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The Mosaic Theory of Natural Complexity

Georges Chapouthier

Chapter 2. Mosaics of the Mind and Repercussions

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1Living beings possessing a central nervous system have a mind. The present discussion will not extend to possible relations between the central nervous system and the mind, but no matter philosophical point of view is adopted, whether materialism or spiritualism, the brain is obviously involved in the functioning of the mind. What we can show here is that mind processes too can be described using the mosaic model. Several examples will be cited for mind-related functions and will include sophisticated activities of the human mind such as philosophy or literature, where the mosaic model can also apply.


  • 31 Chapouthier 2006.

2Memory is not a single entity, but a mosaic of different capabilities acquired by our animal ancestors in the course of the evolution of the species31. Such capabilities include simple memory skills (e.g. habituation to a repeated stimulus, and, when in situations requiring a choice to be made between two options, the tendency to choose the less familiar one), and imprinting in response to a stimulus experienced during infancy. More sophisticated memory skills include those seen with Pavlovian and Skinnerian conditioning. These capabilities ultimately include higher functions such as spatial memory and declarative memory (remembering rules and past experiences). Experimental data provide evidence that certain animals have only the most rudimentary form of memory, whereas higher animals, including humans, have all forms, clearly juxtaposed but weakly integrated.

3The mosaic model proves useful when applied to the different types of memory. We shall focus here on what is called “episodic memory”, i.e. the memory recalling experiences from the person’s own life, including vivid recollections, leading to what we subjectively feel the most deeply to be our memories or recollections. A number of authors argue that episodic recollections form groups as packets or modules within a framework providing a weak semantic link, thus making it possible to recall places, people, actions and events, linking them together. Within one specific episode remembered, significant details can be identified; for example, I can recall details in my grandfather’s orchard: the position of different trees, the green patch of sorrel growing in the middle of the strawberries, and the gravel paths. Then, within such specific details, tiny “micro-details” can be recalled, e.g. a few plums on the first tree, the oval shape and bitter taste of the sorrel leaves and the crunching of gravel underfoot. The memory construction, with sets end subsets, can clearly be expressed in the mosaic model.

  • 32 Iglóia et al. 2010.

4Iglóia et al.32, conducting studies in the field of anatomy, reported on spatial episodic memory in rats, describing the juxtaposition of two different processes occurring in both the right and left hippocampi. Activation of the right hippocampus precedes allocentric spatial representation, whereas activation of the left hippocampus precedes sequential egocentric representation. These results show that “rather than providing a single common function, the two hippocampi provide complementary representations for navigation, […] both of which likely contribute to different aspects of episodic memory.” Here we find (anatomical) processes juxtaposed and (weakly) integrated. Without embarking on philosophical relationships between the brain and the mind, it is clear that brain processes can be cited as evidence of the juxtaposition of certain mind processes.


  • 33 Delacour 2001.

5Specialists of consciousness state that human consciousness, though psychologically perceived as a whole, is actually a mosaic of several different states33. In normal subjects, the distorted images of the dream state offer a different pattern of consciousness. Split-brain patients (mentioned above) with separation of the corpus callosum, a structure involved in normal communication between the two hemispheres of the brain, can simultaneously have two distinct states of consciousness (two decision-making centres) that sometimes even compete.

Language and Drawing

  • 34 Robert 2013.
  • 35 Givón 1998.

6We conducted an extensive study, in collaboration with Stephane Robert34, comparing the semantic organization of language with the social organization of living beings and found that language too had a mosaic structure. Language linearity means semantic units (“words”) are juxtaposed sequentially and chronologically and thus form a sentence integration conveying meaning. The parallel with living organisms is based on the argument that the preliminary stage of both language and a living organism is one where units are simply juxtaposed. This hypothesis was developed by Talmy Givón35 who made a distinction between grammatical and pre-grammatical communication. The comparison of the workings of living organisms and of language shows some quite striking similarities in the different processes.

  • 36 Hombert & Lenclud 2014: 257.

7Jean-Marie Hombert and Gérard Lenclud36, in their book on how language developed in humans, quoted our work and adopted the idea, noting that “[…] language offers, in both its organization and evolution, features of the structure of a mosaic [but] unlike individual tiles (tesserae) that are spatially arranged in a mosaic, these elements are arranged in time because of constraints inherent in the linear form governing both spoken and written expression.” The authors observe that “in other words, the speaker makes a mosaic, doing so through juxtaposition/integration of discreet component parts.”

  • 37 Wang 2007.

8Working in a different field, the language specialist William S. Y. Wang (University of Hong Kong & University of California at Berkeley) published an article making explicit use of the mosaic analogy, referring to the “language mosaic and its biological bases37”. Wang’s analysis focused on the developmental structure of language, describing it as a “multi-layered mosaic” of biological and cultural influences which interact in an age-dependent way, not as the semantic structure of adult language as described in the present article, but his point of view is clearly complementary and in line with the argument we presented with Stephane Robert.

  • 38 Baldy 2011.

9Similar approaches can be used with drawing, in particular when studying children and the development of the mind38, as noted by Baldy (personal communication) who observed two basic visual signifiers, the circle and the line. When a circle and a number of lines are juxtaposed in a certain arrangement, signifiers of a higher order of complexity can be produced: e.g. a radiating shape. Depending on the context, the shape depicted may be interpreted as the sun or part of the human body, e.g. a head with hair, an eye with eyelashes, or a chubby hand with fingers. During childhood, graphic signifiers start off as simple geometric shapes (circles, lines, squares) and tend later to become more specific: an eye drawn as a circle will become almond-shaped and be more like a real eye. Throughout the process, shapes of a higher order of complexity become less polysemous.


  • 39 Heiser 2012.

10Marshall Heiser (Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Griffith University, Australia) conducted an in-depth analysis of Brian Wilson’s aborted Beach Boys’ album SMiLE39. According to Heiser, “one of the most well documented recording projects in the history of rock music is one that was never actually completed. SMiLE was to be the follow-up album to The Beach Boys’ first million-selling single Good Vibrations (1966).” The project was scrapped after ten months of sessions and approximately fifty hours of tape, but a three-movement symphonic version was eventually released in 2004 as Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. Heiser analyzed the tapes and concluded that there was clearly a “mosaic structure” to the work, where “emergent forms display characteristics not inherent within their parts”. Heiser referred explicitly to our mosaic model and processes of juxtaposition and integration in describing what he called “Brian Wilson’s musical mosaic”.

Technical objects

  • 40 Chapouthier & Kaplan 2011.
  • 41 Oudeyer 2015.

11As the mosaic model can be used to describe both animal and human minds, it is not surprising that it can also be useful for describing systems based on the functioning of the human mind, i.e. technical objects. The robotics specialist Frederic Kaplan40 stated that “technical evolution also proceeds by juxtaposition and integration”. A new set is first created by combining elementary technical objects and this system is poorly integrated. The technical construction then develops as the elements tend to swap and change, creating “a coherent and unified whole” (p. 18). After a certain time for technical development, an object (e.g. a printer, airplane, motor car or computer) is more highly integrated than it was when first designed. A similar analysis was later developed by the robotics specialist Pierre-Yves Oudeyer41. Referring to robots, he noted that “at the beginning of the years 2000… a new technical step was reached, allowing a new level in the way machines are organized in systems; this new step is the juxtaposition and integration, at a large scale, of these dynamic behavioural objects.” One example is with populations of robots able to interact and even to develop among them cultural and language conventions between themselves.

Urban planning

  • 42 Laming 2015: 59.

12According to the architect Denis Laming, in a chapter on the town (La ville)42, “Towns […] are markers of civilization: they are born, they grow, they get more complex and finally die… This ontogenetic evolution, followed by an entropic evolution (see chapter 4, Nature and culture against entropy) follows a process which offers many common points with the universe, with living beings and with artificial intelligence, according to the mosaic model devised by Georges Chapouthier.”

Mathematics and information theory

  • 43 Tasic 2013.
  • 44 Tonnelier et al. 1999; Ben Amor et al. 2010.
  • 45 Ben Amor et al. 2010.

13The Serbian philosopher Milan Tasic43 has suggested that the mosaic model could be used in mathematical studies, but to date, no full-scale mathematical expression of the model has been devised. A more specific mathematical study may be referred to here. Demongeot and his fellow researchers44, working in the field of neural networks and memory, used a mathematical approach to analyze mnesic evocation through the action of “populations of coupled neuronal oscillators (that) can dynamically store information in the form of a periodic attractor of large dimension45.” These coupled neuronal oscillators, inducing bio-electric synchronisation/desynchronization phenomena as described by the authors can be seen as a juxtaposition of two parallel structures of the same level of complexity, ultimately leading to mnesic evocation, which can be described as the integration of the basic phenomena. It would be interesting to have further mathematical work investigating the mosaic model.

  • 46 Ugolev & Ivashkin 1992.

14In the field of information theory, Ugolev and Ivashkin46 proposed a theory of elementary functional blocks where “complex functions could be reached due to the recombination and transposition of a large though limited set of molecular machines realizing elementary biological operations.” The theory of Ugolev and Ivashkin could be interpreted as an extension of the juxtaposition/integration model applied to information processing.

Social structures

15In the previous chapter, we observed that animal populations followed the same rules of complexity as organisms forming cellular populations. We also reported that human societies provide evidence of the same mosaic architecture. On the question of the development of the human mind in the present chapter, some sociological examples can be cited in support of the analogy between animal and human societies (see Chapter 1) and as evidence of the human mind being a mosaic formation, even for social activities.

  • 47 Guja 2008.
  • 48 Sorokin 1965.

16In the fields of anthropology and sociology, a number of studies have investigated mosaic features. Guja47 devised informational anthropology where “a human being as the system/interface may be considered a fundamental component of her/his human society and the nature/cosmos system as well, just like a hydrogen atom is the elementary constituent of matter under the material form.” Sorokin48 called for a “new sociology” able to reconcile mutually exclusive or contradictory theories. Sorokin’s argument is that “sound parts can be unified and incorporated into a more multidimensional and more adequate integral theory… (an) integral sociology to come” presenting another view with a relationship that could exist between the component parts and the whole.

  • 49 Chapouthier 2009b; Morris 1967; Tinland 1977; Chapouthier & Policar 2015.
  • 50 Schaeffer 2012.
  • 51 Schaeffer 2012: 61.
  • 52 Schaeffer 2012: 40.
  • 53 Schaeffer 2012: 41.
  • 54 Schaeffer 2012: 108.
  • 55 Schaeffer 2012: 109.

17An example of human social mosaics can be found with games and playing where humans display behaviour both juvenile and playful, as reported by the present author49. We shall quote a book on rugby written (in French) by Christophe Schaeffer: Le Rugby expliqué à mon fils ou l’art de rester lié [Rugby explained to my son or the art of bonding50]. While the book obviously has no specific reference to the mosaic model, the overall argument could be presented in terms of mosaic structures. Schaeffer notes that a rugby match needs harmonious integration of all players and compares the team to the parts of a house, the house being as big as the world51, with the component elements spatially juxtaposed and functionally integrated, from the foundations (the forwards) to drafts of air rushing through (the wings). Every member of the team must make a distinctive contribution and provide what is required of him52. At the level of the tesserae comprising a mosaic, the difference is what makes teamwork so productive, whether in society or a rugby team53. “The difference between people is creative of life and joy54.” Teamwork is what is being celebrated, and no matter what happens, through bonding the individuals remain together55. We have chosen the example of rugby, but many other sports and games played by humans could provide examples of mosaic organization in a social context.

  • 56 Yamawaki 2009: 198.

18On a more philosophical level, we can refer to the theses of the Japanese philosopher Naoshi Yamawaki56 who has endeavoured to establish transnational public ethics. Initially this may appear to be substantially different from the present author’s biological approach. Yamawaki argues that his ethics cannot be determined by either local or global considerations and has coined the term “glocal” to describe the “correlation between the global character of the problems and the culturally and historically defined locality where each human being lives” (p. 198), noting that “global and local perspectives are interdependent” (p. 198). The dialectics of the whole and its parts, when seen in the context of human civilization, can stand as an excellent example of integration between different levels of complexity, as proposed here for living beings. At the same time, this approach is in line with the idea that laws of the (biological) microcosm could also play a useful role in the (moderately) macroscopic social field.


19The dialectics of the whole and the parts leads to the original concept of dialectics, dating back to ancient Greek philosophers and developed in its modern form by Hegel, applying it to the mind, and by Engels and Marx applying it to the realm of material events (dialectical materialism). The concept of dialectics is based on a series of contradictions between two opposing processes (thesis/antithesis), thesis and antithesis being at the same logical level (Hegel) or material level (Engels), or juxtaposed in the mosaic model. The contradiction is then solved or overcome (synthesis); in other words there is integration of the two opposing processes, those processes being the parts, while the synthesis becomes the whole in the mosaic model.

20The major philosophical concept of dialectics will be pursued (see chapter 4), because not only does it fit the mosaic model, but it also brings a new philosophical dimension to the model.

Ethical stances

21Another domain of philosophy where the mosaic model can be useful is ethics.

  • 57 Nurock 2011.
  • 58 Nurock 2012.
  • 59 Pelluchon2011.

22The French philosopher Vanessa Nurock57 has argued that ethics can be seen as a construction of three juxtaposed processes: agentive empathy (putting oneself in the position of another being), emotional empathy (simulating the feelings of another being) and situational empathy (understanding the cognitive situation of another being’s life and behaviour, also known as the Theory of Mind). Integration of the first two processes can produce a basic concept of ethics, while full integration of all three processes can produce full-scale human ethics. Looking at certain disorders in humans, some of these processes may be seen to be absent: autism might involve a deficit in situational empathy, while certain psychopathic disorders could involve a deficit in agentive and emotional empathy. When using the mosaic model, further (sub)levels could be added. For example58, the first agentive level may be the initial result of two or more units being juxtaposed: the sense of what the right action is (putting oneself in the place of the other person and considering the other person’s well-being) plus the sense of justice (putting oneself in the place of the other person with consideration for cooperation and/or reciprocal actions). Looking beyond the cognitive architecture of morals to see the practical applications, Corine Pelluchon59 endeavoured to integrate three separate and juxtaposed moral stances: human ethics, animal welfare ethics and environmental ethics, proposing “vulnerability ethics” meaning that human beings have a clear moral responsibility towards all other beings, including non-human species and ecosystems. This is mosaic integration of conventionally juxtaposed moral duties.

Literary approaches

  • 60 All examples from Chapouthier 2013.

23Literary approaches too can be analyzed in terms of mosaics and a number of examples60 will be cited.

  • 61 Leguay-Tolleron et al. 2013.

24Le Rayon du bas” (The bottom shelf)61 is a contemporary French novel by four female writers. The story follows four main characters whose lives and relationships are described over four seasons in the imaginary town of Belvais (referring to the real French town of Beauvais). The central plot is “the book” as suggested by the title which is the bottom shelf of a bookcase. The novel explicitly mentions four books (quoted with reference details) but indicating which character is linked to which book. Tesserae can be identified in the plot development for, as is the case with many modern novels, the plot develops like a jigsaw puzzle with the reader having to gradually integrate the relevant information.

25In the case of poetry, modern verse often combines different images in a semantic mosaic structure, but enhanced by various writing processes. Striking examples can be found in Japanese poetry.

  • 62 Antonini 2003.

26A traditional haiku is a sequence of three verses of five, seven and five feet. The example I have chosen is a haiku written by the French poet Jean Monod62.

L’absente de tout
bouquet la voilà me dit
en se montrant l’aube

(Absent one from all
bouquet here she is
says dawn appearing).

27At the end of the first verse, the reader assumes the poem is about a human being (in French, the feminine gender suggests it is a woman); by the end of the second verse, it is about a flower (also feminine gender), but it is not until the last verse that the complete meaning, i.e. the whole, can be grasped: the image being conjured up is of dawn breaking, an image expressed with poetic references evoking a female being or entity and a flower. Finally the whole haiku can be understood as a harmoniously integrated mosaic of the different semantic parts of its three verses.

  • 63 Sato 1983; Shirane 2012.

28The Japanese renga (or modern version known as renku) can also provide examples of mosaic structures. It is written by two or more authors answering each other in alternating triplets (haikus) and couplets (distiches) with one author answering the preceding stanza. The poem soon becomes a striking series of different mosaic-like images63.

  • 64 Antonini et al. 2013. Text written in Folkestone (GB) in 2013 by a group of British and French po (...)

29Another classical Japanese form is the haibun, alternating short prose sections and haikus, and usually written by one poet. An initiative by the French poet Danièle Duteil (Association Francophone de Haibun) produced the “linked haibun” written according to the same principles as the renga64 with several authors answering each other on the question of where does the sea start, alternating prose sections and classical haikus in an original mosaic construction.

  • 65 Friedenkraft 1993.

30Another original venture in poetry appeared in the French magazine Jointure65 and featured a “combined poem”. The idea was to collect short poems by many different writers and organize them into four sections dubbed (with humour in French) Thesis, Antithesis, Parenthesis and Synthesis. The work was thus a mosaic with the original short poems as the tesserae.

  • 66 Bouraoui 2012.

31One final example here is from Hedi Bouraoui, a French-speaking author of Tunisian descent now living in Canada. He wrote a work that he described as a “narratoem66”, i.e. a combination of narrative prose and poem. The story is about a Laotian girl who migrates to the west and befriends a Tunisian living in Canada. The narratoem is a fascinating mosaic combination of different literary forms, rendering the blending of cultures (Asia, Europe, America and Africa) as experienced by the protagonist. Hedi Bouraoui’s work displays a harmonious combination of tesserae from the real world and tesserae from the realms of the imagination.

32These are only a few examples of literary work being analyzed as mosaic structures, with different topics and different styles combining (integrating) as tesserae in a mosaic and leading readers to new and fascinating discoveries and feelings.

Relationships between Mind and Matter

  • 67 Jonas 2001.
  • 68 Ruyer 1968.

33The identification of processes in the structure of living organisms and in the structure of the mind can lead to further philosophical considerations. Many philosophers have investigated relationships between mind and matter. Hans Jonas67 sees elements of the mind already present in the tiniest quantity of matter. The French philosopher Raymond Ruyer68 argues that the concept of objective information is incomplete and that a conscious “I” is needed to endow any piece of information with its full meaning. Following this idea, Ruyer avoided a misleading dogma in modern biological literature which identifies information with negentropy: as a conscious “I” is needed to handle information, the concept of information could not, according to Ruyer, be reduced to a simple physical dimension such as negentropy.

  • 69 Hashi 2011: 105-115.
  • 70 Hashi 2011: 114.
  • 71 Hashi 2011: 108.
  • 72 Hashi 2011: 111.

34More recently Hisaki Hashi69 developed similar ideas and related them to Aristotle’s philosophical arguments. She argues that nothing comes from “a merely functional set of information70”, but rather needs “the next act in self-consciousness, oriented to understand this bit of information71”. She sees the important relationship between information and consciousness as rooted in Aristotle’s orientation “towards cognitive and analytical way of thinking in reality72”. These philosophers bring a metaphysical dimension to the direct analogies which I have presented as mosaic structures, with parallels between organisms and thought processes, between body and mind. Without venturing here into the mind-body dilemma, we can say that these considerations give some strength to likely analogies between both fields – body and mind –, especially in the manner complexity is built.

Partial conclusion

35The present chapter has shown examples of rules governing the complexity of living beings according to the principles of juxtaposition and integration and leading to mosaic structures can apply to other fields: memory, consciousness, language, drawing, music, technical objects, urban planning, mathematics, social structures, dialectics, ethical stances and literary approaches. This provides evidence that the mosaic model can have a wide range of uses beyond its original source in the anatomy of living beings.


31 Chapouthier 2006.

32 Iglóia et al. 2010.

33 Delacour 2001.

34 Robert 2013.

35 Givón 1998.

36 Hombert & Lenclud 2014: 257.

37 Wang 2007.

38 Baldy 2011.

39 Heiser 2012.

40 Chapouthier & Kaplan 2011.

41 Oudeyer 2015.

42 Laming 2015: 59.

43 Tasic 2013.

44 Tonnelier et al. 1999; Ben Amor et al. 2010.

45 Ben Amor et al. 2010.

46 Ugolev & Ivashkin 1992.

47 Guja 2008.

48 Sorokin 1965.

49 Chapouthier 2009b; Morris 1967; Tinland 1977; Chapouthier & Policar 2015.

50 Schaeffer 2012.

51 Schaeffer 2012: 61.

52 Schaeffer 2012: 40.

53 Schaeffer 2012: 41.

54 Schaeffer 2012: 108.

55 Schaeffer 2012: 109.

56 Yamawaki 2009: 198.

57 Nurock 2011.

58 Nurock 2012.

59 Pelluchon2011.

60 All examples from Chapouthier 2013.

61 Leguay-Tolleron et al. 2013.

62 Antonini 2003.

63 Sato 1983; Shirane 2012.

64 Antonini et al. 2013. Text written in Folkestone (GB) in 2013 by a group of British and French poets including: Jean Antonini, Danyel Borner, David Cobb, Paul de Maricourt, Danièle Duteil, Georges Friedenkraft, Hanne Hansen, Meriem Fresson, Lynne Rees & Claire Wright.

65 Friedenkraft 1993.

66 Bouraoui 2012.

67 Jonas 2001.

68 Ruyer 1968.

69 Hashi 2011: 105-115.

70 Hashi 2011: 114.

71 Hashi 2011: 108.

72 Hashi 2011: 111.

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