Is Complexity Useful?

I was reading Michael Behe’s recent blog entitled “irremediable complexity” about complexity in nature, and I wanted to ask this simple question: is complexity useful?  That question, of course, brings a number of other questions, and so I will try to expand a bit.   Michael Behe comments on an article entitled “irremediable complexity?” by authors which includes noted biologist W. Ford Doolittle. The article asks whether nature creates complexity as part of evolution and selection perhaps, and whether some of this complexity has no value at all.  It seems to be sitting there, in the middle of organisms, for no particular purpose or reason at all, once it establishes itself through evolution.  In the World around us, the same could be asked of human endeavors.  Linkages establishes themselves between activities, and complexity arises because these links are useful: they serve a purpose, they establish human relations, data bridges, connections…, but do they maintain their usefulness as they remain?

A few years ago, bankers sought to group mortgages and create financial instruments by securitizing them to reduce risks, forever linking the real estate industry to the securities industry. These linkages also forever increased the level of complexity in the real estate industry, making it more complex to determine current and future house values, lending rates, and who can afford a loan.  We, in society, derive value from this complexity, yet, we also pay a cost for it.  Where is the balance?  It is increasingly difficult to understand if we derive value from this complexity or of we do not.

And there is another problem: One of  Michael Behe’s criticism of the Doolittle article is that the article does not contain quantitative proofs.  When everything is connected to everything else, the impacts and their causes are increasingly difficult to isolate, identify and quantify.  Thus, the value of linkages, the value of complexity, is harder to ascertain.  To paraphrase Michael Behe, what is the value of the associate director of licensing delays in the Department of Motor Vehicles (ADLD/DMV)?   To the Director, plenty, I am sure.

Trying to find out if the ADLD/DMV is useful may be, in itself, such a complex task, that it – the measurement – may not be reliably computed, anyhow.  This task may require observations that may be skewed by their very nature,  the very fact that the Associate Director is observed, and that the Director had to be asked for her permission…   What are we to do?  It is no wonder that in this sea of complexity, cries for simplistic “know-nothing” “authentic” approaches to the World seem appealing…

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