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Book Review


University of California, Santa Cruz
Psychological Uses of Complexity Theory
The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium.
By Mi hal y Csi kszentmi hal yi . New York: Harper Col l i ns, 1993. 358 pp. Cl oth,
$25.00. Paper, $13.50.
TheAmerican Journal of Psychology
Fall 1996, Vol. 109, No. 3
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Book Review
University of California, Santa Cruz
Psychological Uses of Complexity Theory
The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium.
By Mi hal y Csi kszentmi hal yi . New York: Harper Col l i ns, 1993. 358 pp. Cl oth,
$25.00. Paper, $13.50.
Psychologists construct scientic and specialized approaches to the understand-
i ng of human l i fe and behavi or. I t i s rare wi thi n the di sci pl i nes thrust toward
objecti ve, veri abl e knowl edge to encounter a work wi th broader ambi ti ons.
Mi hal y Csi kszentmi hal yi , the author of Flow: ThePsychology of Optimal Experience
(1990), along with books on creativity, adolescence, and television, has chosen
to go beyond the traditional connes of psychology. Using his broad knowledge
of science, history, art, literature, and philosophy, Csikszentmihalyi argues that
the l essons from Flow can, and i ndeed must, be appl i ed to soci ety i f humani ty
i s to survi ve the thi rd mi l l enni um. He provi des a broad context for hi s studi es
of enjoyment and opti mal experi ence i n hi s newest book, TheEvolving Self: A
Psychology for theThird Millennium.
As a part of the movement toward a rel evant and i nterpreti ve psychol ogy,
Csi kszentmi hal yi takes some val uabl e steps. Exami ni ng i ssues l i ke the nature
of sel f and consci ousness, tradi ti onal l y absent from a sci enti c psychol ogy, he
stresses the need for consci ous parti ci pati on i n ones fate and i n a shared goal
of humanitycontinuing life on earth. The very strength of the book, address-
i ng cruci al i ssues that most psychol ogi sts shy away from, however, al so produc-
es some of its weaknesses. I t is impossible to create a book of such a scope with-
out bri ngi ng ones own val ues and tradi ti onal bel i efs to such an enterpri se.
Thus, i n bui l di ng hi s theory, Csi kszentmi hal yi combi nes hi s personal bel i ef
system wi th sel ecti ve concepts from evol uti onary bi ol ogy, the soci al sci ences,
phi l osophy, and complexity theory. An i mportant contri buti on of thi s book i s
i ntroduci ng compl exi ty theory to readers i nterested i n psychol ogi cal i ssues. A
growi ng number of physi cal and soci al sci enti sts are addressi ng contemporary
i ssues by rel yi ng on theori es of compl exi ty and compl ex adapti ve systems.
Murray Gel l -Mann, one of the founders of the Santa Fe I nsti tute, a center for
such endeavors, has i ndi cated the scope of these i nvesti gati ons.
Research on the sci ences of si mpl i ci ty and compl exi ty...natural l y i ncl udes teasi ng
out the meani ng of the si mpl e and the compl ex, but al so the si mi l ari ti es and di f-
ferences among compl ex adapti ve systems, functi oni ng i n such di verse processes
as the ori gi n of l i fe on Earth, bi ol ogi cal evol uti on, the behavi or of organi sms i n
Fal l 1996, Vol . 109, No. 3, pp. 465499
book r eviews 467
ecol ogi cal systems, the operati on of the mammal i an i mmune system, l earni ng and
thi nki ng i n ani mal s (i ncl udi ng human bei ngs), the evol uti on of human soci eti es,
the behavi or of i nvestors i n nanci al markets, and the use of computer software
and/or hardware designed to evolve strategies or to make predictions based on past
observati ons. (1994, p. 17)
Mitchell Waldrops book, Complexity (1992), depicts these early investigations
at the Santa Fe I nstitute and introduces complexity theory through descriptions
by some of i ts mai n proponents. A central gure i n the book, economi st Bri an
Arthur, contrasts compl exi ty theory wi th reducti oni st approaches.
I nstead of relying on the Newtonian metaphor of clockwork predictability, complex-
i ty seems to be based on metaphors more cl osel y aki n to the growth of a pl ant from
a ti ny seed, or the unfol di ng of a computer program from a few l i nes of code, or
perhaps even the organi c, sel f-organi zed ocki ng of si mpl emi nded bi rds. Thats
certai nl y the ki nd of metaphor that Chri s Langton has i n mi nd wi th arti ci al l i fe:
hi s whol e poi nt i s that compl ex, l i fel i ke behavi or i s the resul t of si mpl e rul es un-
fol di ng from the bottom up. ( p. 329)
More recentl y, compl exi ty i deas have been expanded to the study of the mi nd,
the brai n, and compl ex adapti ve systems (Morowi tz & Si nger, 1995).
I n hi s commi tment to expand the scope of psychol ogi cal i nvesti gati on Csi k-
szentmi hal yi gi ves compl exi ty a central rol e i n hi s argument.
I f it is true that at this point in history the emergence of complexity is the best story
we can tel l about the past and the future, and i f i t i s true that wi thout i t our hal f-
formed sel f runs the ri sk of destroyi ng the pl anet and our buddi ng consci ousness
along with it, then how can we help to realize the potential inherent in the cosmos?
(p. xvi i i )
However, i mpl i cated i n hi s di scussi on of compl exi ty theory are questi ons of
moral codes and bel i ef systems. To meet the chal l enges of the 21st century, he
argues that we must become more compl ex as i ndi vi dual s and as a soci ety, and
i f we are goi ng to di rect evol uti on toward greater compl exi ty, we have to nd
an appropriate moral code to guide our choices. I t should be a code that takes
i nto account the wi sdom of tradi ti on, yet i s i nspi red by the future rather than
the past (p. 162).
Csikszentmihalyi does recognize the difculties inherent in connecting com-
pl exi ty theory to moral questi ons especi al l y when i t i s used to anal yze human
society. The value judgments he uses are shaped by his view that the end of this
turbul ent century i s a peri od marked by the passi ng of tradi ti onal bel i efs. He
cauti ons, though, agai nst di scardi ng these bel i efs, rel i gi ous and secul ar, wi th-
out preservi ng those val ues whi ch are sti l l rel evant for humani ty today. The
values he retains are fundamental to the task he undertakes in TheEvolving Self.
Wi thout rul es based on past experi ence i t i s easy to make costl y mi stakes; wi thout
a sense of ul ti mate purpose i t i s di fcul t to sustai n courage when the unavoi dabl e
tragedies of life strike. But where does one nd faith one can believe in in the third
mi l l enni um? (p. xvi )
To answer thi s basi c questi on, Csi kszentmi hal yi draws from hi s own val ues as a
Christian humanist and from his scientic studies of daily consciousness. Rather
468 book r eviews
than focusi ng on Csi kszentmi hal yi s humani st val ue system, thi s revi ew, after
summari zi ng the argument presented i n TheEvolving Self, wi l l expl ore some of
the questi ons rai sed i n appl yi ng compl exi ty theory to psychol ogy.
Csi kszentmi hal yi s goal i n TheEvolving Self i s ambi ti ous.
To know oursel ves i s the greatest achi evement of our speci es. And to understand
oursel veswhat we are made of, what moti ves dri ve us, and what goal s we dream
ofi nvol ves, rst of al l , an understandi ng of our evol uti onary past. Onl y on that
foundati on can we bui l d a stabl e, meani ngful future. I t i s i n order to devel op fur-
ther thi s contenti on that the present book was wri tten. (p. xvi )
Csikszentmihalyi acknowledges that the questions TheEvolving Self attempts to
answer are broad and far reachi ng but hopes that the book wi l l serve as a rst
step i n the process (p. 5). The rst part of the book expl ores i nternal and
external forces that have been i nstrumental i n shapi ng the human speci es. I n
Part I I , Csi kszentmi hal yi suggests a way for humani ty to take control of i ts des-
ti ny by consci ousl y di recti ng evol uti on and, i n so doi ng, avoi di ng gl obal di sas-
ters such as nucl ear anni hi l ati on and envi ronmental poi soni ng.
To gui de the course of evol uti on, humani ty must i denti fy and understand
the forces that have contri buted to the devel opment of the speci es and bri ng
them under control . Csi kszentmi hal yi contends that consci ousness i s central
among the forces that have shaped humani ty and soci ety but adds that con-
sci ousness i s constrai ned by the geneti c dri ve for survi val .
Genetic programming
I n order to reduce the i mpact of geneti c programmi ng, Csi kszentmi hal yi
seeks an answer to the questi on, Who control s the mi nd? by expl ori ng the
mechani sms, processes, and content of the mi nd. He exami nes the human
condi ti on and the forces that have shaped i t. Noti ng the eternal di ssati sfac-
ti on that has pl agued humani ty to date, he specul ates on the possi bi l i ty of a
wired-in function that drives people ceaselessly to seek new experiences and
possessi ons wi thout ever ndi ng ful l l ment (p. 31). He al so descri bes the ten-
dency of the mind to be directed to negative outcomes as a survival mechanism.
[ I ] f we let our individual consciousness be directed by genetic instructions that
have been advantageous i n the past, our qual i ty of l i fe i s l i kel y to suffer i n the
present (p. 37). I n order to devel op the evol ved sel f for the thi rd mi l l enni -
um, we must overcome the geneti c programmi ng by understandi ng how i t di s-
torts reality. Our genetic programming is inevitably bound to give us a distorted
vi ew of real i ty now that the external condi ti ons have changed (p. 51). Csi k-
szentmi hal yi el aborates on thi s i dea by exami ni ng the di fferences between the
sexes and how gender-speci c programmi ng i s assumed to affect us today. To
the extent that al l of us are programmed to be hunters or mothers, we must
al l somehow come to terms wi th thi s awkward heri tage (p. 50). Posi ng the
probl em thi s way, however, deni grates the hi stori cal rol e that women have
pl ayed i n the devel opment of human soci ety.
book r eviews 469
Because much of what follows in Csikszentmihalyis argument is based on the
powerful inuence ascribed to genetic programming, it is important to raise some
questions about his position. For instance, our stance is more in favor of those
who speak of the plasticity of the human organism (Edelman, 1987; Damasio,
1994) rather than those emphasi zi ng evol uti onary strategi es (Wi l son, 1992).
However, we realize that these issues are approached with certain biases as the
scientic facts are open to a variety of psychological interpretations. For exam-
ple, gender differences in mathematical achievement are attributed to genetic/
hormonal variables by some theorists (Benbow, 1988). Others have document-
ed a decreasing differential between males and females from 1981 to 1994 (Fried-
man, in press), a nding that raises serious questions about the primary role of
biological factors. Genetic dispositions are of value in simple or singular traits
and behaviorsfor instance, eye color. But for complex human systems, genet-
ic predispositions are of limited explanatory importance as they are the outcome
of many interdependent processes both social and biological.
The human genome (the sum total of the genes i n our chromosomes) does not
speci fy the enti re structure of the brai n. There are not enough genes avai l abl e to
determi ne the preci se structure and pl ace of everythi ng i n our organi sms, l east of
al l i n the brai n, where bi l l i ons of neurons form thei r synapti c contacts. The di spro-
portion is not subtle: we carry probably about 10
(100,000) genes, but we have more
than 10
(10 tri l l i on) synapses i n our brai ns. Moreover, the geneti cal l y i nduced
formati on of ti ssues i s assi sted by i nteracti ons among cel l s, i n whi ch cel l adhesi on
molecules and substrate adhesion molecules play an important role. What happens
among cel l s, as devel opment unfol ds, actual l y control s, i n part the expressi on of
the genes that regul ate devel opment i n the rst pl ace. As far as one can tel l , then,
many structural speci cs are determi ned onl y by the acti vi ty of the l i vi ng organi sm
i tsel f, as i t devel ops and conti nuousl y changes throughout i ts l i fe span. (Damasi o,
1994, pp. 108109)
I n addi ti on to geneti c programmi ng, Csi kszentmi hal yi ci tes two other i nter-
nal sources of illusion: cultural rules and the unbridled desires of the self (p.
55). Wi th the formati on of soci ety, rul es of conduct were adopted that pl ayed
a cri ti cal rol e i n the survi val of the communi ty, but whi ch at the same ti me
created a parti al vi ew of real i ty. The worl d was seen through the l ens of ones
parti cul ar cul ture ...[ I ] t i s i mportant for each person to recogni ze that the
val ues, rul es, habi ts, and atti tudes we i nheri t are useful and necessary, but are
not absol ute (p. 75).
Csi kszentmi hal yi wri tes that the thi rd i l l usi on, sel fhood, begi ns i n the mi nd
as a si de effect of bei ng consci ous (p. 76). I n order to surmount the self he
says we must evol ve beyond the purel y i ndi vi dual mandates of the genes and
cul ture and move toward a more consci ous real i zati on of the sel f as part of a
common good. Those individuals who participate in this realization are in ow
and have created the ki nd of sel ves that must be devel oped and fostered to
make survi val i nto the thi rd mi l l enni um possi bl e (p. 82).
External sources of illusion
I n contrast to the three i nternal sources, Csi kszentmi hal yi ci tes three exter-
nal sources of i l l usi on whi ch ari se from soci al i nteracti onpredators, parasites,
470 book r eviews
and memes (i deas and technol ogi cal arti facts). Csi kszentmi hal yi contends that
a new reality can be forged by identifying, exposing, and unraveling all of these
vei l s or di storti ons. Traci ng the devel opment of soci ety, Csi kszentmi hal yi l o-
cates a source of oppressi on and expl oi tati on i n humani tys transi ti on from a
hunti ng and gatheri ng soci ety to an agri cul tural soci ety. Thi s transformati on
i n soci al rel ati ons l ed to a soci al surpl us product and the devel opment of per-
manent caste or class distinctions. Those who happened to be wealthy, or who
owned means of producti onthat i s l and, tool s, beasts of burdenwere abl e
to empl oy others who l acked the means of maki ng a l i vi ng for themsel ves (p.
91). Csi kszentmi hal yi refers to the expl oi tati on of l abor power as usi ng the
psychic energy of the poor. He focuses particularly on the oppression of wom-
en and chi l dren throughout human hi story.
Csi kszentmi hal yi then di scusses parasi tes, the second external source of i l -
l usi on, who drai n psychi c energy from the more powerful by taki ng advantage
of thei r weaknesses. The vi cti m of the parasi ti c acti vi ty i s l eft bereft of psychi c
energy i n much the same way as the vi cti m of oppressi on. I n order to advance
successful l y i nto the next mi l l enni um we must understand how much of our
psychic energy is channeled away by those who drain our lives to enrich theirs
(p. 114).
Fi nal l y, Csi kszentmi hal yi rel i es on the concept of memes, devel oped by the
Bri ti sh bi ol ogi st, Ri chard Dawki ns, to descri be the thi rd external i l l usi on fac-
i ng human ki nd. Dawki ns denes a meme as a uni t of cul tural i nformati on
comparabl e i n i ts effects on soci ety to those of the chemi cal l y coded i nstruc-
ti ons contai ned i n the gene on the human organi sm (p. 120). Csi kszentmi -
hal yi wri tes that a meme i s any permanent pattern of matter or i nformati on
produced by an act of human intentionality (p. 120). He points out that where-
as the mind is initially responsible for the creation of memes, once in existence,
they begi n to shape both the consci ousness of thei r creator and other human
bei ngs. Memes exi st as part of the materi al of the human mi nd and repl i cate
i mages of themsel ves i n consci ousness (p. 122). Col l ecti vel y, over ti me, they
i nuence the behavi or and thought patterns of soci ety. Csi kszentmi hal yi ex-
pl ores the rol e that l i teracy pl ayed i n the prol i ferati on of memes when i nfor-
mati on coul d be stored extrasomati cal l y and spread to many more peopl e and
to di fferent communi ti es.
Csikszentmihalyi concludes Part I by reiterating that for a more enlightened
new mi l l enni um, we must expose the sources of i l l usi ons the worl d created
by genes, by the cul ture, by the ego, by oppressors, parasi tes, and mi meti c
expl oi ters (p. 143). Doi ng so, he contends wi l l al l ow humani ty to eval uate the
uses, both i ndi vi dual and soci al , to whi ch i ts psychi c energy i s bei ng di rected.
Directing the evolution of humanity
Bui l di ng upon the theoreti cal foundati on l ai d i n Part I of TheEvolving Self,
Csikszentmihalyi sets an even more difcult task in Part I I to analyze the steps
necessary for humani ty to di rect evol uti on and transform human soci ety. For
thi s anal ysi s, Csi kszentmi hal yi rel i es heavi l y on evol uti onary and compl exi ty
theory, i n parti cul ar, the noti ons of harmony and entropy, as wel l as di fferenti a-
ti on and i ntegrati on. Evol uti onary pri nci pl es central to hi s argument are:
book r eviews 471
1. There are two opposi te tendenci es i n evol uti on: changes that l ead toward har-
mony (i .e., the abi l i ty to obtai n energy through cooperati on, and through the uti -
l i zati on of unused or wasted energy); and those that l ead toward entropy (or ways
of obtai ni ng energy for ones purposes through expl oi ti ng other organi sms, there-
by causi ng coni ct and di sorder).
2. Harmony i s usual l y achi eved by evol uti onary changes i nvol vi ng an i ncrease i n
an organi sms compl exi ty, that i s, an i ncrease i n both di fferenti ati on and i ntegra-
ti on. (pp. 155157)
The concept of compl exi ty i s central to Csi kszentmi hal yi s new psychol ogy
for the third millennium. Csikszentmihalyi denes complexity as involving the
opti mal devel opment of both di fferenti ati on and i ntegrati on (p.157). Usi ng
the concept of entropy to expl ai n chaos and di sharmony on a soci etal l evel ,
he stresses the need for a new moral code as we move to create a more com-
plex, harmonious society. Csikszentmihalyi writes that a moral code drawing on
the wi sdom of tradi ti on, yet l ooki ng forward to the needs of the future, must
be devel oped. The purpose of such a code i s twofol d. Fi rst, i t must di ctate that
popul ati on growth does not outstri p the resources needed to sustai n i t. Sec-
ond, i t must mandate control of memestechnol ogy and i nformati onto
ensure that they work for a more harmonious society rather than one in which
entropy rei gns.
Csi kszentmi hal yi draws on l essons from hi s research to descri be the experi -
ence of ow, whi ch he contends i s a component of a more harmoni ous exi st-
ence. Peopl e i n ow are usual l y joyful and happy as they meet chal l enges and
devel op new ski l l s. They tend, therefore, to take on new chal l enges and i n the
process hel p bri ng about rel ati vel y more compl ex evol uti onary changes (p.
189) for humani ty as a whol e.
Csikszentmihalyi also describes destructive ow activities, using as an exam-
pl e the ecstasy that the Emperor Nero reportedl y experi enced whi l e seei ng
Rome burn or watchi ng l i ons tear apart human bei ngs. The fundamental di f-
ference between the destructi ve and the constructi ve ow experi ences i s that
the former l eads to entropy and di sorder whereas the l atter l eads to harmony
and order. Flow that leads toward greater harmony does so because an individ-
uals consciousness has been more fully developed in the direction of complex-
ity. Complexity of consciousness is not a function of only intelligence or knowl-
edge, and is not just a cognitive traitit includes a persons feelings and actions
as wel l (p. 207). To expl ai n the noti on of compl exi ty of consci ousness, Csi k-
szentmi hal yi presents four i ndi vi dual s, referred to as transcenders, who nurture
harmony and invest their psychic energy in complex goals. They are all offered
as exampl es because they transformed themsel ves i nto i ndi vi dual s who were a
part of the evol uti onary process that l eads to hi gher l evel s of harmoni ous
compl exi ty (p. 215). Hi s emphasi s upon the i ndi vi dual as the agent of soci al
change i s parti cul arl y sal i ent i n thi s di scussi on.
The transcendent self
Csi kszentmi hal yi cl ari es hi s noti on of the concept of sel f to show how hu-
manity can strive to construct the sort of evolved selves represented by the tran-
scenders. I n order not to be overwhel med by the sensory i nput that bombards
472 book r eviews
an i ndi vi dual brai n, the nervous system has bundl ed i nformati on i n manage-
abl e chunks or i mages whi ch are endowed wi th separate i denti ti es by the i ndi -
vi dual s i magi nati on. Through the process of reication,
we attri bute real i ty to mental constructi ons. The sel f i s such a rei cati on, and cer-
tai nl y one of the most si gni cant ones. We usual l y thi nk of i t as a force, a spark, an
inner ame with an indivisible integrity. Yet, from what we know now, the self is more
i n the nature of a gment of the i magi nati on, somethi ng we create to account for
the mul ti pl i ci ty of i mpressi ons, emoti ons, thoughts, and feel i ngs that the brai n
records i n consci ousness. (p. 216)
Csi kszentmi hal yi feel s that the sel f i ncl udes everythi ng that passes through
consci ousness, and i s, therefore, shaped by what the i ndi vi dual and soci ety at-
tend to over time. He writes that the self is the brains awareness of its own form
of organi zi ng i nformati on.
To create the kind of self that Csikszentmihalyi argues will lead to a complex
and harmonious evolution of humanity in the third millennium, differentiation
(the development of individual uniqueness), and integration (actively looking
out for the best interests of others) must occur. The evolved self then is the re-
sult of a dialectical motion between the need to develop ones own identity, self-
actualization and the need to bring greater complexity and harmony to ones life
by becoming involved in causes for the betterment of humanity.
Csikszentmihalyi examines those experiences, qualities, and traits necessary
for the construction of the transcendent selfthe ability to enjoy life, to seek
complexity, to master wisdom and spirituality, and to invest psychic energy in the
task of creating a harmonious future. I ndividuals who strive for the collective well-
being of all life, become part of the stream of evolution....[ whatever] happens
to their individual bodies and minds, the shape of their consciousness will in-
uence the matrix of growing complexity, the forms of future energy(p. 249).
I t i s not enough, Csi kszentmi hal yi poi nts out, for a few i ndi vi dual s to create
transcendent selves. What is needed are social institutions that support ow and
devel op compl exi ty. Thi s task of bui l di ng compl exi ty i nto the fabri c of soci -
ety i s the focus of the l ast secti on of TheEvolving Self. Csi kszentmi hal yi traces
the way that ow has i nuenced the course of hi story i n creati ng a good soci -
ety, by contri buti ng to the evol uti on of memes, i ncl udi ng both technol ogi -
cal advances and changi ng bel i efs and i nsti tuti ons (pp. 253254).
Accordi ng to Csi kszentmi hal yi , a good soci ety i s one i n whi ch equal i ty of
opportuni ty and equal i ty before the l aw coexi st wi th freedom and sol i dari ty
among peopl e. He emphasi zes that i n a good soci ety, i ndi vi dual s are not per-
mi tted to advance at the expense of others.
[ T] he task of a good society is not to enshrine the creative solutions of the past into
permanent i nsti tuti ons; i t i s, rather, to make i t possi bl e for creati vi ty to keep assert-
i ng i tsel f. I ts task i s to gi ve peopl e a chance to bri ng forth new memes to be eval u-
ated, selected, and joyously implemented by informed, free, and responsible peers.
(p. 276)
Csi kszentmi hal yi offers some concrete suggesti ons for what can be done
today to bui l d toward a soci al system free of greed and expl oi tati on. Echoi ng
book r eviews 473
Thomas Carl yl e, Csi kszentmi hal yi suggests that a starti ng poi nt mi ght be to
i mprove ones own sel f, and work toward a better soci ety wi thi n exi sti ng i nsti -
tuti ons (p. 280). However, Csi kszentmi hal yi suggests that i t i s not real l y possi -
bl e to l i ve a decent l i fe i n present soci ety. I nstead, we need to become acti ve
i n the l arger soci al i ssues and devel op a communi ty that shares a bel i ef i n the
evol uti on of compl exi ty (p. 281). He argues that creati ve mi nori ti es have
played the instrumental role throughout history in bringing about social trans-
formations and making the most important cultural contributions. Stating that
he does not wi sh to debate here whether creati ve mi nori ti es are autonomous
agents of soci al transformati on or si mpl y the tool s of much l arger hi stori cal
forces (p. 283), Csikszentmihalyi ignores the important relationships that exist
between the l arger hi stori cal forces and the creati ve mi nori ti es.
Csi kszentmi hal yi suggests that i ndi vi dual s can parti ci pate i n the creati on of
a more compl ex, harmoni ous soci ety by formi ng cells of at l east four members.
The functi on of the cel l woul d pri mari l y be to col l ect and anal yze i nformati on
and then to transl ate thi s knowl edge i nto acti on. At rst Csi kszentmi hal yi sug-
gests this might involve supporting a local political candidate, but as cells grew,
they coul d begi n worki ng wi th other groups i n thei r nei ghborhoods and
[ e] ventual l y the i sol ated cel l s may coal esce i n a l oose confederati on, an evo-
l uti onary fel l owshi p that coul d provi de a vi si on and a consci ence for soci ety as
a whol e (p. 289).
Csi kszentmi hal yi concl udes TheEvolving Self by sayi ng,
evolutionary cells will make it possible to experience ow while working for the most
ambi ti ous goal avai l abl e to the human i magi nati on: to bl end our i ndi vi dual voi ce
i n the cosmi c harmony, to joi n our uni que consci ousness wi th the emergi ng con-
sciousness of the universe, to fold our momentary center of psychic energy into the
current that tends toward i ncreasi ng compl exi ty and order. (p. 293)
One of the aforementi oned strengths of TheEvolving Self i s that i t rai ses i s-
sues and areas of i nvesti gati on whi ch fal l outsi de the bounds of sci enti c psy-
chol ogy. Whi l e Csi kszentmi hal yi s vi ew of compl exi ty di ffers i n i ts el aborati on
from ours, i t i s i mportant that he gi ves compl exi ty theory a central rol e i n hi s
argument. Thi s shoul d hel p to promote more di scussi on on the rel ati onshi p
of compl exi ty theory to psychol ogi cal i nqui ri es.
A fundamental tenet of compl exi ty theory i s the i nterrel atedness of al l phe-
nomena. To appl y compl exi ty theory to humans i nvol ves studyi ng the emer-
gence of humans both ontogenetically and phylogenetically. To become a com-
prehensi ve uni fyi ng theory, a goal of i ts proponents, compl exi ty theory woul d
have to study the mi nd, soci ety, and l anguage as i nterconnected, emergent,
dynami c, and compl ex adapti ve systems.
The pri mary chal l enge faci ng compl exi ty theori sts i s to choose a l evel of
analysis and to integrate it across domains. While perceptual phenomena have
been effecti vel y l i nked wi th careful l y studi ed brai n mechani sms, broader phe-
nomena, such as the sel f, are hard to connect to neurophysi ol ogi cal model s
474 book r eviews
focusi ng on components. There are current efforts i n thi s di recti on. I n a re-
centl y publ i shed book (Morowi tz & Si nger, 1995), compl exi ty theory has been
expanded to the study of mi nd, brai n, and compl ex adapti ve systems; howev-
er, contri butors to thi s recent vol ume have not succeeded i n joi ni ng thei r sep-
arate endeavors and creating a unied theory of complex adaptive systems. The
conceptual tool s provi ded by compl exi ty theory are very broad; they tend to
be interpreted by each individual theorist within existing frameworks. Thus, the
appl i cati on of compl exi ty theory to a uni ed psychol ogi cal approach i s as yet
far from real i zed, al though i ts promi se i s i ntri gui ng to an i ncreasi ng number
of theori sts.
Csi kszentmi hal yi s vi ew of compl exi ty theory, wi th hi s i nfusi on of moral i ty
i nto the di scussi on and hi s focus on i ntegrati on and di fferenti ati on as the key
el ements, di ffers from ours. We l ook to the more compl ete el aborati ons of the
pi oneeri ng theori sts of the Santa Fe I nsti tute and to the theori es of L. S. Vy-
gotsky (1978; 1986) and A. Luria (1979), whose concepts of functional systems
are used to exami ne questi ons such as the rel ati onshi p between l anguage and
thought, internal and external factors in consciousness, and neurological foun-
dati ons and the ri se of consci ousness. Vygotskys and Luri as vi ews on the i n-
terrel ati onshi ps between external and i nternal factors i n the devel opment of
the mi nd, and of the quanti tati ve and qual i tati ve transformati ons whi ch occur
duri ng devel opment, are resonant wi th the phase transi ti on noti ons advocat-
ed by compl exi ty theori sts (Lewi n, 1992). A psychol ogi cal exampl e anal ogous
to phase transi ti ons i n physi cal systems (i .e., changes from sol i ds to l i qui ds, or
single-cell to multi-cell organisms) is the qualitative transformation that occurs
at the boundary of chi l dhood and adol escence.
The interconnected processes through which structures emerge are of great
i nterest to compl exi ty theori sts. Doyne Farmer poses a pi votal questi on i n ex-
ami ni ng these processes, Why i s matter constantl y becomi ng more and more
organized on a large scale, at the same time that it is becoming more and more
di sorgani zed on a smal l scal e? (Wal drop, p. 286). Farmer and hi s col l eagues
approach i ssues of human functi oni ng by focusi ng on compl ex i nteracti ons
between si mpl e networks and messages. They suggest that the essence of l i fe
i s i n the organi zati on and not the mol ecul es (i bi d., p. 292).
I n a somewhat si mi l ar way, Vygotsky suggested that i t i s the i nterfuncti onal
links between concepts which provide the specicity of human thinking. These
connecti ons are not bui l t i n si mpl e, l i near ways; they are si mi l ar to phase tran-
si ti ons where ui di ty i s mai ntai ned, and change occurs i n vari ed ways. Change
and i nterconnectedness are central to a Vygotski an approach to psychol ogy:
[ D] evel opment i s a compl ex di al ecti cal process characteri zed by peri odi ci ty,
unevenness in the development of different functions, metamorphosis or qual-
i tati ve transformati ons of one form i nto another, i ntertwi ni ng of external and
i nternal factors, and adapti ve processes (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 73). Thi s descri p-
ti on of devel opmental change, rst offered i n the 1930s, bears i nteresti ng si m-
i l ari ti es to compl ex adapti ve systems but presents a methodol ogi cal chal l enge
to psychol ogi sts. When compl exi ty theori sts expl ore organi zati on at the l evel
of physi cal and bi ol ogi cal systems, i n whi ch components can be effecti vel y
speci ed, thei r efforts have yi el ded i mportant resul ts. The study of the i nter-
book r eviews 475
rel ati onshi ps between brai n, mi nd, and human acti vi ty, however, i s harder to
anchor. The di fcul ty l i es i n establ i shi ng uni ts for anal ysi s. Vygotsky suggested
word meani ng as a meani ngful uni t for anal ysi s of human conceptual acti vi -
ty. For hi m, and many contemporary soci ocul tural theori sts, symbol i cal l y me-
di ated acti vi ty consti tutes the l evel at whi ch anal ysi s i s most producti ve. The
devel opmental organi zati on and reorgani zati on of l anguage forms has been
exami ned from thi s poi nt of vi ew (Wertsch, 1991); but most of psychol ogy i s
sti l l t i nto Newtoni an, mechani cal model s of anal ysi s.
The contemporar y chal l enge, then, i s to appl y a nonl i near model of
changea model shared by compl exi ty and soci ocul tural theori ststo a vari -
ety of psychol ogi cal and cul tural domai ns. Such a task requi res a prol onged
study of compl ex adapti ve systems and thei r rel evance to a broad range of psy-
chological phenomena. I t is in this context that Csikszentmihalyis use of ideas
drawn from the complexity literature is of interest. He sees an analogy between
physi cal systems and the psychi c state of ow: I n both cases, the evol uti on of
new trai ts or new ski l l s proceeds most readi l y at the i nter face of order and
chaos (p. 319). I n thi s anal ogy, ow exi sts on the boundary between bore-
dom and anxiety. He further suggests that all living thingsat least those that
will evolveprefer to dwell on that precarious boundary (p. 319). These anal-
ogi es are i ntri gui ng, but they have the same, understandabl e l i mi tati ons as al l
current attempts at rel yi ng on compl exi ty noti ons at the psychol ogi cal l evel .
Scholars interested in applying complexity theory are working in isolation from
each other, sel ecti ng promi si ng features from thi s theoreti cal framework wi th-
out the l arger transformati on of thought needed. The hol d of l i near model s
i s hard to overcome.
The sweep of TheEvolving Self i s i mpressi ve. I t offers a promi si ng begi nni ng
towards nonl i near modes of thi nki ng and the frui tful appl i cati on of compl ex-
i ty theory. Csi kszentmi hal yi s contenti on i s that humani tys fate rests on the
boundary between anni hi l ati on and evol uti on as we enter the thi rd mi l l enni -
um. The challenge Csikszentmihalyi offers his readers as we face the awesome
cosmi c adventure i s to take new perspecti ves and approaches as we become
actively involved in seeking to direct human evolution. I n spite of its limitations,
TheEvolving Self takes an i mportant i ni ti al step i n anal yzi ng the probl ems fac-
i ng humani ty and then suggesti ng possi bl e sol uti ons.
Hol brook Mahn
3004 San Pablo, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM 87110
E-mai l :
Vera John-Stei ner
University of New Mexico
Department of Linguistics
Humanities Building 526
Albuquerque, NM 871311196
E-mai l :
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