Steven Johnson, a science fiction writer, wrote an article entitled “The Myth of the Ant Queen” which talks about the systematic way that an ant colony conducts its society even without authoritarian rule. He continues on to compare the colony to human society and ultimately the complexity theory to show and to identify intelligence in a more societal manner than individual. Stephen Gould , on the other hand, with his article entitled “What does the dreaded ‘E’ word mean anyway,” he talks about the true explanation of Darwin’s theory of Evolution and how it differs from the explanation that exists today as a result of society’s need to abide by a top-down model of the existence of man.
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Despite the fact that Johnson’s article is more sociological in nature and Gould is more taxonomic, the theme of both articles echo the same sound – that the current mind set of society, due to its traditional training of linear thinking, rejects the theories of complexity that once embraced unfolds a richness in knowledge that can explain the existence of man and his meaning as well as his nature.
To prove this Stephen Gould (2000) starts his article with a recollection of the Scopes trial, where a teacher was sued for teaching evolution to his students other than the divine origin of man as stated in the bible. He claims that society has difficulty and a massive hesitancy to accept Darwin’s theory of evolution. Gould in elaborating as to why society refuses to accept Darwin’s theory says:
“Darwin’s contemporaries (and many people today as well) would not surrender their traditional view of human domination, and therefore could conceptualize genealogical transmutation only as a process defined by predictable progress toward a human acme–in short, as a process well described by the term “evolution” in its vernacular meaning of “unfolding an inherent potential.” (3)
This means that because people wish to think themselves superior to all other species, they cannot accept a theory, despite scientific evidences, that man evolved like any other animal and not as a creation of a celestial being. What makes it more difficult for society to swallow is the complexity of evolution as Darwin stated it;
“The Darwinian principle of natural selection yields temporal change–evolution in the biological definition–by the twofold process of producing copious and undirected variation within a population and then passing along only a biased (selected) portion of this variation to the next generation. In this manner, the variation within a population at any moment can be converted into differences in mean values (average size, average braininess) among successive populations through time.” (4)
The complexity where the exact undirectness of the process of evolution that Darwin suggested goes well against belief at that time which carries on to this day that science is very direct, predictable and precisely measurable.
Likewise, Stephen Johnson touches on man’s need to find that direct, predictable and precise science to measure everything – from the insect world represented by ants to the human world and finally to technology. (Johnson, 2001)
The desire to find pacemakers in such systems has been powerful – in both the group behavior of the social insects, and in the collective human behavior that creates a living city.
Johnson uses pacemakers in his article to mean the cause that makes systems operate in a very organized and efficient manner. However, he posits that systems are able to function properly even without these pacemakers. His explanation is very simple in that it is “difficult to think in models of self-organization, to imagine a world without pacemakers.” (253) He calls this kind of system without any pacemakers organized complexity which he defines in this manner:
Much more important the mere number of variables is the fact that all these variables are all inter-related…These problems, contrasted with the disorganized situations with which statistics can cope, show the essential feature of organization. We will therefore refer to this group of problems as those of organized complexity.
As seen in the passages prior and in those in Johnson’s, both writers agree that there is a complexity to nature and man that society cannot seem to accept or fathom because of how society defines what science is and any deviation from this definition is anathema. In the case of Gould’s article, Darwin’s theory which is not as direct and precise as society would like it to be has been shunned from the academic curriculum by law, while Johnson illustrate that society continues to look for “pacemakers” to explain occurrences in society. Both articles refer for science as well as society to rely heavily in empirical data as proof for phenomena.
All these are certainly complex problems. But they are not problems of disorganized complexity, to which statistical methods hold the key. They are all problems which involve dealing simultaneously with a sizable number of factors which are interrelated to an organic whole. “ (260)
In the most revealing verbal clue of all, the discourse of this particular scientific culture seems to shun the word “evolution” when historical sequences become too meandering, too nondirectional, or too complex to explain as simple consequences of controlling laws. (Gould, 7)
What both articles are saying is that society will have to change the manner in which it looks at science. Due to the complexity of nature, it is best to embrace this complexity to better understand nature and man. Gould succinctly put it by saying:
Interdisciplinary unification represents a grand and worthy goal of intellectual life, but greater understanding can often be won by principled separation and mutual respect, based on clear definitions and distinctions among truly disparate processes, rather than by false unions forged with superficial similarities and papered over by a common terminology. (4)
Johnson on the other hand drives his point by breaking down the top-down model:
The great central concerns of the biologist…are now being approached not only from above, with the broad view of the natural philosopher who scans the whole loving world, but also from underneath, by the quantitative analyst who measures the underlying facts. (Johnson, 260)
All in all, the article of Gould would seem totally different in aspect and style as compared to that of Johnson’s. The aspects cover two particular branches of science – one is Darwin’s evolution while the other focuses more on social science as well as computer science. Moreover, Gould’s article revolves around the definition of evolution while Johnson concentrates on the definition of intelligence. Thus, upon the first reading, the two articles would seem disconnected and totally unrelated. And yet, the themes that both articles speak of are the same. Both articles, criticize the manner in which science and research are approached as well as society’s definition of science. In both articles, both writers were able to articulate the complexity of nature and of man which is the reason why it is only upon its understanding and the liberation from traditional views could man better understand the world that he belongs to.
Both writers believe that the current system of academics has been based and is continuously being based in a top-down model of theoretic which doesn’t fully encompass the reality of phenomena in man and his environment. And as Johnson expresses in his article, every man is connected to his environment and to other living things as well as the products that he invents. As such, the connection that binds all life and the products thereof consists of too many entangled channels, intricate designs and complex processes that cannot be explained simply by a top-down model which simplifies the whole process but does not capture and fully explain the reality and the mystery of man and nature.
Johnson, Steven. “The Myth of the Ant Queen.” Emergence: The Connected Lives of the Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. New York, Scribners, 2001: 29-57. <http://www.oreilly.net/pub/a/network/2002/02/22/johnson.html
Stephen Jay Gould “What does the dreaded “E” word mean, anyway”. Natural History Issue Feb 2000. FindArticles.com. 13 Feb. 2008.< http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1134/is_1_109/ai_59210814>