Rescher’s overall lesson is that the management of our affairs within a socially, technologically, and cognitively complex environment is plagued with vast management problems and risks of mishap. In primitive societies, failure to understand how things work can endanger a family or, at worst, a clan or tribe. In the modern world, man-made catastrophes on the model of Chernobyl can endanger millions, possibly even risking the totality of human life on our planet. Rescher explains “technological escalation” as a sort of arms race against nature in which scientific progress requires more powerful technology for observation and experimentation, and, conversely, scientific progress requires the continual enhancement of technology. The increasing complexity of science and technology (and, in consequence, of social systems) along with problems growing faster than solutions confront us with major management and decision problems.
This study is the first of its kind. There have been many specialized studies of complexity in physics and computation theory, but no overall analysis of the phenomenon. Although Rescher offers a sobering outlook, he also believes that complexity entails mixed blessings: our imperfect knowledge provides a rationale for putting forth our best efforts. Rescher urges us to gear the conduct of life’s practical affairs to the demands of a complex world. This highly readable and accessible volume will be of interest to those interested in philosophy, the philosophy of science, science policy studies, and future studies.