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Psychology, chaos theory, complexity theory, happiness and Batman?

Posted on: August 14, 2008

Michael Keaton as Batman in Batman (1989)Image via Wikipedia

Any of these topics – psychology, chaos theory and complexity theory – is heavy reading on its own.  All three together?

David Pinctus’ new blog explains chaos and complexity theory in psychology and is tucked away at the end of the Self-Help blogs on Psychology Today.  David’s blog is probably far too heavy reading for the typical self-help audience.  It is important reading for anyone interested in positive psychology and where this new field is going.

  • Psychology has traditionally looked for linear models.  We look for phenomena that grow bigger or smaller in direct proportion to something else.  Happiness is likely to be a non-linear phenomenon.  A small thing can make us very happy; a large event can wash over us.
  • Psychology assumes that my behavior is essentially unconnected from yours.  Our models require all our observations to be independent of each other – do you remember that distantly?  Though much of the positive psychology empirical research is still conducted in the ‘old school of research’, it is our interconnections with others that are more interesting.
  • Psychology has difficulty with time.  We are taught simply to use time as sparingly as possible in our models.  As a consequence we have little idea “what will happen next” or how long anything takes.  If tomorrow is a result of today, how do we describe that trajectory?

David Pinctus explains “non-linear dynamical systems“.  Though he hasn’t talked directly about positive psychology as yet, listing him under “Self-Help”, tells it all.

He also devoted three posts to a series on Batman.  Ordinarily, you would have had to drag me along kicking-and-screaming to a batman movie.  I hated it too!  But his review gave the movie depth I wouldn’t have fathomed on my own and a useful way of thinking about the deep, festering conflicts in many organizations.

I am glad to have a blog written by an academic who has deep mastery of the methodology in this field and who writes well. I am subscribed, watching, reading and learning!

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5 Responses to "Psychology, chaos theory, complexity theory, happiness and Batman?"

When I see the non-linearity in the Economic World as:
Oil down 70% but not demand.
Unemployment 8% but sales down in excess of 8%.
In Physics a non-linear system is the subject of Chaos Theory – a Physics Foible..

Thanks, Melvin. Here I demonstrate my training as a psychologist. I have to stop to think about which is complexity theory and which is chaos theory.

This tutorial from Victor MacGill, http://complexity.orconhosting.net.nz/intro.html, puts a swarm of birds as an example of chaos theory. Something simple like follow the other bird becomes a new phenomenon like a flock.

A city is an example of complexity. One person joins another and complex systems emerge. The shape of the final outcome is not predictable.

The economy is certainly non-linear. Most things are but in psycholgy we ‘force’ our data into a linear model.

I imagine some economic phenomena are like flocks or swarms – accountable with a few simple parameters. Happines (google Marcial Losada) could be like that. Complexity means unpredictable outcomes. Some people feel that means ‘uncontrollable’. For me that means generative – having many possible futures just as a swarm has many possible futures. What that means is that like birds in a flock we need to adjust our position to the other birds as we go. The bird that is a menace, or that will get itself into trouble, is the one that wants to fly south and flies south regardles of what the other birds in the flock are doing!

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