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The Mosaic Theory of Natural Complexity

Georges Chapouthier

General Conclusion

Texte intégral

1What is complexity?

2Here is the philosophical question raised in the introduction. In an Aristotelian spirit, I have endeavoured to present an answer to the question, starting with biological considerations and continuing through to philosophical stances. While I obviously did not intend to give a complete and universal definition of complexity, the present work based on the architecture and complexity of living beings has led to a number of conclusions.

A scientific quest

3Complexity in living systems is based on two general principles: the juxtaposition of similar units and then, at a later stage, integration of the juxtaposed units to form structures at a higher level, the original units then becoming component parts of the higher structure. Examples of the processes have been presented, ranging from the organization of genes to the structure of animal populations, covering different levels, e.g. cells, organs, groups of organs known as metameres (the basic element in most animals) and individual organisms. We observed that, as is the case for art mosaics, living beings can be seen as mosaics, i.e. structures where original component parts, when part of a higher level structure, maintain independent properties and autonomous functions; expressed in different terms, they are structures in which both the parts and the whole can behave, at least partially, independently of one another. This is a practical way of describing the development and emergence of parts and the whole. Our model can be used as a biological approach to the emergence of complexity. The scope of the model was extended, as seen with examples featured in the first chapters. Further analysis provided evidence showing that within a given organism the development of organs as important as the brain also fits the mosaic model: the organization of brain vesicles, areas of the cerebral cortex and the two hemispheres of the brain stand as good examples of mosaic constructions. Thinkers such as Richard E. Michod and Stephen M. Modell in the United States have also proposed models for complexity that can fit our model.

4The mosaic model is compatible with Darwinian natural selection based on sexual reproduction, and also offers an epistemological rehabilitation of the role of asexual reproduction, a basic process in the development of living beings dating back a long time but often overlooked as research focuses on sexual reproduction. In many cases anatomical complexity in animals can arise from non-separation of structures, e.g. cells or “twins” produced by the asexual separation of the fertilised egg into two identical units, and subsequently undergoing integration, in a mosaic formation. This is in line with the thesis advocated by Brazilian philosopher Paulo C. Abrantes who claims that during transitions from a lower biological level to a higher one, there is a process of de-Darwinization, for once the lower level has become part of a higher level, it is no longer governed by strict rules of Darwinian selection.

5The mosaic organization of the human brain led us to investigate whether the mosaic model was compatible with and could be applied to human mind processes, and we found that the model can also be used to describe memory, consciousness, language, drawing, music, technical objects, urban planning, mathematics and information theory, social structures, dialectics, ethical stances and literary approaches. These are fields of activity for living beings (in this case, for human beings), and it is interesting to observe the same mosaic organization in so many different fields of human cultural activity no matter what the possible relations are between matter and mind, or between the brain and thought. The mosaic model was extended to cultural activities developed by animals other than human beings. Reports on cultural traits in animal groups provided evidence of the use of tools, cognitive rules, communication and language by different species. Practical, moral, behavioural and aesthetic choices were observed in animals, in particular in social species. It was seen that the mosaic model can be useful, not only to describe the complexity of the natural properties of living beings in areas such as genetics and anatomy, but also to help understand their cultural traits and to perceive the effects of mental processes.

Philosophical stances

6The focus on biology was then followed by philosophical considerations. Our model of complexity in mosaics was presented as a good example of the Biocosmological approach as developed by the Russian philosopher Konstantin Khroutski and the neo-Aristotelian school. Since the mosaic model of complexity can be applied to many different fields, it may also be applied, as argued in the Aristotelian Biocosmological approach, to both macrocosmic and microcosmic entities. In biological systems, in addition to the different fields covered for the mosaic model, there is the concept of triunity as developed by Khroutski, the basic argument being the fundamental unity of a three-component structure, that can prove very useful for understanding the functioning of living beings. A number of examples were given, including metabolic activity in organisms.

7Triune processes can also be seen as compatible with the general philosophical concept of dialectics, as basic dialectical movements (thesis, antithesis, and synthesis) are a triune construct. Living beings can be analyzed as a triune structure in different fields, at a materialistic level (as for Engels’ “Dialectics of Nature”) or an ideological level (for Hegel’s dialectics). These considerations plus the work of philosophers such as Stephane Lupasco and Laurent Cherlonneix have led to a neo-Aristotelian approach to the dialectics of life. The mosaic model can also fit von Bertalanffy’s holistic General System Theory according to which similar principles can be found in different theoretical and scientific fields, and mosaic structures may be considered one such general principle. On the energetic side, mosaic models in living organisms are part of the general functioning of life, in both nature and culture, being dissipative structures able to stand as a local force against the ubiquitous evolution of material systems towards greater entropy, i.e. they can follow a negentropic path.

8It is important to focus on the essential link between mosaics and dialectics. Mosaic structures, as observed in living beings, initially appear to be relatively static constructions. With our definition of them at different levels of living beings, ranging from cells to genes and populations, they are very useful for describing temporary states of a living system, even though, over time, living systems are never totally static; such static constructions can only be observed for a certain period of time. When extending the time period, living beings constantly change from birth to death, at the cellular level (metabolism) and at more integrated levels (ontogeny of organisms and phylogeny of populations or species). The logical complement to the mosaic model is therefore the dialectical process, also built on triune mosaics but clearly oriented in time, thus endowing mosaics with a temporal and evolutionary dimension.

9Recent work by the astrophysicist Jean Audouze provided clear evidence for the relevance of the mosaic model applied to heavenly bodies, and therefore in the cosmos. His interesting discussion supports the legitimacy of the Biocosmological approach which is the basis for the present text. It is shown that the architecture of stars and galaxies can mimic the architecture of complex terrestrial living systems; it is shown that the macrocosm can, as argued by Aristotle, mimic the (biological) microcosm. Our mosaic model can play a key role in this process as it has similar principles (juxtaposition and integration) applying at both the macrocosmic and microcosmic levels. With the similarity of principles in both macrocosmic and microcosmic systems, our mosaic model can fit the General System Theory, with mosaics being a key player of such general systems. It may be deduced that living beings, (i.e. complex carbon-based systems) can be found everywhere on Earth and, quite probably, in other parts of the universe. The general architecture of mosaics, if applied to carbonaceous structures, could uncover similar organizational structures throughout the cosmos, not just locally on Earth, the third planet of our solar system.

10On the one hand there is the world of living beings, their nervous systems and their ability to think, and on the other hand there is the cosmos with its organization built on mosaic formations; the similarity between the two may explain why the human brain can understand the material world and conduct and develop scientific activity. The cosmos and biological systems are built the same way, according to the same principles and the same rules. Biological systems, with no doubt the most complex structures on Earth with the central nervous system and the brain able to simulate the world, can simulate principles and rules of the physical world. The central nervous system can simulate and understand other parts of the cosmos, an animal ability developed powerfully in the human brain.

11These contemplations of the complexity of living beings, of the brain and mind and beyond, of the complexity of the universe, can show that complexity is not necessarily as complicated as could be expected. Some properties can be observed and described as simple processes: the process of juxtaposition and integration, and expressed as mosaic models.

© Éditions des maisons des sciences de l’homme associées, 2018

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