Saturday, January 26, 2013

Boundaries and the System

A fourth concept that Morin discusses in The Reform of Thought is the system, or organization. If I understand Morin correctly, then he means by system any self-organizing entity that pulls itself together  in such a manner that allows it to function as an entity and that provides the organized substrate for the emergence of properties and capabilities not necessarily inherent in the individual parts. The whole entity, then, is greater than the sum of the parts. For instance, consciousness is not a property of individual neurons, but it emerges when enough neurons self-organize into a functioning human brain within a functioning eco-system. As near as I can tell, systems appear to be all-inclusive—the ultimate vacation resorts. I cannot think of anything that is not both itself a system and a part of another system. Even strings on the micro-scale and the Universe on the macro-scale may be systems within systems. If string theorists are correct, then our Universe is just one system within a system of Universes. Maybe strings themselves are systems. After all, we once thought atoms were the smallest things possible, and we've moved way beyond that idea. We will likely move again.

This concept of system quite likely includes the other concepts that I've considered in my exploration of boundaries: the included middle, the dialogic, circular causality, and the holographic principle. Or perhaps I'm being drawn to the realization that all of these concepts suggest and implicate the others. Each of them, in true transdisciplinary fashion, is difficult to think about alone. Rather, they make more sense when seen as a whole. They represent the nature of boundaries as

  • the included middles that join rather than separate but without merging, 
  • the dialogics that juxtapose and hold in a creative, dynamic dance distinct entities, becoming the fertile zone where new things emerge and enrich both entities,
  • the circular causalities that enable the flow of energy, matter, and information between the distinct entities, again enriching and sustaining both,
  • the holographic principles that encode the whole within the part, like stem cells able to self-reproduce the entity, and finally,
  • the systems that nestle systems within systems within systems.
Really. Can we understand any of this if we don't see that the part is within the system is within the part and that this is irreducibly loopy? Can we understand Mending Wall if we don't see that the narrator and the neighbor are a self-forming, self-organizing system, joined and at the same time distinguished at an included middle that expresses their dynamic dance and creates the zone in which they both assert their independence and their dependence, their individuality and their kinship, defining their independence in terms of their dependence and vice versa, and that echoes the patterns of molecules, societies, and stars.

Well, at any rate, I think that's what Mending Wall means to me. I have no idea what the poem meant to Robert Frost, and the question is somewhat irrelevant to my discussion which hasn't been about Frost but about boundaries. Still, I feel just strong enough to believe that, if he were here, I might persuade him.

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