Howard Bloom’s “Global Brain” [ISBN 0471419192] is a great and stimulating read. He describes “complex adaptive systems” as having five characteristics -
Diversity generators, conformity enforcers, inner judges, resource shifters and intergroup tournaments.
These are an interesting five characteristics to highlight (there are, of course, other characteristics of “complex adaptive systems”) and Bloom takes his time to describe in gripping and convincing detail how each of these characteristics has contributed to the evolution of life on this planet.
You could read this book as a critique of orthodox Darwinism – the selfish gene, individualised kind of Darwinism – with a very convincing case being made for group selection as a key part of the engine of evolution. He really does make a good clear case for group as opposed to individualised “survival of the fittest” evolution.
I especially like his first two characteristics – diversity generators and conformity enforcers.
All human beings create a sense of self out of the need to be an individual, to be unique, to be different, and the need to belong, to share, to connect and to fit in with others. Diversity generation creates difference, whilst conformity enforcement creates connections and rules.
Diversity generators and conformity enforcers also remind me of Thomas Berry’s lovely idea of wildness and discipline
However…….I ended up not satisfied with the relentlessly competitive theme. His other three characteristics all contribute to a series of survival of the fittest battles. I think there is truth in this but think for a moment about the human body. Our heart and our liver don’t fight each other for resources with the winner taking all. Something else happens – mutually beneficial relationships are established.
Mutually beneficial relationships are the key characteristic of integration, and integration strikes me as a key way in which Life evolves. Through increasing amounts of mutually beneficial connections, complex adaptive systems become both more complex and more adaptive.
It’s not all about competition.