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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Welcome to Complex Systems


I’m a fan of biologists Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying’s DarkHorse podcast in which Weinsten often states, “Welcome to complex systems.” For context, a complex system is comprised of many parts which interact with one another.


According to one source, “Complex systems are often referred to as ‘wholes that are more than the sum of their parts,’ wholes whose behaviour cannot be understood without looking at the individual components and how they interact.”


When illustrating this concept while practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I encourage clients to consider themselves as complex systems. Because the reader isn’t presumed to be one of my clients, I’ll now invite you to contemplate this idea.


As you read this blogpost, who is it that consumes the content? You likely think in terms of “I.” For instance, “Next time I go shopping, I need to buy fruit.”


Still, is it possible that you sometimes think in terms of “you”? As an example, when making a mistake, have you ever thought to yourself, “You idiot! That was a dumb thing to have done”?


Who is it that addresses the “what” that is you as a human being? Sigmund Freud proposed a theory of one’s mental processes at the conscious, preconscious (subconscious), and unconscious levels. However, if you underwent brain surgery no one could point to any of these mental levels.


Still, a surgeon could observe your brain. Regarding this matter, I stated in a blog entry entitled Mind Tricks:


Not to oversimplify matters, I think it’s important to note that the mind is not the same thing as the brain. Whereas the brain is the hardware, the mind relates to software—with understanding that some people oppose this comparison.


Is it your hardware that functions as the “I” or “you” when speaking to yourself? Is it the software? These elements aren’t mutually exclusive, so perhaps it’s more complex than a this-of-that binary option.


In any case, as you read this post, is the “I” or “you” controlling your skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, urinary, and the reproductive systems? Can you consciously assume full control over these automatic systems?


Although you may be able to momentarily hold your breath, stop blinking, and push thoughts out of your mind, what happens when you no longer focus on these processes? Your complex system resumes its typical behavior.


While you’re reading this entry, you maintain some control over your complex systems though not full control. The “I” or “you” to whom I’m speaking may be aware of its mind, body, and spirit (if you believe in that sort of thing), though it has limited authority over itself.


This is the essence of a complex system—a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Typically, when illustrating this concept with clients, I encourage them to consider other complex systems.


Think of a friend, family member, child, loved one, coworker, neighbor, or other individual. Just as you are a complex system, so too is the person you’ve envisioned.


One distinct difference is that while you have limited control over your own complex system, you have no control over the other individual. Rather, you may have only influence.


Although an occasional client will dismiss this proposal, asserting that a parent has control over a child or that a caregiver retains control over an elderly person under one’s care, I maintain that the “I” or “you” that you can’t even fully identify is likely not in control of others.


Even if one were to illegally deny a person the freedom of movement by chaining an individual in a basement, the aggressing party wouldn’t control the autonomic nervous system, thoughts, or other smaller complex systems comprising the larger captured complex system chained in the basement.


Rather, one can only attempt to wield influence over others. Now, consider an entire society of humans. Within the United States – and only accounting for human beings; not plants, animals, or other complex systems – there are hundreds of millions of complex systems.


How many of those systems can you influence? Moreover, expand your imagination to the entire globe while adding into your calculus the experience of time – past, present and future.


How much control or influence could you possibly have over the ecosystem of a planet, events which took place a million years ago, or some presently unknowable event that will take place one week from now in Topeka, Kansas?


Presuming the reader isn’t boringly contrarian for the sheer sake of disagreement, you likely acknowledge that you have limited control and influence in this life. Welcome to complex systems.


Though you may perceive this thought exercise as disempowering, I invite you to consider an alternative outlook. Try viewing the empowerment aspect.


Because you have only limited control over yourself, no control though limited influence over others, and likely no control and negligible influence over life, you can acknowledge truth without disturbing yourself about matters which are out of your range of authority.


You can then practice unconditional self-acceptance regarding your limited self-control while acknowledging your own fallibility. As well, you can use unconditional other-acceptance concerning your limited control of other people while also admitting that they are inherently flawed.


Likewise, you can utilize unconditional life-acceptance regarding the insignificant amount of control you have in life as a whole, and acknowledge that life itself is imperfect. This is the helpful REBT tool I present to many of my clients – many of whom describe as empowering.


Nevertheless, you can reject this tool. Being the complex system you are, you can overly complicate your life by practicing self-disturbance with irrational beliefs about how much control and influence you supposedly have. Either way, welcome to complex systems.


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW




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