by DT Strain.
The scientific field of complex systems theory addresses, in more formal and mathematical terms, many of the same aspects of Nature observed by ancient philosophers and traditions (See Complexity Science 101). Two examples are the Taoist concept of Li (organic pattern), the Stoic concept of the Divine Fire or the Logos (the rational order by which the universe operates). For comparison purposes, below are several excerpts from different sources discussing these topics, arranged by categories which are considered traits of complex systems.
Each portion has been color coded. Green text comes from a source on complex systems theory. Red text comes from a sources on the Stoic Logos. Blue text comes from a source on the Taoist Li.
It seems to me that all three of these sources are discussing very similar aspects of Nature…
A Complex System is any system which involves a number of elements, arranged in structure(s) which can exist on many scales.
That will apply to the world at large (macrocosm) and also to the soul of humans (microcosm).
These go through processes of change that are not describable by a single rule nor are reducible to only one level of explanation, these levels often include features whose emergence cannot be predicted from their current specifications. Complex Systems Theory also includes the study of the interactions of the many parts of the system.
Li, to describe nature as organic pattern, translated as the markings in jade, the grain in wood, and the fiber in muscle.
The Tao is a certain kind of order, and this kind of order is not quite what we call order when we arrange everything geometrically in boxes, or in rows. That is a very crude kind of order, but when you look at a plant it is perfectly obvious that the plant has order. We recognize at once that is not a mess, but it is not symmetrical and it is not geometrical looking.
[Heraclitus] urges us to pay attention to the logos, which “governs all things” and yet is also something we “encounter every day.”
…the proponents of Stoicism… used [Logos] for the immanent ordering principle of the universe… Nature and logos are often treated as one and the same; but logos is nature’s overall rational structure…
Change occurs naturally and automatically in systems in order to increase efficiency and effectiveness, as long as the systems are complex enough… Such responsiveness occurs even when the elements and system are non-organic, unintelligent, and unconscious as long as the system is complex as described above.
The dead neither see nor hear; they are closed. No light (fire) shines in them; no speech sounds in them. And yet, even they participate in the cosmos.
The Tao is not something different from nature, the birds, the bees, the trees, or ourselves. The Tao is the way all that behaves… Therefore though they look very different, they are in fact inseparable. They arise mutually.
Now the world is ‘an everliving fire’, and therefore there will be an unceasing process of eternal flux.
Within the cosmic order determined by the Logos are individual centers of potentiality, vitality, and growth. These are “seeds” of the Logos.
Linear change is where there is a sequence of events that affect each other in order as they appear one after the other. In contrast, in non-linear change, one sees elements being changed by previous elements, but then in turn these changed elements affect the elements that are before it in the sequence.
You cannot find the controlling center of it, because there isn’t any. Everything is a system of interrelated components, all interdependent on the other… This complete system of interdependence is Tao.
Thus even though there is logical development from stage to stage, there is an increasing inability to predict what will actually be the next development. This uncertainty of predictability is called “chaos”. Thus, one can then see how a tiny change in a condition can eventually lead to a huge number of different possible results. The classic illustration for this is the idea of how the flapping of butterfly wings in one part of the world can contribute to the evolution of a hurricane in another part of the world.
Nature is constantly dividing and uniting herself, so that the multiplicity of opposites does not destroy the unity of the whole… And these two ways are forever being traversed in opposite directions at once, so that everything really consists of two parts, one part traveling up and the other traveling down.
Heraclitus… viewed Nature as a harmony of opposing tensions, “Men do not know how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre.”
Light and dark, high and low, sound and silence – all are only experienced in terms of their polar opposites.
The unpredictability that is thus inherent in the natural evolution of complex systems then can yield results that are totally unpredictable based on knowledge of the original conditions. Such unpredictable results are called emergent properties. Emergent properties thus show how complex systems are inherently creative ones. So what is this emergence exactly? Generally it is defined by saying ‘the whole is greater than the sum of the parts’.
Tao indicates a reality which is vibrant, spontaneous, orderly, and more than the sum of its individual components.
In other words we cannot predict the outcome from studying only the fine details. Examples include cellular metabolism, ant colonies, organism development, snowflakes.
“Both knowledge and experience are real, but reality has many forms, which seem to cause complexity.”