The study of complexity has typically found a home within specific disciplines, such as science, philosophy, cognitive science, anthropology and to a lesser extent evolutionary psychology. This landscape intrigues me as you will rarely find a psychologist among a group of complexity thinkers and practitioners. You’ll find natural scientists and philosophers in the main. I think this is because the role of psychology in understanding complexity has not received much attention. Complexity is firmly an issue of psychology as well as the other disciplines.
What follows is the beginning of an argument that I’m forming in relation to the prominence that psychology should get within complexity research.
Firstly, the context of complexity is predominantly within the human domain. When talking about complexity within human systems we need to remember that humans are the primary object. As humans, the matter of our behaviour and the motivations driving said behaviour is a deeply psychological issue. The human psyche is itself a complex phenomenon on its own. The psyche in the context of a plethora of other psyches brings about an inordinate amount of complexity in human systems.
Secondly, an increasing amount of attention is being given to the role of interactions (relationships) as the core to understanding complexity in human systems. This is about making a move away from looking at the “objects” within a system and towards understanding the interactions between the agents in the system. Again, this is a deeply psychological issue when you consider the issue of agency of humans in the context of other humans. Understanding the agency of a human falls squarely within the realm of psychological research.
Thirdly, it is a psychological bent to always reduce the complexity of a problem to an array of simple problems. We all know the cognitive dissonance experienced when faced with a situation or problem that is deeply complex. The resulting desire to sub-divide the problem into smaller and more manageable parts is rooted in a desire to reduce the dissonance we experience as a result of the problem. We now know that doing so limits our understanding of the levels of complexity. Developing the cognitive processes required of a leader, manager or decision-maker in dealing with complexity is a deeply psychological issue in nature.