Mark C. Taylor
is among those very rare writers and thinkers who are able to take many disparate disciplines of knowledge and perform a synthesis
which creates wisdom
. With his new book "The Moment of Complexity" he does this and more. The book is not a technical treatise on a specific field, not a presentation of new scientific findings; it's not even one of those futurist
manifestos that all those former Wired Magazine
journalists churn out so frequently. Rather, "Complexity" is what I would call a "theory
of everything" book.
With this book it's evident that Taylor has been thinking about certain heady concepts for at least all of his adult life. Indeed, I've also read an earlier work of his, "Hiding," that touches on some of the same ideas. But with Complexity he has honed his thinking and added even more contributing topics, all zeroing in to our current turbulent moment of history.
It's difficult to describe briefly what this theory of everything entails, as you might expect with most theories of everything. Taylor's is personal and professional, and it's been developing since the 1960s. It includes a sometimes dizzying array of topics and references to other thinkers, including artificial life, chaos theory, information theory, evolution, semiotics, cultural studies, Derrida, Foucault, Baudrillard, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Lamarck, the history of the modern university, cybernetics, emergent phenomena, fashion, intellectual property... and more!
Taylor somehow manages to weave a coherent and compelling tapestry out of all these threads, with results I can only describe as profound and inspirational. By looking at recent history and its social upheavals through a lens informed by the latest ideas in the fields I list above, he arrives at a very convincing and intriguing picture of the fundamentally different sort of world we are seeing develop around us right now.
Besides the wise observation and intelligent synthesis, though, he also does something else that's very rare with these sorts of projects: he attempts to explain his theory in practice. The last chapter of the book tells of his experiences over the past few years creating a new kind of company engaged in shifting some paradigms in higher education. It's great to see how Taylor has tried to put his ideas to work in the field that he knows best; as a professor, his personal and professional experience with colleges and universities are where his "theory of everything" touches the ground. Still, though it's a tall order, I would have loved to see perhaps one more real-world example. Perhaps this would have required partnering with someone from another field to co-author one more chapter, but the connections between the heady wisdom and the real world would have then been that much more clear.
However, that's a minor criticism. All in all, "The Moment of Complexity" is a book I would recommend highly. Anyone with a bit of patience, an ability to grasp some extended analogies, and a hunger to connect our present time with past developments in multiple streams of thought, should read this book.