Ballester, L. & Colom, A. (2017). Epistemologías de la complejidad y educación [Epistemologies of complexity and education]. (Carlos Alberto Pabón Meneses)

Ballester, L. & Colom, A. (2017).

Epistemologías de la complejidad y educación [Epistemologies of complexity and education].

Barcelona: Octaedro. 198 pp.

Complexity is presented here as the basis of a new epistemology, a new narrative concerning knowledge of reality. The content of this book approaches the idea of complexity, accepting the methodological and epistemological implications it entails. In its pages, the authors aim to unpick the complex and paradoxical intersection that appears when speaking of complexity, in which it is important to note that being complex is not the same as being complicated: it is the opposite of independent, while the complicated is not complex but instead the opposite of the simple. The authors note that when writing this book, they were only interested in theories of complexity that have clearly expressed pedagogical applications. The first section is dedicated to the genesis of theories of complexity, then from parts two to eight there is a historical overview and a brief biography of some authors and their works which in recent years have further strengthened the outlook on complexity as a new grammar for explaining reality. In these seven chapters alone over 100 bibliographical references are mentioned, and for each of them Ballester and Colom link the theories presented to education, schools, or learning. Finally, the authors present a novel chapter which shows that the question of complexity increasingly has an impact on aspects of education and learning processes.

In the first chapter the authors approach the crucial origins of complexity, illustrating and highlighting that the principles of science deriving from Newton are challenged by the discovery of entropic (Carnot, Clasius) and homeostatic (Cannon) phenomena. Following on from this, the authors set out General Systems Theory (GST), starting with the biologist Bertlanffy and showing how this idea is present in various disciplines and concluding the chapter with other focuses on systems and complexity such as cybernetic systems.

Chapter two refers to the particular contribution by Gregory Bateson who is recognised as a crucial forerunner of what is now called complexity thinking. The authors note that Bateson does not cover any branch of science or discipline in isolation as he always integrates any question into a broader body of thought, and always presents an interlinked vision of reality that means his thinking tends towards epistemological explanations. Bateson proposes a holistic and at the same time systemic rereading of current thought.

The next chapter focuses on David Bohm and quantum complexity. This physicist is a key figure for understanding quantum physics, specifically for understanding experiments on the Einstein-Podolski-Rosen paradox. The authors synthesize the vision of complexity of Bohm’s holographic paradigm and state that his contribution implies a metaphysics of reality and a quantum concept of humankind, and so both subatomic physics and the great human manifestations —thought, consciousness, or creativity— are interlinked and comprise an intricate whole that aims to explain, under a single paradigm, both human reality and the reality of nature. They conclude this chapter by identifying some aspects that show that the holographic principle would also be fulfilled in pedagogy.

Chapter four is dedicated to «Ilya Prigogine and chaotic systems». The authors’ presentation of the creator of the notion of dissipative structures (as opposed to structures in equilibrium) is very interesting, as it opens up the complexity of systems towards new perspectives such as uncertainty and unpredictability. The authors note that Prigogine’s work has made it possible to show that ordered systems create order from disorder —the chaotic perspective— thus proposing a vision of reality based on uncertainty and not equilibrium; providing a conception of total complexity that introduces randomness, disorder, and chance into systems, in other words, chaotic situations.

The fifth chapter covers Niklas Luhmann, regarded as one of the most important renovators of systems theory in sociology. The authors show how Luhmann aimed to describe and understand the functioning of contemporary society based on the different subsystems that form it and the interactions that take place within in. While summarising the systems theory of this German sociologist, they also show the risk and danger of systems, contemporary societies as complex systems, and they end the chapter by referring to the educationalsystem.

In chapter six, the authors raise the work of Humberto Maturana and circular complexities. They introduce the concept of autopoiesis, they present the other operational domain of the relational dynamic marked by culture, love, and human training, and they conclude the chapter with some texts by Maturana on the mission of education. In the next chapter, the authors briefly mention Fritjof Capra and the ecological paradigm. This author is of interest for two reasons: his ecological paradigm (his major contribution to the field of complexity) and his interest in education through his ecological proposals, resulting in an educational proposal for ecological-environmental conservation. The eighth chapter has the title «Edgar Morin or the complexity of complexity» and receives special treatment from the authors as he is one of the exponents of the highest levels that the topic of complexity has achieved. This approach comprises four parts: Morin’s theoretical-anthropological contribution, the concept of complexity, his theory as an educational epistemology, and a fourth part where his educational proposal is considered in seven fundamental points.

  1. The blind spots of knowledge: error and illusion.
  2. The principles of relevant knowledge.
  3. Teaching the human condition.
  4. Teaching earthly reality.
  5. Confronting uncertainties.
  6. Teaching understanding.
  7. The ethics of the human race.

Construction in Morin transcends curricular and school reform as it entails constructing a human being who is aware of its bio-physical, psycho-cultural, earthly, and cosmic sides, parallel with the one he sets out in his anthropological theory.

The authors conclude this book with a ninth chapter called «Towards a complex understanding of educational processes: social and expanded cognition and online learning». Here they state that theories of learning and socio-educational change have accepted the importance of social interactions, and hence of complexity in diverse settings (family, local community, school, peer group, long-distance social networks, etc.). They conclude by stating that considering educational interaction from an extended situational perspective provides a perspective for analysing the impact of the social changes introduced by ICT in educational culture and in the organisation of the teaching and learning process. The situational and extended perspective of the experience of individuals and groups changes the logic of intervention by educators in their role as meaningful mediators. Educators no longer only work with representatives from the local community but must also integrate the cognitive references introduced by delocalisation.

Carlos Alberto Pabón Meneses