A social compact created to benefit all members of a community must include complex thinking as one of its elements. Complex thinking is the ability to integrate two or more different concepts. In contrast, complicated thinking revolves around only one idea or concept. Translating the Bible into another language is complicated; interpreting what the translation means in terms of spirituality is complex. The distinction between the two is important to note because often what seems complex is merely complicated. And, as Mary Wollstonecraft writes, “Complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.” The simple principles that undergird a highly functioning society are complex.
Complex thinkers recognize patterns and make conjectures, applying both deductive and inductive reasoning. They transfer prior knowledge to new contexts. They synthesize multiple concepts and evaluate their relationship. They can analyze an idea and examine its various components, reflecting on the process and the results. Complex thinkers are not threatened by diverse ideas – they welcome them.
The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse is an excellent literary example of complex thinking. In the novel, the Game is initially used to develop memory and ingenuity among students. It evolves into an exhibition of self-awareness and creativity, encompassing a broad spectrum of scholarship: mathematics, music, language, history, etc. The Game is the backdrop against which the complexity of human existence is played. It addresses the essential question of what it means to retain one’s individuality while fulfilling one’s role in a larger community.
In answering the question, there is a temptation to rely on complicated thinking – one set of rules to adjust and monitor everyone’s behavior. It makes for a safe, predictable, and static society. Complex thinking, with its inherent danger of diverse thought, is not safe; but it is essential for a community to function at its best.