parts that make up this behavior must be correlated and not independent. This reduction of independence means that describing the collective behavior includes part or all of the behavior of the parts and therefore our description of the parts is simpler.

When the behaviors of parts a study on the components of a civilization coupled in subgroups, their behavior is manifest at the scale corresponding to the size of the group. Thus, fixing the material composition and the energy of the system, there are various ways the system can be organized.

Each way of organizing the system and distributing the energy through the system results in tradeoffs between the complexity of their microscopic description against the complexity of their description at progressively larger scales. To illustrate the complexity profile, consider a system in which the parts behave independently. The system behavior at a small scale requires specifying what each of the parts is doing.

However, when observing on a larger scale, it is not possible to distinguish the individual parts even in a small region of the system, only the aggregate effect of their behavior is observable. Since their behaviors are independent, they cancel each other in their impact on the environment. Thus, the description of the system behavior is simple. The behavior of each individual part disappears upon averaging the behavior of the local group. Examples a study on the components of a civilization this include microorganisms swimming randomly in a pond or people moving around in a crowd that does not move as a whole.

When one person goes one way, another person fills his place and together there is no collective movement. Independent behavior is to be contrasted with coherent motion. In coherent motion all of the parts of the system move in the same direction. This is the largest scale behavior possible for the system. Since the behaviors of the parts of the system are all the same, they are simple to describe on the largest scale.

Moreover, once the largest scale behavior is described, the behavior of each of the parts is also known. Neither of these two examples corresponds to complex collective behavior. Unlike the coherent motion case, complex behavior must include many different behaviors. Unlike the independent action case, many of these behaviors are visible on a large scale.

In order for such visibility to occur various subgroups of the system must have coordinated behaviors. The resulting dynamic correlations are distributed at different scales.

Some of them are found at a microscopic scale in the coupled motion or positions of molecules, and others appear in the collective motion of, for example, muscle cells and the motion of the body as a whole.