Biomorphisms LO27219

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 09/05/01

Replying to LO27175 --

Dear Organlearners,

Greetings to all of you.

Artur Silva < > wrote in LO27164
under the topic "LOs and Metanoia - Two Conceptions of LO's"

>>7 That will not be my approach however. I think the
>>"living being" metaphor is much more powerful than
>>to see a company like a machine. But it is powerful
>>because it is a metaphor, not to be taken as "reality".

to which I replied in LO27175 among others with:

>>I am not so much afraid of reductionism when looking
>>at human organisations from the biological viewpoint
>>as of looking at them from a reductionistic viewpoint
>>in biology! In other words, the reductionism begins much
>>earlier in any viewpoint itself! For this reason I have
>>compiled a list of properties of all life which have
>>compelled me through my own biological excursions.

I have suggested 10 patterns essential to all organisms of whatever kind
and whatever era (living or fossilised). My thoughts gushed from my
memory. Perhaps I should have applied some "rheostasis" by first
researching literature as I often do before articulating my thoughts on an
important topic. But I was too excited in sharing these thoughts with you
than to go first to the books.

Afterwards I began to read the books and to think a lot on just what I
have done. Three things became clear to me. Firstly, there is no standard
biological term for these "patterns essential to all organisms of whatever
kind and whatever era". In fact, there are few books which actually try to
articulate them at all. In the book "Integrated Principles of Zoology" by
Hickman et al they call them integrative principles or concepts (p17, 5th
ed). They then list and shortly discuss 38 such principles (pp 17-23).

(Thank you dear Braam van Wyk for supplying me with information from this
book! Braam is professor of botanical taxonomy and head of the Schweickart
Herbarium at our university. He is a holistic thinker on many other
subjects than merely botany. He is even up to mastering "entropy
production" and "irreversible self-organisation"! Also thank you Lou
Coetzer for reminding me of the importance of the carbon cycle.)

I would not call them "integrative" entities. Another word possible in
this sense is then "holistic" entities. This will bring us to wholeness
which is but one of the 7Es (seven essentialities of creativity). I begin
to perceive how my 10 "essential patterns" and the 38 "integrative
principles (concepts)" are deeply involved with all 7Es and not merely
wholeness. I would also not call them "principles" because I can picture
them mentally without needing words to describe them. They are rather
something in the sense of Goethe's Urphaenomen". However, we do have to
give them a name so as to refer to them. The best word which I can suggest
presently is "biomorphisms" ("bios"=life, "morphe"=form). They remind me
of finding "isomorphisms" in the "bio"sphere. Isomorphisms involve both
structures and processes. But I am open to any better alternative name.

Secondly, it struck me that the 38 given by Hickman et al and the 10 which
I suggested, overlap rather than the 10 being contained in the 38. This
means that the list of 10 by far and the list of 38 do not exhausted all
the possible "biomorphisms". In other, we will need some serious
biological thinking to uncover all of them. Furthermore, biological
knowledge is not static. As more information comes to light by careful
observations, some of these "biomorphisms" will have to be scrapped while
others will have to be added. I am already beginning to perceive a strange
"systematics" in these "biomorphisms" with respect to the 7Es -- liveness,
sureness, wholeness, fruitfulness, spareness, otherness and openness.

~~~~~By the way~~~~

You may add the following two "biomorphisms" to the list of 10 already
given, just to show that the list is not finished. The list of
"integrative principles" of Hickman et al reminded me of these two which I
have often thought about.

(11) The organisation (structures and processes) within any organism is
matched by the entropy S of that organism. The organisation can only
change as a result of "entropy production" so that the extra entropy can
match the increased organisation. The entropy is produced by "entropic
force-flux pairs". A difference in the values of an intensive quantity set
up an entropic force while a change in the values of an extensive quantity
set up an entropic flux. Al forms of energy can be expressed as the
product between an intensive and its complementary extensive quantity. The
primary source of change in an organism is entropic force-flux pairs
involving both the organism and its environment. The value of the
intensive quantity of a form of energy for the organism usually differs
from that of the environment. This is then a eco ("organism-environment")
entropic force. Entropy gets produced as soon as the complementary
extensive quantity gets exchanged between the system and environment.

[Hickman et all calls it in brackets the "irritability" of the system. See
nr 7. The phonic similarity to "irreversibility" (a synonym for "entropy
production") is striking.]

(12) Although organisms need entropy production to change, they are
vulnerable to too much entropy production which will drive them unprepared
to the "edge of chaos". When the organism minimise the internal part of
the eco entropic force through keeping the intensive quantity in the
organism fairly constant by a feedback loop known as homeostasis. When the
organism minimise the internal part of the organism-environment entropic
flux by closing the cell wall or epidermis for a change in that extensive
quantity, it is known as rheostasis (a concept yet unknown to
biologists!). Because of homeostasis and rheostasis, the organism has to
find another way to produce self entropy on purpose. This is known as the
metabolic path catabolism, distinctive from anabolism through which the
organism becomes more complex.

~~~~~End the way~~~~

Hickman et al writes from the viewpoint as zoologists who study the
kingdom of animals. Try as hard as I can, I cannot recognise some of their
"integrated principles" in the kingdom of plants. Furthermore, in the
classification of all organisms five kingdoms are usually recognised:
Monera, Protocista, Fungi, Plantae and Animalia. The Monera contains the
primitive, single celled "prokaryotic" organisms (like bacteria and blue
algae) of which the DNA is not protected in a nucleus. The other four
kingdoms contain the "eukaryotic" organisms having cells with a nucleus in
each. The Protocista contains single cell organisms while the other three
contains organisms having more than one cell.

Many human organisations are highly complex. With the purpose of using
these "biomorphisms" as "planning patterns" in the realm of human
organisations, I am now beginning to think to exclude the single cell
kingdoms Monera and Protocista. They are definitely of a lower complexity
than the other three kingdoms. I do not know clearly what to do with the
Fungi. They are of a higher complexity than the Monera and Protista, but
of a lower complexity when compared to the Plantae and Animalia. My gut
feeling (based on the 7Es) is that we should include them too. But I think
we need an extensive LO-dialogue on this problem.

Should we exclude the Monera and Protocista, then obviously we proceed
from "biomorphisms" to "complex biomorphisms". After having studied that
list of 38 "integrative principles" I have a hunch that we will have to do
it to match up to the complexity of human organisations.

I have already had some criticisms on including virusses as living
organisms. By excluding the Monera and Protista, they will be excluded
too. A virus has a small string of either DNA or RNA (but not both)
encapsulated by a layer of protein almost like a cell wall. It "becomes
alive" only in the cell of a host organism. It is the "perfect parasite"
because it depends for all its biological functions on the functions of
the host cell. Nobody can say how the earliest life forms looked like
since we have no palaeontological records of them or are not able to
recognise them palaeontologically. The closest we can come
palaeontologically to the "origin of life" is the Monera of which we have
fossilised as well as living examples. It may very well be that virusses
preceded them. In that case a remarkable complexifying organisation took
place from them to the Monera, a jump so high that it resembles that from
the Monera (prokaryotes) to the Protocista (eukaryotes).

Thirdly, I am beginning to realise just how bold and adventurous my
suggestion was. I suggested that you fellow learners should try seeking
the correspondences between "biomorphisms" and patterns which have already
emerged in human organisations, some before the paradigm of the
"artificial machine" and others as a result of the paradigm shift to the
"living organism". This is an immensely complex task, much like task which
I have put to myself in discovering the 7Es. I still remember how I felt
like searching in the void. Today I know that I was exploring a abyss-like
"rift in the entropy landscape". (See the recent topic "Fitness landscape
and other landscapes.")

Yet this task is necessary. We will only fool ourselves with simplicity
once again when saying that we have shifted our organisational paradigm
from the "artificial machine" to the "living organism" while we do not go
deeper into what is characteristic of "living organisms". Not only is the
task necessary, but is it also necessary to perceive the complexity
involved in this task. It will be like crossing a "rift in the entropy
landscape" or a very high "barrier in the free energy landscape". We will
most probably shy away from the "edge of chaos" when coming upon this rift
in front of us or get bounced back from the sheer wall in front of us when
reaching the high free energy ridge.

It is here where the saying "alle bietjies help" in my mother tongue
applies. The English equivalent would perhaps be "little drops of water
make the mighty ocean". When one of you fellow learners get but a fleeting
glimpse of any correspondence between one of the 10 "biomorphisms" and
some organisational pattern, please be bold and adventurous in telling us
about it so that we can have a LO-dialogue on it. It does not matter how
we articulate our tacit knowledge on it -- what matters is that we do
articulate it in some or other even "erroneous" way. We often make
"errors" in our articulations, not because we know nothing, but because we
know something tacitly which has not been articulated before.

As for the 10 "biomorphisms" which I have suggested, they will need
considerable reshaping as well as additions to them. I have proposed above
to such additions. (I am not a professional biologist, but do have an
intense interest in biology.) Furthermore, the outcome will depend on
which of the five kingdoms we will use for finding such "biomorphisms". I
think that here is where the LO-discipline Team Learning comes in. Arrange
for dialogues with any biologist (microbiology, botany or zoology) and
explain to them what you are trying to do. Tell them that you may know
little of biology, but that you are willing to learn and want them to
teach you. Try to get their viewpoints on what kingdoms to include and
what "biomorphisms" or "complex biomorphisms" they are aware of.

Should they be interested in making connections between the realm of
biological organisms and the realm of human organisations with the purpose
of improving learning and Learning Organisations, please invite them to
become members of our LO-dialogue by subscribing at
< >

As for myself, I will try to improve on my first 10 "biomorphisms" by
having dialogues with biologists in our university. I am tempted to
include mathematicians too. The latest paradigm in mathematics is involved
with Category Theory (CT). The concept of an "isomorphism" is crucial to
CT. An "isomorphism" is the complex version of the simple "equivalence"
with the well known symbol "=". The biologist Robert Rosen applied CT with
some success to theoretical biology. I think that I will have to study
once again his work closer with respect to what he had anything to say on
"biomorphisms", but which I did not notice on previous encounters, perhaps
because he called them by another name.

I have gained another insight into the working of Maturana's mind. The
"biomorphisms" are "correspondences of biotic relations". Finding
"correspondences of biomorphisms" with patterns in human organisations is
then by way of substitution nothing else than finding the .
"correspondences of correspondences of biotic relations" to the patterns
in human organisations. What an incredible task in "human autopoiesis" are
we not up to?

I love it when so many subjects become together pending to an emergence of
profound complexity. It something which the biologist Edward O Wilson
often stressed with his concept of the "consilience of knowledge". We need
more transdisciplinary thinking to acheive it.

With care and best wishes,


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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