What is Structure LO25581

From: Fred Nickols (nickols@att.net)
Date: 11/03/00

Replying to LO25580 --

At de Lange replied at length to my posting about structure. I'm going to
respond to him on essentially a point-by-point basis (although I'll try to
"chunk" my responses so as to not over-burden the reader).

>Fred Nickols <nickols@att.net> writes:
> >Several others have already responded to this but I
> >think what I'm about to say is sufficiently different as
> >to warrant going ahead.
>Seldom have I seen such a subtile admission for authentic learning ;-)
>You are a master.

Thanks, At, but I'm not sure what you mean.

>I encourage you to question the following:
>An atom has electrons in it, but an electron does not have atoms
>in it.
>A molecule has atoms in it, but an atom does not have molecules
>in it.
>An organelle has molecules in it, but an molecule does not have
>organelles in it
>A cell has organelles in it, but an organelle does not have cells
>in it.
>An organ has cells in it, but a cell does not have organs in it.
>An organism has organs in it, but an organ does not have organisms
>in it.

Okay; what the series above says to me is that things/systems/structures
are composed of other things/systems/structures. It would be tempting to
conclude that an atom, consisting as it does of electrons, is a more
complex structure than an electron but I'm not at all sure that is the
case. Ditto for a cell being more complex than an organelle or an organ
being more complex than a cell. It doesn't strike me as immediately
obvious that a structure consisting of other structures is necessarily
more complex than the structures comprising it. On the other hand, it
does strike me as eminently reasonable to conclude that complex structures
might relate to one another in ways that yield a larger yet simpler
structure. Presumably, some physicist or chemist on the list can either
set my thinking straight or provide some examples that instantiate and
support my naive view.

> >To me, "structure" (in anything, including systems,) has three
> >components.
>It seems seem to be that you are saying that a system has
>structures to it, but that a structure does not have systems to it.

Saying that was certainly not my intent. I can see a structure in which
the elements are systems (e.g., the IT architecture of almost any sizable

>However, you have not written "structures" (the plural form), but
>"structure" (the singular form). Furthermore, you have put the word
>in quotation marks. I know that you maintain that tacit knowledge
>cannot be articulated and for that I respect you. So let me ask the
>following two questions in terms of your own referance framework.

My use of quotes was meant simply to indicate that I was referring to the
word at the root of the question posed earlier. So far as I am aware, it
had and has no other significance. That said, I'll answer your questions.

>What implicit knowledge did you try to articulate here?
>Does the word 'structure' which you use as "structure" articulate
>sufficiently what you know implicitly?

First off, I'm a little confused. In the paragraph immediately above, you
ask me about "implicit knowledge" but, in the preceding paragraph, you
spoke to my views about "tacit" knowledge. I don't view tacit and
implicit knowledge as one and the same thing so I'm not quite sure how to
respond. Again, that said, I'll try...

"Structure" (i.e., the word) has several meanings and usages. When I put
it in quotes (to isolate it) and then offered up my definition of what I
mean by that word in the context of the question, I was thinking of
"structure" as having much in common with architecture, that is, with
design intent on fulfilling purpose. From that perspective, "structure"
has a lot in common with art. But, whatever the artist's or architect's
vision, it is realized in concrete form by edifices, whether they be
buildings, bridges or corporations. (I am well aware that concrete
objects and relationships are being mixed up there with more abstract
arrangements but so be it for now.)

The best direct answer to your question that I can muster is that my
definition of "structure" is as I presented it. I don't know that it
represents anything implicit or tacit. It does occur to me, however, that
I left out a couple of important aspects of the relationships issue;
namely, the spatial and temporal aspects. Consider, for example, the
structure of that lowly object, the hamburger. At its most basic, the
elements are the two halves of a bun and a meat patty. (Condiments such
as mustard or ketchup and other elements such as lettuce, cheese and
tomato are set aside for now.) Given those two halves of the bun and a
meat patty (presumably cooked), do you have a hamburger? Well, maybe yes
and maybe not. First off, the two halves of the bun and the meat patty
must occupy a certain spatial relationship in relation to each other and
the patty (i.e., the patty must be between the two halves of the bun).
Secondly, they must occupy that spatial relationship in a temporal
relationship; namely, at the same time. Properly assembled, the top half
of the bun occupies Space A, the meat patty occupies Space B and the
bottom half of the bun occupies Space C. We could construct
three-dimensional coordinates defining those three spaces and place the
various elements in those spaces at different times and we would not have
a hamburger. Space and time are key relationships.

> >First, there are the elements that make up the system.
> >Second, are the connections between and among these
> >elements. Third, are the relationships that exist between
> >and among the elements by way of their connections.
> >Elements, connections and relationships; these are the
> >stuff of structure.
>Is it not possible, according to your description and subsequent example,
>that the relationships which you write of are nothing but "structures"
>themselves, although each a minor "structure" to the major "structure"
>which you speak of?

That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

>Please accept that I am not trying to "catch you out" with my questions.
>I am very serious with them. What I did above with the section marked
>between **** and ****, is to illustrate what I call the Law of Singularity
>of Complexity -- the imbedding of more "less" complex "structures"
>into less "more" complex "structures".

Well, I think I understand you and I also think I responded to that point
earlier; however, I'll take another crack at it.

You seem to be saying immediately above that many less complex structures
can be embedded in a few more complex structures. I agree. I also am
inclined to think that many complex structures might be embedded in a few
simpler structures. Don't ask me how that can be because it's only a
hunch or intuition on my part; no examples leap immediately to mind nor do
any scientific principles come to mind (but then that's probably because
I'm not a scientist).

>I tried to use in this last sentence "structures" (plural) in a way which
>I think (hopefully correct) you think of as "structure" (singular). (Perhaps
>you may want to use another word as a result of my two questions ;-)
>I also put the first "less" and the later "more" in quotation marks so
>that you do not get confused with first "more less" and later "less more".
>I definitely intend the order between the two cases, but my English is
>too poor to say it better.

Well, if I understood it, then I think you said it just fine. If I didn't
understand it, it could still be the case that you said it just fine and
that my decoding mechanisms muffed it.

>We have a lot of words (like system, relationship, structure and
>organisation) used in Systems Thinking. But I wish somebody would
>point out to me how they are imbedded into each other like I have
>illustrated above with the section between ***** and *****.

Hmm. Well, for starters, the name isn't the thing just as the map isn't
the territory. Way up at the beginning of this posting, you used atom,
electron, molecule, cell, organelle, organ and organism. I think of all
those as being structures and having structure. They are each composed of
elements connected to one another and, through those connections, those
elements display relationships to one another and, perhaps most important,
through those relationships, they also present something that is more than
the simple sum of the parts. Consider the lowly hamburger once more.
What makes a hamburger more than the simple sum of two halves of a bun and
a cooked meat patty are the spatial and temporal relationships of those
elements to one another and the unarticulated knowledge of people who know
a hamburger when they see it but perhaps can't quite articulate what
qualities or characteristics make it a hamburger and, if those aren't
present, make simply a collection of parts.

>With care and best wishes
>At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za>

Same to you, At. Have a hamburger on me.


Fred Nickols

The Distance Consulting Company "Assistance at A Distance" http://home.att.net/~nickols/distance.htm nickols@att.net (609) 490-0095

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