Paul Cilliers

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Friedrich Paul Cilliers (25 December 1956July 31, 2011) was a South-African philosopher and complexity researcher.


  • The view from complexity claims that we cannot know complex things completely... modest positions are inescapable... We can increase the knowledge we have of a certain [complex] system, but this knowledge is limited... The fact that our knowledge is limited is not a disaster, it is a condition for knowledge. Limits enable knowledge.
    • Paul Cilliers (2005: 263) as quoted in: Vikki Bell (2007) Culture and Performance: The Challenge of Ethics, Politics and Feminist Theory. p. 8
  • I do not know whether it was the will of God, or just an evolutionary accident, but as it happens I am Afrikaans. This is a circumstance with which I am normally perfectly content.

    The truth is that I actually do not think about it too much, just as I do not think about it too much that I have a liver. The current flutterings about Afrikaans, however, I find disturbing. It is not doing the image of Afrikaners, and hence also of Afrikaans, any good.

    A mere ten years after the end of apartheid (yes, there was such a thing, and it was evil) to beat one's chest in such a self-justificatory manner, is bad taste morally.

    We are … being called up by certain parties to mobilise for Afrikaans, to fight for the survival of Afrikaans, and for minority rights. The problem is, however, that I do not see myself currently as part of a minority.

    When, in the 1970s and 1980s, as an Afrikaner, I resisted apartheid – and not in the 1990s when it became fashionable – then I felt myself part of a minority. At present I mainly find myself with an enormous feeling of moral relief.

    I would now like to carry on with my life and make a constructive contribution at the level of content. I do not wish to have to write letters like this one.

    • Paul Cilliers. A letter to The Burger, 10 October 2005; Cited in: Chris Brink (2006) No Lesser Place: The Taaldebat at Stellenbosch. p. 133

Complexity and Postmodernism (1998)[edit]

Paul Cilliers (1998) Complexity and Postmodernism. London: Routledge 1998.
  • The acknowledgement of complexity, however, certainly does not lead to the conclusion that anything goes.
    • p. viii; as cited in: Michael Lissack (2002), The Interaction of Complexity and Management, p. 233
  • There is no over-arching theory of complexity that allows us to ignore the contingent aspects of complex systems. If something really is complex, it cannot by adequately described by means of a simple theory. Engaging with complexity entails engaging with specific complex systems. Despite this we can, at a very basic level, make general remarks concerning the conditions for complex behaviour and the dynamics of complex systems. Furthermore, I suggest that complex systems can be modelled.
    • p. ix
  • At the heart of the matter... our technologies have become more powerful than our theories... We can do with technology what we cannot do with science.
  • In order to constitute a complex system, the elements have to interact, and this interaction must be dynamic.
    • p. 3; as cited in: Richard Andrews, ‎Erik Borg, ‎Stephen Boyd Davis (2012), The SAGE Handbook of Digital Dissertations and Theses, p. 129
  • There has to be a constant flow of energy to maintain the organization of the system and to ensure its survival. Equilibrium is another word for death.
    • p. 4; as cited in Richard Andrews et al. (2012, p. 129)
  • Each element in the system is ignorant of the behaviour of the system as a whole, it responds only to information that is available to it locally... If each element 'knew' what was happening to the system as a whole, all of the complexity would have to be present in that element.
  • It bears repetition that an argument against representation is not anti-scientific at all. It is merely an argument against a particular scientific strategy that assumes complexity can be reduced to specific features and then represented in a machine. Instead it is an argument for the appreciation of the nature of complexity, something that can perhaps be 'repeated' in a machine, should the machine itself be complex enough to cope with the distributed character of complexity.
    • p. 86
  • A certain theory of representation implies a certain theory of meaning - and meaning is what we live by.
    • p. 88; as cited by David Byrne (1999)
  • In our analysis of complex systems (like the brain and language) we must avoid the trap of trying to find master keys. Because of the mechanisms by which complex systems structure themselves, single principles provide inadequate descriptions. We should rather be sensitive to complex and self-organizing interactions and appreciate the play of patterns that perpetually transforms the system itself as well as the environment in which it operates.
    • p. 107

About Paul Cilliers[edit]

  • The idea of ‘slowness’ became an important mantra for Paul: he wrote a widely cited paper on this topic. One of the popular newspaper columns he wrote for Die Burger was a letter to John Stuart Mill in which he described how he made the eating of an egg a quality event. He of course did not want to be prescriptive about how to eat eggs, but rather wanted to urge one to make every act in one’s daily life a quality act. This wish was fulfilled: if there is one thing I learned from him it was this principle, and so many others have expressed the same sentiment.
  • Paul Cilliers was a remarkable Renaissance man and one of the most important academics and Afrikaner intellectuals that this country has produced. I had the privilege of knowing him for close on thirty years as friend, colleague and soul mate with a shared love of ideas, music, food, social interaction and a burning interest in complexity and complex systems.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Wikipedia has an article about: