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Earlier, I wrote a little series on social complexity – mainly from the perspective of social psychology and sociology. My intention was to explain why it is best to think about social interactions as complex phenomena – even if it is possible to have also simple interactions between people. The complexity of human beings is always present, even if the event is very predictable and simple, the interpretation of that even can be very complex thing.

Now I intend to write a more simple (?) explanation of why I think social is always complex. There are 4 simple things that will inevitably lead to complex patterns of interaction.

Inner dialogues

First of all, we are all dialogical beings. We have public dialogues with other people and we have private inner dialogues amongst ourselves. In these dialogues we are making sense of what happens in the world. Conversations with other people are very important for us in many sense. That is how we connect, cooperate, and compete with each others.

What isn’t so obvious is that our inner dialogues play a really important part here also. It is in these inner dialogues where we differ from each others. Nobody else knows what is happening in your inner dialogues, but that inner dialogue has a huge importance in how you respond to other people. We could even say that what we see happening in our public dialogues is a complex interplay of many inner dialogues between different people.

Thus, the public conversations we have always have a degree of uncertainty. It is impossible to predict exactly what happens as the responses are always influenced by private inner dialogues, which are partly unconscious even to ourselves.

Polyphony of narratives

Inner dialogues are also complex. Even in the private inner dialogue of a single person there are many different narratives emerging. These narratives are not controlled by the person, but they are rather the result of individual historical events – both mental and physical. These events lead to unpredictable inner role plays that are often anticipating some future events or shaping the past ones.

The unpredictability of these role plays and narratives they produce comes from their responsive nature: One response leads to another which then leads yet another and so on. Like G.H.Mead pointed out, we take the perspective of others to see ourselves. This polyphony of narratives makes sure there are always some degree of unpredictability involved in our inner dialogues.

The interplay of feelings, body, cognition & context

Polyphony of narratives in our inner dialogues would be enough to produce complex patterns of interaction themselves, as we can see from digital communication. However, it is even more complex than that. We are also bodily beings. This means that we have physical feelings, both sensory and mental ones. We also communicate non-verbally with our physical expressions, especially with our hands and facial expressions. We have quite advanced senses to pick up different kinds of events and complex brains to make sense of all that. In other words we have quite sophisticated cognitive functions to make sense of our physical environment and social context.

The interplay of cognition, bodily feelings, emotions, inner dialogues and public ones is amazingly complex phenomenon. Even a single individual in the physical nature is very complex phenomenon, but we create yet another world with our advanced skills of abstraction and social interactions.

Experientiality: Body, mind & language

This all leads to the fourth reason of why social is always complex: We are experiential beings. We experience things from a first person perspective. We create a dynamic stability out of our bodies, language and experiences, which we call our “mind”. Our mind is this first person perspective that gives a personal tone and feeling to the narratives we experience, to the inner dialogues we have and to the physical events we experience. We build continuity for this dynamic stability by fixing it to this perspective we call ourself.

This first person perspective is the context that we can use to “be” in this world. It makes it possible for ourselves to “abstract” or “detach” from the world and experience it as unpredictable, stable and complex. It makes it possible to have lots of different “I”‘s creating these complex social patterns.

For me all this social complexity is really amazing thing. It is amazing to be able to theorize about these things, to discuss them and to experience them directly. I can’t see any possibility for social phenomena to not be complex. Thus it is quite unwise from my perspective to try to think about people and interactions as simple or systemic phenomena.