Stafford's Work

Complexity and ignorance in the Information Society: A new methodological approach

December 2, 2020


In logical terms, the utterance “this is complex” is equivalent to the acknowledgment of ignorance of the observer. This observation is relevant to all situations, beginning from daily life and ending with applications of complexity science in all areas of studies. The challenge deriving from the role of ignorance and complexity has a special role in modern social sciences. From a philosophical point of view, the challenges of knowledge and ignorance are eternal. Their symbol is the declaration supposedly (?) made by Socrates: “I know that I know nothing.”

So what new can be said today about complexity, knowledge, ignorance in the studies of society? What are the new factors determining the increase in complexity and ignorance? How to answer to the above questions not being trapped in another level of complexity of complexity of explanations and another level of ignorance depicted with the famous sentence – I do not know that I do not know.

The paper includes the results of a book-size project, “Complexity and Ignorance in Modern Management.” The proposed conceptual framework is also applicable in other normative, action- oriented disciplines, e.g., economics or security studies. One of the sources of inspiration for the project is the popularity of the terms “chaos theory” and “edge of chaos,” showing how the incidental “catchy” names assigned to the classes of equations – chaos (Li and Yorke 1975) and “edge of chaos (Langton 1992) have a strong impact on theory and on policymaking.

The project results from the studies of applications of the ideas of complexity in social sciences with special stress put on normative, action-oriented disciplines – management, security studies and studies of environmental challenges. The project is developed with an awareness of limitations of the meaning of all terms – complexity, knowledge, and ignorance.

The main determinant of the increasing impact of ignorance on management and on social life is not a rapidly growing amount of produced and received information and knowledge called information explosion, information overabundance, etc. The equal, if not a bigger challenge, is to comprehend, or in a more general sense, to assign the meaning to those over-flooding streams of bits. In a broader interpretation, the sensemaking of this overwhelming flood of impulses is the main challenge to modern management. The development of Information Technology, and particularly, Artificial Intelligence, and its part, cognitive science, create another challenge.

As another determinant of the studies of complexity and ignorance is the development of social theory. Advanced mathematical modeling, post-modernism, post-structuralism, interpretative approaches also contribute to a higher level of ignorance. The first results of the project can be depicted as follows. In management, the ideas taken from complexity science include mathematical models, analogies, and metaphors (of course, a reference to the latter is a simplification). Thus as the first step, a typology of applications of the ideas of variously defined complexity in social studies is prepared. It embodies most of the cases of the use of the term complexity, beginning from Kolmogorov-Solomonoff-Chaitin ideas, through thermodynamics (the concept of entropy in the definition of information also means acknowledgment of ignorance), and ending with some purely metaphorical applications of the term complexity and associated notions in social sciences. Subsequently, a methodological framework is presented, which allows disclosure what could be unknown in all the above cases of applications of the terms complex and complexity.

The proposed methodological framework, which can be called CAISSA (Complexity-and Ignorance- Sensitive-Systems-Approach) will include two elements: identification of patterns of ignorance associated with the applications of the concept (utterance?) complexity in all the above-mentioned circumstances and the ways how this ignorance can be dealt with. Of course, any “naive”, far-reaching expectations are not presented. Just hope that the level of “negative” ignorance will be diminished and the level of “positive” ignorance (the more I know, the better I know what I do not know yet) will increase.

Czeslaw Mesjasz

Czeslaw Mesjasz,

Associate Professor, Management Process Department, Faculty of Management, Cracow

University of Economics, 31-510 Kraków, Poland,

mesjaszc@uek.krakow.pl https://kpz.uek.krakow.pl/portal/en/content/department




  1. Physics, M.Sc., Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland.
  2. Organisation & Management, M.A., Cracow University of Economics, Cracow.
  3. Ph.D. in Economics (Area of specialisation: Organisation & Management) – Cracow University of Economics, Cracow.
  1. ”Habilitation” (Second Doctorate) – Cracow University of Economics/Ministry of Science and Higher Education (Poland)

Research interests:

Management theory, strategic management; Conflict management and negotiation – business, economics and in international relations. Applications of systems approach in social sciences (management, security) (special stress put on complexity of social systems and the role of complexity in management). Econophysics – complexity of social systems (management systems). Theoretical foundations of corporate governance. Knowledge management. Project management.

Research activity: Some 300 publications and unpublished works in Polish, English. Works translated into Chinese, Danish, Spanish and Turkish. Papers presented at international conferences – later published in English language books and journals.

Scholarship/ International Cooperation:

Member of the:  Polish Economic Association; International Peace Research Association (IPRA) – from 1990 until 1994 Convenor of IPRA Security and Disarmament Commission Co-operation with the International Economic Association (IEA) Member of International Studies Association (ISA); Academy of Management; European Academy of Management; International Sociological Association; Cooperation with NECSI (New England Complex Systems Institute), Cambridge, MA; Board of Arbeitsgruppe Friedensforschung und Europäische Sicherheitspolitik – Peace Research and European Security Studies (AFES-PRESS), Mosbach, Germany;  Co-operation with the Millennium Project of the American Council for the United Nations University –questionnaire studies and projects assessment since 1998 (Results in the “State of the Future Report”) Cooperation with the Processes of International Negotiation (PIN) network, IIASA – International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria; Board of the Econophysics Section of the Polish Physical Society

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