Complex interrelationship of world problems

Multi-disciplinary characteristics of problems
Interdependence of issues
Perceived complexity of issues
Shrimp soup problem

The complexity of many problems, or networks of problems, presenting no clear-cut solutions, is often a reason for delaying action on them. (The Cambodian term "shrimp soup problem" describes the intertwining of shrimp antennae in the soup so it is impossible to pick just one out of the bowl.) The complexity is such that many approaches have to be explored to meet the various requirements of different constituents: regions, countries, areas within countries (both rural and urban) and sections of the community, particularly the underprivileged and minority groups. In addition, analysis tends to be simplistic and to lead to simplistic solutions (whether programmes, organizations, information systems or models) which do not match in complexity the network of problems on which they attempt to focus.

In addition to delayed and simplistic analysis and solution proposals, the perceived complexity of data on problem families or clusters gives rise to elaborate computer systems which process millions of pieces of information with ease. With equal ease, based on mathematical formulae, they generate what appear to be infallible forecasts and probabilities, and graphic-displayed models and systems flows. These are not simplistic but over-sophisticated, and this in itself causes delays in analysis. In addition, since the data encompass too many problems or variables, the uncertainly generated is too high. Examples can be seen in global economic forecasting of humanity's needs in the next fifty to one hundred years.


Humanity is entering an era of chronic, large-scale and extremely complex syndromes of interdependence between the global economy and the world environment. Relative to earlier generations of problems, these emerging syndromes are characterized by profound scientific ignorance, enormous decision costs, and time and space scales that transcend those of most social institutions. The difficulties created by such increasing complexity will intensify over the next century as the number of people, the amount of industrial production, and the demand for agricultural products increase doubly or more.


Refusal to act on problems by labelling them as complex is itself a major problem which may exhibit fallacious reasoning. Problem alleviation could rather be modelled on medical practice, where each ailment is specifically treated. A person with burns, a gunshot wound, symptoms of poisoning and cardiac arrest would not be analysed in a hospital emergency room but would be treated appropriately with the severest problems attended to first. That the world's problems are numerous does not argue that singly taken they cannot be solved one at a time and by appropriate specialists (rather than by those concerned with philosophy and investigation of interrelationships).

(F) Fuzzy exceptional problems