ADJACENT POSSIBLE

Who designed us? The problem is not with the question. The problem is with complexity. If we were not as complex as we are, there was no need to requisition a designer. We are made of simple parts, but we are more than the sum of simple parts. Our so-called simple parts interact with each other and form unexpected and surprising relationships among themselves. In the process, the simple becomes complex. Wherever there are interactions and relationships, there is complexity. We can’t live without a certain amount of complexity, as we can’t live in isolation. Complexity is not easy to define. As Seth Lloyd said, “I can’t define it for you, but I know it when I see it”. A simple thing like water can exist in various forms, depending upon the pattern of relationships among its constituents. The complex physical properties of water can lie between the highly ordered state of ice crystals and the highly disordered movements of steam molecules. Does complexity reach a dead end? Stephen Jay Gould believed that a species grows by ‘leaps and bounds’, but it ultimately reaches a dead end or regresses. If a meteorite hits the Earth and destroys all intelligent life, Gould argued, the chances are vanishingly small that complex, intelligent life would evolve again. Another highly speculative theory put forward by Stuart Kauffman says that life arose spontaneously, and complexity evolved naturally. According to this “fourth law of thermodynamics”, life has an innate tendency to explore the ‘adjacent possible’. The exploration of the adjacent possible gives us an opportunity to build greater complexity. According to Kauffman’s vision, the dynamics of complexity ultimately leads to the emergence of autonomous agents that are able to act on their own behalf in an environment. The phrase ‘adjacent possible’, coined by Kauffman, captures both the limits and creative potential of change and innovation. The adjacent possible is an extraordinarily useful concept. It tells us that at any moment, the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen.