Which came first? LO20296

AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Mon, 4 Jan 1999 13:18:27 +0200

Replying to LO20280 --

Dear Organlearners,

Gray Southon <gsouthon@ozemail.com.au> writes:

>I feel that I have some competence as a person who has
>studied physics (with a PhD), have studied the emergence
>of NMR in medical applications over the time that it
>emerged, and am now a student of organisations, the
>way people understand and the emerging field of knowledge
>In brief, my comment is that I find that At's explanation is
>obscure, and extremely difficult to gain any meaning from.

Complex systems consist of simpler systems. Some properties of the
simpler systems are essential in maintaning the complex system. In our
Western way of thinking we go to great lengths in explaining how the
simpler parts (that which comes first) and their properties make up
the complex structure (that which comes second). But we often neglect
the back action of the complex system in changing the properties of
the individual sub systems.

To discuss this back action, we have to use well studied complex
systems. Two examples from chemistry which afford deep insight, is
acidity (strength of acids) and NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance)
spectroscopy. Unfortunately, very few fellow learners have the
chemical experience and training to follow any detailed explanantion.
This makes these two examples obscure and likewise any other example
from the hard core sciences.

I used NMR as an example of how the molecule (complex system which
comes second) change the property of its individual nuclei (simpler
systems which comes first). I did not explain this example in detail,
assuming that readers would self read on NMR technology if they want
to understand it better. But Gray's comment made me realise that I
will have to explain NMR itself and not merely infer from it as an

Every atom consists of a nucleus in its center. The nucleus is
surrounded by electrons almost like the sun is surrounded with
planets. Both the nucleus and the electrons spin around their own
axis. Let us consider the simplest of all atoms, namely the hydrogen
atom. Its nucleus consists of one proton. This proton is surrounded by
one electron. Because they have an electrical charge, they develop a
magnetic property because of their spinning. When placed in a very,
very strong applied magnetic field, the spin of the proton (nucleus)
is aligned to that field. It seems as if the nucleus behaves like a
compass (bar magnet) in the earth's magnetic field. Like the direction
of the compass is fixed, the spin of the proton in this strong, global
magnetic field is fixed.

To change the spin of the proton into the opposite direction, it has
to receive a certain quantum of energy. This is supplied by inundating
the proton with an oscillating electromagnetic (radio) field. Only
when the field has a certain frequency and thus energy, will the
proton resonate to absorb energy from the radio field so that its spin
can be changed into the opposite direction. All protons of free
hydrogen atoms anywhere on this world will change their spin at
exactly the same frequency.

But when the hydrogen atoms are bonded to another atom, say four of
them to a carbon atom to form methane CH4, they change their spin at a
different frequency even with the GLOBAL magnetic field having the
same strength. We say that they exhibit a SHIFT in the frequency of
the resonating radio field. Why? The carbon atom, now part of the
compex molecule, introduces a LOCAL magnetic field, thus perturbing
the GLOBAL field. This perturbation is known as the chemical shift. We
still have spinning protons, but they resonate (change their direction
of spin) at a different frequency. In an ethane molecule, CH3CH3, the
LOCAL field is again different. Each proton is now influenced by two
carbon atoms C, the one close as in CH4, but the other one somewhat
further away. Thus the chemical shift again changes.

Consider an even more complex molecule such as ethanol (ethyl alcohol)
CH3CH2OH. Here the protons undergo three kinds of chemical shifts. The
three protons in the CH3 have a certain shift, the two protons in CH2
have another shift and the proton in OH have yet another shift. By now
the picture should be clear. Whereas all free protons change their
spin at one and the same frequency, they change their spin at other
frequences depending on the atoms to which they are bonded. Thus it
becomes possible to trace the kind of atoms to which these protons are
bonded in terms of these shifts in the frequences. In other words, the
complexity of the molecule causes one simple basic frequency to unfold
(generate) into a complex pattern of frequences known as the NMR
spectrum. This NMR spectrum is like a fingerprint made by the
subsystem because of the back action of complex system which has
emerged from them.

In terms of the Big Bang cosmology, protons, neutrons and electrons
(the constituents of atoms) existed long before molecules or even the
atoms from which they are made up. Thus the proton comes first and the
molecule comes second.

In terms of the general systems problem "which comes first", the
complex emergent system induces a complexity in the behabiour of its
sub systems -- a complexity which they did not had on their own. We
may now think generally in terms of a "complexity shift" rather than a
"chemical shift". Let us think specifically of "creating" (creativity)
and "learning". Should "learning" emerge from "creating", then the
complexity of "learning" will induce a complexity of shifts in the
underlying "creating". On the other hand, should "creating" emerge
from "learning", then the complexity of "creating" will induce a
complexity of shifts in the underlying "learning". Thus we will have
to determine which of the two (creating or learning) benefits in a
complexity shift from an increase in complexity of the other one.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to solve this problem if we
assume creativity to be purely a human behaviour. But if we comprehend
creativity as something which at least mammals posess, then the
problem becomes easier to solve. The marked difference between humans
and other mammals, is not in creativity, but in learning. The
complexity of learning in humans has evolved to much higher orders. It
causes a complexity shift in the underlying creativity. Thus,
allthough all acts of learning are acts of creating, it is the
complexity of the learning which induces a complexity shift in the
underlying creativity.

>This, of course, is as much a comment on myself as it is on
>At. The reason for making the comment is to postulate a
>marked difference in thinking styles. It is reflected also, I think
>in the application of chaos theory, which I have tried to
>understand the significance of. I realise that many people see
>a lot of value in it. However, apart from a release from the
>constraints of positive rationales, I cannot see that chaos theory
>(based on the study of inanimate systems) has much to contribute
>to the understanding of social systems.

I have also been trained as a physicist -- to trace the influence of
the properties of simpler parts on the properties of a complex whole.
Many people try to understand "chaos theory" from this perspective.
But my experience with the complexity (chaotic behaviour) of soil
systems some thirty years ago made me realise that this perspective
has little value. I found that I should rather develop the ability to
study any complex system from many perspectives, among others both
from "parts to the whole" and from the "whole to the parts". Thus
accounts of chaos theory based purely of the "parts to the whole"
perspective, ignoring the "whole to the parts" perspective, also
leaves me cold.

Gray, you write that "I cannot see that chaos theory (based on the
study of inanimate systems) has much to contribute to the
understanding of social systems". I would like to go somewhat deeper
into this remark. If we cannot shift (open up) to the paradigm of any
particular theory (and not necessarily chaos theory) that theory will
not contribute much to our understanding. Now chaos theory itself has
many nuances and even viewpoints. The majority of chaos theorists
maintain from a mathematical viewpoint that its paradigm is purely a
mathematical condition (nonlinear divergence). Other chaos theorists
maintain from an informational viewpoint that its paradigm is a chance
event. They, in terms of Shannon's definition, can connect to the
viewpoint that entropy is a measure of merely chaos. However, to
change from this traditional understanding of "entropy" to a modern
understanding of "entropy production" (irreversibility) is a vast
paradigm shift itself. Since there are few contributions from the
viewpoint of irreversibility, it is premature to judge that it will
contribute little to the understanding of social systems. The surface
has not even be scratched!

>I recognise that this may be due to my ignorance and/or
>lack of ability to appreciate the nuances of these areas and
>perhaps I would have a lot to gain if I did. If I am alone in my
>views, then there is nothing more to say. If, however, I
>represent a significant number of others, then it seems that
>there is a communication problem which perhaps needs

It is the case that the majority of fellow learners on this list have
little experience in thinking about chaos and complexity in terms of
"entropy production" (irreversibility). Thus they may feel ignorant or
having a lack of ability in doing so. But this is merely a perception
which will eventually change because of an overall evolution in our
thinking. Let me give an example.

Compare the present understanding of chemistry to the understanding
100 years ago. The electron (discovered in 1898) plays an essential
role in the present understanding. But 100 years ago the electron was
known only for one year in physics. It was virtually unknown in
chemistry. The understanding of chemistry had to go without knowledge
of the electron. Most chemists felt in the first two decades of the
twentieth century that the electron only complicated the theoretical
issues in chemistry, affording little understanding. Thus when Lewis
formulated his acid-base theory in terms of electron pair
donors-acceptors, the general consensus was that it was too esoteric
to give serious consideration. Today our understanding of chemistry
depends heavily on the electron. We also now realise that Lewis theory
is the most advance theory, covering all sorts of acid-base reactions.

Bearing the above example in mind, the important questions are:

Do we want to imbetter our understanding of social systems?
Are we willing to allow for paradigm shifts in our understanding?
What has chaos theory to say for the evolution of our thinking?

In conclusion, using NMR as an example has shown me once again how the
lack of wholeness (and the other six essentialities) causes obscurity.
The other possible example (acidity) would have shown the same thing.
By this comment I do not want to create the impression that you all
have to become chemists to understand social systems better. But I do
want to stress that our understanding of social systems will benefit
from understanding chemistry or any other seemingly unrelated subject.
It will happen by a "complexity shift" induced by the emergent on the
substrate, exactly what I tried to convey with the NMR example. Since
we cannot all become specialists in one particular subject (like
chemistry), how will we obtain this complexity shift? By entering into
a dialogue without judging the value of the contribution of others.

Gray, you have judged my NMR example to be obscure. I wish I had a
less obscure example to convey the importance of the back action of an
emergent on the substrate. I will try my best to think of a better
one. Maybe somebody else will succeed. Obviously, the example is one
issue. The other issue is whether such a back action exists and how
important it is.

Best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> 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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