EMERGES AND WHAT HAPPENS AFTERWARDS
FOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT FOOD
WHAT IS DESIRE
WHAT IS HISTORY
WHAT IS POTATO
WHAT IS PATTERN
WHAT IS CHEMISTRY
WHAT IS INSTABILITY
WHAT IS TRANSITION STATE
CHEMISTRY OF PATTERNS
THE LIFE OF THINGS
CHEMISTRY OF DESIRE
everything emerges and what happens afterwards?
Today I feel closer to answering
this question than almost 30 years ago when I began
to think about it seriously. The question itself
seems to have lost its arrogance.
My short answer is: evolving complex systems (life,
mind, society, language, culture, science,
technology, economy, etc.) emerge from extremely
simple structures (configurations) that can be
crudely represented as points (generators) connected
with lines (bond couples) in certain order.
Configurations are the skeletons of everything
commensurable with human experience. Whatever can
happen to such structures amounts to either breakup
or formation of bond couples. Systems containing
such structures can be more or less stable,
depending on the stability (strength) of their bond
Unstable evolving complex systems
can exist if they are supplied with energy,
dissipate part of it as heat, and retain the
difference to maintain the unstable labile
order. I call them exystems. (from
X-systems; X stands for ECS: Evolving Complex
Systems). Sooner or later they die anyway, i.e.,
lose their instability, altogether or in parts, but
the spread between sooner and later is enormous.
Biochemical systems are, probably, at the
lowest level of evolving complex systems. They
satisfythe description in the
previous two paragraphs. Social structures,
languages, cultural institutions are examples of the
upper middle levels.
Most probably, life emerges in unstable labile
chemical systems by gradual, step by step, growth of
complexity. At the dawn of life, periodic processes
(fluctuations of temperature and light, tides,
seasons, and natural catastrophes) keep the initial
simple systems unstable (off equilibrium) until they
find the way to use solar radiation to do that on
their own. This is possible exactly because life
originates in simple systems capable of
growth and complexification.Search
in small systems is more efficient than in large
ones.An exystem must be small to emerge.
While for the physicists who
thought about emergence of life the complexity of
living structures was a mystery (the probability of
the self-assembly of life as we know it is
zero), there is nothing mysterious for a chemist in
a stepwise increase of complexity. The mechanism of
energy utilization for maintaining a chemical system
in an unstable state is also well known. It is a
very simple chemical trick used by all life forms.
Remarkably, we can observe the process of emergence
in all detail while studying history of human
needed to discover America was money. All nature
needed to discover life was molecules of ATP
(adenosine triphosphate), the "pocket change of
living cells" coming from the $1000 bills of
food molecules (John Balmier). Plants
make it from the little grains of goldphotons
of lightwith which the Sun showers the
unstable systems search for stability,
i.e. move toward a steady state
(minimum of entropy production). The
search means breaking up some bond
couples and locking others. This can
be achieved by growth: making
more new bonds between atoms than
losing old ones. While still unstable,
larger systems are more stable
because the changes are mostly local
and do not destroy the entire large
system. The unstable systems can grow,
modify, and repair themselves. Stable
configurations tend to remain in their
stable state without change or are
destroyed by strong impacts.
Growth, therefore, may increase
What are the upper limits to growth is
an open question since the Club of Rome
first asked it in Limits to
Growth (1972), but they
Life exists in a narrow interval of
instability (edge of chaos, as some
say). It is unstable enough to change,
grow, and move, but stable enough to
have a genetic blueprint of itself.
After life emerges in chemical
systems and enters evolution, it leads
to all evolving complex systems we
know and to new and yet unknown ones.
This is why chemistry and its
abstract generalization in the form of
are essential for understanding how
everything emerges and what happens
It is impossible to know
EVERYTHING, but the basic concepts of
chemistry and Pattern Theory open a
way to understanding it as a
whole. In the understanding of human
matters pattern is the
counterpart of a mathematical formula
in the movement of planets, atoms, and
subatomic particles. We probably
understand the world because we think
My short answer is long enough, but
its explanation could be much longer.
The evolving collection of essays at complexity
is only a low evolutionary form of an
exploration of this confusing subject.
EVERYTHING is still waiting for a
young enthusiast who would pursue fun
and glory in the sky with more zeal
than tenure and beach house on earth.
Nevertheless, in this Essay I am
trying to give if not the shortest
than the next to the shortest
presentation of the entire topic. In
order to do that I start with a tiny
speck of EVERYTHING: a couple of
In his two latest books Michael Pollan has presented to
a wide audience a cornucopia of interesting ideas and
observations, among them fourideas
of general significance.
BOOK 1: The Botany
of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (Random
: Plants use
humans as much as humans use plants
Thus, as much as the gardener manipulates a plant,
trying to enhance its desired qualities, the plant
(potato, apple) manipulates the gardener to solicit
This idea immediately attracted attention of readers
because of its dog-bites-man appeal. The typical plant
is an epitome of immobility and passivity. Moreover,
the typical plants have no eyes and, most probably, no
The book with the catchy title, masterfully composed
and exquisitely written, did not disappoint the
readers. I had made a note of the author's name and
was looking forward to Pollan's next book. It
did not disappoint me, either.
BOOK 2: The
Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (The Penguin
The second book seems even richer than the first.
Three of author's ideas, although less flashy than IDEA
1, attracted my attention. My interpretation,
however, may not necessarily coincide with the
growing supply of energy increases complexity of its
The growing surplus of corn production in the
USA resulted in the emergence of new industries.
Among them, production of whiskey and industrial
farming of animals. While these facts are well known,
Michel Pollan treats them as a pattern of a very
general nature. In my interpretation, a quantitative
growth of production of a single plant results in
increasing variety of other products that
count as energy source for animals, humans, and their
machines. The non-trivial aspect of this obvious
fact is the emergence of the hard to define complexity,
for which we do not have a single measure. It arises
from the growth of a single measurable physical value:
weight of produced corn.
3: The growing
complexity of supply creates instability and
uncertainty of demand
Along with the
growing complexity of industries and their products, a
counteractive trend emerges. A great complexity of
food supply overwhelms the consumer and creates choice
bottlenecks, through which food industry in developed
countries pushes its enormous variety down the
consumer's throat. A new type of complexity, very much
reminiscent of weather, emerges: waves of food
fads, i.e., alternating approbation and disapproval of
various products, in a rather chaotic manner. A whole
new business of food fashion and anti-fashion emerges
to steer the traffic of food to and from the shelves
and toward the affluent eater's table.
The business of advertisement and counseling is
typical for the affluent society overwhelmed with
complexity of choice. This happens with all consumer
The "omnivore's dilemma," or anxiety of abundance, is
also a pattern. We can see it in the entire area of
consumption: with gadgets as well as information. We
see it also in food for thought and soul.
I simplify my life with Consumer Reports with
all their shortcomings. The giant of Google has grown
right before my eyes, fatting its calves on the
endless prairies of information and it is now looking
for companies to munch, too. The area of information
is in the constant flux: the newspapers as we know
them are the next to go. The countless blogs
would require several lives to read them all, but with
All food comes from the sun
Sunlight, exchanged for the coins of ATP, brings the
grass from the soil, the cattle feed on grass, the
chickens pick up grass, seeds, and insects, the food
digested by the animals and birds fertilizes the soil,
and humans feed on animals and plants.
consequential idea is by no means original, but
Michael Pollan illustrated it in a fine way by his
description of truly organic farming that utilizes
maximum of solar energy.
A chemist immediately notices that minerals (for
example, compounds of potassium and phosphorus,
probably, also of nitrogen) are missing from this
picture. They are carried off the soil with food and
must be replenished. In order to launch a close to
perfect cycle of matter, all plants, animals, and
humans should live and die on the farm.
WHAT IS DESIRE
This is how Michael Pollan remembers
the moment when IDEA 1 emerged in his mind:
I realized that
the bumble bee and I had a lot in common.
The bumble bee feeds on the plant and pollinates it. The
author interacts with the plantin
the role of a gardener who feeds on the plant and
modifies it to his tastes. As the insectand
the plant form asingle system
of mutual dependence, so do the gardener and the plant.
In the language of abstract systems, the bee and the
plant are interacting components of a system as
much as the gardener and the plant are components of
another system, overlapping with the first over the
plant. All three are components of a larger system.
"When I talk about these plants
cleverly manipulating us, I'm obviously using
figurative language. We dont
have a very good vocabulary for talking about how
other species act on us,about their agency. We see
the world as if were the
thinking subject, and then youve got that subjects
object. And so, you know, I pull
the weeds, I
plant the potatoes, I harvest the crops. But this
is just a limitation of our language." (source).
Having emphasized the reciprocal
relations between the gardener and the plant,
Michael Pollan seems to hold back.
I part here with Michael Pollan's brilliant books that
uniquely convey the amazement the old naturalists felt
for the wonders of nature. I use his four
ideas as an introduction into my next attempt to
explain (first of all, to myself) how everything
emerges and what happens afterwards. The second part
is the easiest to answer: history. The first part,
however, is more intricate: out of simplicity.
If so, there is a chance to find a "good vocabulary" and language
without limitations, at least, give it a try. And, by
the way, arent we in fact both thinking subjects and
We say that the gardener desires certain
properties of the plant. Why cannot we say that the
bee desires certain properties of the plant and
the plant desires certain properties of the gardener?
The anthropomorphic terms desire, goal, purpose,
love, hate, fear, joy, anxiety, despair,
satisfaction, manipulation, use, domination,
submission, will, hope, etc. relate to humans
and systems of humans. Are they the artifacts of the
language or signs for something applicable beyond
We have been endlessly arguing about similar questions
since the appearance of modern robots and computers,
i.e. for more than half a century. Do they or do they
not? Can they or cannot? We certainly attribute
memory to them, and even acknowledge that it is better
than our own. But, unlike the blueprints of exystems,
it cannot mutate. In this sense, computer is not
alive. In this sense bureaucracy is dead.
What about desire? For the last twenty years, on a
growing number of occasions I have had fleeting
feelings that my computer, and especially my current
Dell computer with Windows XP, has a desire to
infuriate me with its unpredictable and unexplainable
behavior. I punished it by turning off its energy
supply and rebooting, which seemed to work, although
not always. I begin to think that the only reason
behind that was the desire of Microsoft to push
another operating system down my wallet, but the next
moment I suddenly realize that there is no proof that
Microsoft is human and can desire. It is a corporation
with humans as one kind of components: a
system as much driven by economic hunger and prone to
entropic decay as a human body driven by hunger and
subject to aging and death. It uses me by making
me use its products. My computer uses me, too, with
the purpose of propagating the species Fenestrae
I linked to Pollan's IDEA 3) has often been
used by scientists as an epitome of complexity within
the framework of ordered chaos. A whole wave of
books and articles on chaos and complexity arose and
subsided between the late 1980s and 90s. Practically
each of them mentioned a butterfly in Hong Kong
creating a hurricane over Florida, with some
I find no use for the butterfly, but the phenomenon of
weather may help us understand the phenomenon of
history. I prefer history to a more ambiguous term:
evolution. The latter is used in natural sciences to
denote any gradual process going through a series of
identifiable steps. It applies also to a particular
case of origin and evolution of life, society, or
paper clip. The term has a whole spectrum of meanings.
On the contrary, history is usually understood as
history of humankind from cave people to kings and
slaves and further to the demise of the kings and the
redemption of the slaves. Human history includes the
histories of all man-made things, ideas, and
institutions, as well as the history of the entire
Earth under the impact of humans.
of planet Earth as a single system in which everything
is connected was passionately expressed by Russian
Vernadsky (Владимир Иванович Вернадский,
1863-1945). Vernadsky, who remains well remembered and
esteemed in America, and kind of cult figure in Russia,
regarded Earth as result of three waves of evolution
that started at different times but have been running
concurrently since: geosphere (minerals and fluids) ,
biosphere (life), and noosphere (human matters). The
latter is the stage at which humans beginto
change the entire planet by means of rational activity
(which our posterity may deem irrational). But this
subject deserves a separate and closer look.
By history I
mean not a particular history of something but a fundamental
property of exystems.
The author of
the hyperbolic metaphor known as butterfly effect was
meteorologist Edward Lorenz. He first introduced it as
a butterfly in Brazil causing a tornado in Texas. Some
suggested he responded to somebodys image of
seagull wing causing the change of world weather. A link
was also drawn to Ray Bradburys story A Sound of
Thunder (1952) about the traveler to the past who
stamps a butterfly and back in his time finds history
Butterfly and the Tank (1938) by Ernest Hemingway,
about deadly consequences of a prank, human life is a
fragile butterfly under the tank of war, quite like a
mobile home under the tornado.
The history of the butterfly
effect itself is an example of emergence and
subsequent evolution of a small component of human
culture. Geographic variations play the role of
mutations. The butterfly effect, in terms of Pattern
Theory (see next section), is a pattern of "large
consequences from small causes" and the variations
are regular configurations embraced by the pattern.
A butterfly may or may not cause a tornado. But the
original story of Ray Bradbury, itself with roots in H.
G. Wells The Time Machine, which I trace far
back to the Sumerian cuneiform dream books, seems to
imply a more rigid chain of cause and effect. Therefore,
somewhere in the history of this metaphor a more
significant mutation occurred.
The weather in the little State of Rhode Island today
has no direct relation to the weather a year or a
century ago. Even though an exact prediction is not
possible, the prognosis partially depends on the weather
yesterday and even more on the weather an hour ago. It
also depends on the weather within 200 miles west,
north, and south of Rhode Island and is still sensitive
to what happens at 2000 miles in those directions. The
rain comes from the West, hurricanes from the South, and
the freezing cold from the North. Hardly anything comes
from the East
The weather today also depends on climate and the
climate has a history. The history of climate may
include one time catastrophic events, like volcanic
eruptions. Climate also has unique long range events,
such as the emergence of oxygen in the atmosphere,
attributed to the growth of algae and plants, last ice
age, and something we do not even know.
History happens on a different scale as compared with
weather. It is unique and irreversible.Thus, the shrinking of the ozone layer and its
subsequent partial restorationas result
of the ban on chlorofluorocarbons around1990
was a short time unique event. It has confirmed the idea
of Vernadsky that any history on earth is ultimately
I would use a
metaphor of a ballroom dance competition (only because
it impresses me more than any sport except soccer) to
illustrate the difference between the weather and the
climate or everyday human life and human history. We
could also look at a dog show, but dance has a
pronounced two-dimensionality, which the dog show has
only to a limited degree.
If the weather can be compared with a
dance on a floor, in which the movement patterns may
repeat and the exact positions do not, history is the
entire sequence of performances that can happen only
once in the competition and never repeat again. The
difference is that the program of the competition is
known in advance, while history is not (unless you
believe King Solomon).Nevertheless,
everyday life, i.e. the weather of our existence, can be
predicted in many instances for a long time ahead. As
far as a competition with elimination is concerned,
although the program is known, the exact sequence of
events that will go to the annals of ballroom dancing is
Another detail will add more to the comparison: this
year ballroom competition has only a limited bearing on
the next year results.In human
history what happened four or fourteen hundred years ago
may have more influence on tomorrow than what happened
I believe that
in human matters the best way toward understanding how
everything emerges and what happens afterwards is to
avoid definitions and use illustrations. The reason
for that is the property of history which I call
novelty. As soon as we invent the typewriter and learn
to use it, the computer comes and knocks the
typewriter off into the dustbin of history. As soon as
we invent a floppy disc to store what we type, flash
memory without moving parts comes and we fill up the
garbage dumps with floppy disks. The dazzling,
extravagant, or elegant French kings, ruthless Chinese
emperors, and solemn Russian czars leave the global
stage now populated by their theatrical and
cinematographic shadows. The crowd on the global stage
pushes aside the mighty America through economic and
political novelties the significance and consequences
of which are fiercely disputed, while even climate and
weather stir up a global controversy. This is history
and it happens only once, unlike a movie that we can
rewind or run fast forward.
One might note that science also moves ahead through
changes in theories and paradigms, but this exactly
what it means to have history. Science has its
history. History does not have its science.
with human matters is that history knows no
reproducible experiments. Theoretical science, in
spite of the initial enthusiasm around the systems
theory, can tell us very little about the fate of
humans on our planet. True, this little is
extremely important, but it was said by physicists.
In order to
exist, life on earth, society, economy, and even
culture (just look at what is happening to the
struggling Public Radio and classical music in
America) need a source of energy in the currency of
money. The main long term source of energy for
evolving complex systems on earth is the sun. The
mineral or nuclear fuel is a temporary source not just
because its resources are limited (the limits are,
strictly speaking, not known) but because the products
of its burning or fission put limits on the growth of
This is an inverse omnivores dilemma: how to get the one
and only resourcemoneyfor an overwhelming
variety of desire. This is the problem of
WHAT IS POTATO
Potato, Solanum tuberosum , a
plant with delicate fragrant flowers, is one of
the heroes of Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire.
"So the question
arose in my mind that day: Did I choose
plant these potatoes, or did the potato make me do it?
fact, both statements are true. I can remember the
moment that spud seduced me, showing off its
charms in the pages of a seed catalog." (page xv).
also one of the characters in Pattern Theory.
The cover of Ulf Grenanders Elements of Pattern
Univ. Press, Baltimore, 1996)displays a potato (Figure 1).
squares on its surface are areas selected for the
analysis of color.
Figure 2, borrowed from the book (p. 139),
shows examples of potato shape. Those on the right have
I will try to describe here a very
simplified and de-mathematized interpretation of what
the mathematics of potato is about.
The problem is how to distinguish
betweena regular potato and an
The regularity of US politics is an
intriguing subject. It is often discussed whether
the Iraq War follows the pattern of the Vietnam
we have to decide what is regular and what is
not. The concept of regularity can be applied to
anything variable: shape, human behavior, diagnostic
microscopy, financial transactions, X-ray and MRI
images, food, and literary styles. Those properties are
entirely dependent on our judgment. Of course, the
concept of regularity evolves with time in each area,
which is best illustrated by food, fashion, and
Figure 2presents shapes of
four real potatoes, two of them with sprouts, from
pictures processed by a computer and reduced to
the problem of regularity, let us start with a potato
shape which we consider regular beyond a shadow
of a doubt and call it template. In other words,
the template is the embodiment of potatoness, as the
best-in-show dog exemplifies the standard of the breed.
Certainly, more than one tuber can claim to be ideal
potato, but if we have disagreements, we
can always vote. We can also regard the potato
template as a superposition of different suggestions
with the number of votes for each.
Next, in order to create a space for all regular
shapes, and not just the template, the following
mathematical procedure is used. We start with the
template, which is a closed curve, and find
transformations of the curve that generate other
curves but preserve regularity. We can do
without the exact mathematics and I would only mention
in passing that, at least for the curves, this is the
subject of group theory, a very abstract area of
Obviously, rotation and scaling up
or down (Figure 3A to 3C) preserve the shape,
although the scaling may have its limits: a pea-size
potato is certainly irregular. We have to set
the limits of regularity.
Regularity is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
This is one reason why I emphasize we.I do not do that if a property is in the eyes
of mathematics. Mathematics does not set standards
of regularity.Once regularity
is set, mathematics enforces it.
variations of curvature (how small? how local? we
decide) do not encroach on the potatoeness.
Some areas are convex and some are concave, there
are dimples and bumps, but on a smaller scale than
the entire well rounded potato. This also applies to
human body, but the fashion standards do encroach on
humanity and, I suppose, hurt millions of women.
Next, local variations of curvature (how small? how
local? we decide) do not encroach on the
potatoeness.Some areas are
convex and some are concave, there are dimples and
bumps, but on a smaller scale than the entire well
example, it is the requirement that the
configuration is closed, i.e., cyclic. For
institutions, decisions, and classifications the
tree-like connections without cycles are regular.
in Figure 3D is slightly different from the
template 3-1. This is something
trickier to standardize in order to entrust computer
with a camera to decide whether a particular potato
in the focus is regular or not. To do that we have
to develop a mathematical representation of potato
shape, Figure 3E and 3F.
We start with a crude
representation of the curve as a polygon (Figure
3E)and refine it by
increasing the number of sides (3F). By
tracking the polygon in certain direction, we deal
only with the length of a side and its angle, or
just the angle between the neighboring sides.The sides simply do not have anything else.
We admit that the sides of the polygon can vary at
random within certain limits, and we set
the limits of local variation. Of course, the
polygonality must be preserved as part of
potatoeness and the contour line should be closed.
This completes the analysis
of potato shape. Instead of the awkward potatoeness
we can now start using the term potato shape pattern.
We can also measure a deviation of a shape from the
template. We can deform the template at random and
still remain within regularity. We can synthesize a lot
of shapes. But all that is mathematics of equations.In human matters we can rarely do it,
although Ulf Grenander and his colleagues advanced
this direction for various biological and medical
images and not just potato.
To define pattern, we need several things.
Generator space, i.e. list of small
indivisible components of a structure.
Generators are minimal, atomic
elements of shape or any other representation:
molecule, social formation, skeleton, corporate
structure, terrorist network.The generator space, infinite in the case of
potato, consists of all oriented lines that form the
sides of the polygon. The potato shape generators
differ angle. Each has two "hands" to form a chain.Generators can have a certain bond space: a
limited number of bonds with restricted ability to
couple with other bonds, quite like atoms of
chemical elements. Other generators may be less
rigid in their ability to connect. Generators, the
atoms of EVERYTHING, are discovered in the process
of analyzing reality.
2. The localrules of bond
formation between generators.
The generators of potato shape connection have two
potential bonds each and they can connect
consecutively, with no unconnected bonds left.The connection is called bond couple. Figure
4 shows two generators g1 and g2 and
the way they form bond couples.These
generators connect at any angle. This is not always
the case. Atoms in molecules have narrow limits for
the angles between bonds, while the generators of
corporate structure do not have angles at all
because they do not exist in geometrical space.
A set of generators connected by bond couples in a
certain way is called configuration. Thus,
molecules can be regarded as configurations of
3. The global
rules of connection between generators
(could be absent).
4. Similarity transformation.
It is the transformation or a sequence of
transformations that generatesa
regular transformation from another regular
transformation or the template. It may include random
choices i.e., casting a random number.
For two-dimensional objects, relevant for
human and computer vision, similarity transformation
often can be expressed mathematically. In other cases
the mathematical (analytical) form of the transformation
is difficult, impractical, or impossible. For example, I
cannot imagine any equations describing transformation
of the configuration of the Vietnam War into the
configuration of the Iraq War or, for that matter, the
general patterns of victory and defeat. I do not even
know in advance whether they follow the same overall
pattern, although they certainly follow some partial
More exactly, the Vietnam War alone is not a pattern
but a template. Together with the Iraq War it can lead
to a pattern, to which the Gulf War, apparently, does
Configurations of history are, as a rule, singular and
unique. The basic ideas of Pattern Theory, however,
are neither analytical nor numerical.
We are the jury for the potatoes, but who is the
judge for human matters?
It may seem that the choice of template is also a
necessary component of pattern, but this is not
so. We need a template for the purpose of selection
against a standard, which can be arbitrary. In
computer vision the template serves the purpose of
image recognition. Natural selection does not follow a
template; it creates, modifies, and destroys it.
We can speak about the template of a mammal, but only
in very general terms. In science and law a verbal
definition serves as template. In human matters the
consensus regarding the definitions is an exception.
We can do without a template by simply comparing two
configurations and measuring an evolutionary (or
historical) distance between them. This
principle is well known in evolutionary genetics
and image recognition.
This is the right time to give another reason why I
emphasize human presence (we) in the choice of
template. I attribute a very subtle and hard to
catch property to Pattern Theory: unlike
physics, it is open to novelty. When physics
encounters a new phenomenon it has to change itself,
as it happened with quantum theory. Pattern Theory
requires a human participation in the choice of
generators, rules of connection, similarity
transformation, and global regularity each time it
encounters an object. It is involved in human
matters by its very nature and if friendly to human
presence. If a novel pattern is detected, no
conceptual correction is needed.
I can give only
a negative tentative definition of novelty: a novel
object is impossible to recognize correctly.
In this way, which
may seem an imperfection as compared with a graceful
physical theory, Pattern Theory is always ready to
analyze and embrace a new phenomenon and register its
pattern, as well as recognize an old pattern. It
is fit for complex evolving systems. On the contrary,
any graceful physical theory is applicable to an area
of the world that has the same laws of nature as
million years ago and will have the same laws for at
least a million years.
Pattern Theory does not need to define its area of
application. It fits anything that can be represented
in terms of points and lines, which is most of
Everything. Mathematical formula is a configuration,
For the above reasons, Pattern Theory is not a theory
in the sense a physical theory is. It is a tool of
understanding rather than prediction. We cannot build
a bridge over a river with Pattern Theory, but we can
build bridges to both past and future.
In what sense PT is a theory, what it can do, and why
do we need it? It will be more appropriate to ask that
after it attracts more people outside its current
academic sphere still limited by computer science.
Until then I would draw a parallel between patterns in
human matters and mathematical formulas and equations
in physics. Pattern Theory is, so to speak, the
physics and chemistry of understanding the world by
humans, computers, and aliens. Why physics?
Because it can be quantitative. More important, it can
measure instability as irregularity. But what does it
have to do with chemistry?
In order to explain
what chemistry is I would need a lot of space.
Chemical textbooks are murderously large and heavy.
But with pattern ideas already presented I can do it
Chemistry for non-chemists is Pattern Theory of
configurations with atoms as generators. This is not
what chemistry for the chemists is about, but it is
certainly one of its aspects. A molecule is a
configuration. There are similarities between some
molecules and they are expressed not by mathematical
equations, but by fragments of structure. Thus, all
molecules with hydroxyls (like methanol, ethyl
alcohol, ethylene glycol, and isopropyl alcoholall household
chemical properties along with differences. Acetone is
different and there is another series of molecules
with properties similar to acetone.
This kind of similarity transformationchange anything but
a certain block of structureis something alien
to the perception of images. But it is akin to the
perception of ideas. No wonder because shapes come
from the Euclidean space and ideas have no material
existence. Molecules, however, take an intermediate
position. They are material objects in Euclidean
space, which matters for many chemical problems,
especially in biochemistry, but they are also ideas
about how one molecule differs from another regarding
the connections between the atoms.
To illustrate this
neglected side of EVERYTHING, Figure 5
compares three similarities.
Of course, all three columns contain
representations, not "real" objects. The
difference between reality and its mental
representation, however, is the oldest unsolved
problem of philosophy and we shall eschew it.
Chemistry answers a series of questions; one of
them is what happens during a chemical
Chemical reaction is a rearrangement of bonds
between atoms of one or more components. It is a
transition from one, initial, configuration to
another, final. Usually (I omit a lot of detail)
the chemical transformations are reversible. The
final configuration immediately starts transition
back to the initial one.
It all goes
toward (more detail is omitted: it can go
sideways) the so-called chemical equilibrium
in which the mixture of the initial and final
configurations has minimal energy. (I omit
even more detail here). If there is no such
minimum, no chemical reaction will run on its own
because anything in nature can run only down the
energy slope. Unless something pushes it up.
From this crucial "unless" life emerges:
there is a way to pump energy into the system and keep
it in the high energy final state, preventing from
rolling down toward equilibrium. This is what life is
from the point of view of physics. Not accidentally life
emerges from a chemical system: chemistry can provide a
mechanism for that. This is the absolute square
one of life and it can be achieved in rather simple
systems without proteins and DNA. A biologists
would not see anything alive in such systems, but they
open a way to systems of growing complexity and
ultimately to the life forms as we know it.
The key word is ATP: adenosine triphosphate, a very simple
6) , which plays the role of money in the economy of living cell.
The ultimate source of ATP in plants is the sun light. (IDEA 4 of Michael
Pollan's book). ATP is the currency of energy and
all living cells use the same dollar bill of ATP.
Animals, however, print their biodollars with the energy
of not light, but food. The entire majestic
complexity of living nature and crazy complexity
of human society have evolved on the available
source of energy (IDEA 2). As result, natural history and,
much faster, human history became a history of instability and continuous
and contentious search for a greener pasture (IDEA 3).
energy, instability is not a universally accepted,
defined, and understood property outside physics and
mathematics. In my eyes it makes it an ideal
substitute for energy, which is a universally
accepted, understood, measured, but highly tainted by
My personal problem with energy and probability is
that both are the most fundamental concepts of science
and, as anything truly fundamental, they cannot be
defined to the satisfaction of all who dwell on this
foundation. They can be defined for particular
systems. I am interested in EVERYTHING and for me
stability/instability embraces all of Everything.
Moreover, since human matters are in the focus
of my attention, stability is better understandable
intuitively than energy.
Without going into details, when energy of the
system increases, especially, in an non-uniform,
local manner, its instability goes up and stability
goes down, which means that the probability of
the state with higher energy is less than the
probability of the state with a lower energy.
High stability means that the system cannot be expected
to change in near future, but we have no
idea when. High instability means that change is
coming, but we have no idea when. In
mathematical statistics probability and energy are
related for well-defined systems: the higher
energy, the lower probability. But in human matters we
never deal with well-defined systems. One reason is
that we do not know what people think, but there are
plenty of other reasons. One of them is that
we never encounter closed systems in real life. An open
system cannot be defined without some substantial
knowledge about the larger system that encloses it.
We talk about stability, stabilization, instability,
and destabilization regarding such poorly defined
systems as markets, fashion, weather, economics,
politics, war, tastes, careers, family relations, and
love life. It is also known in human matters as
stress, tension, anxiety, uncertainty, and
frustration. This justifies in my eyes the use of
instability instead of practically synonymous energy
and probability. Energy is for inanimate
matter of for a well-defined part of life, as in
When we deal with the sun light and mineral fuel as
the source of physical energy for our civilization, we
can measure it in physical units only. We can predict
with certainty that any instability of the energy
supply will cause instability of our entire life, as
it happens on small scale after a hurricane or tornado
interrupts power supply to our homes.
In chemistry, we use energy instead of instability.
The great blessing of chemistry is that chemical
experiment today is simple (small kitchen counter will
do), usually fast (most results overnight), low cost,
reliable, reproducible, and scalable. This is why the
chemists get their answers from experiment rather than
from equations. Besides, no equation can produce the
material sample in a vial. Moreover, we do not need to
know the absolute values of energy and can operate
IS TRANSITION STATE
The most important
question we can ask regarding large complex systems is
not what can happen to them
anything imaginable can indeed happen but
when will it happen. Most things that we
imagine, like hitting the jackpot in lottery, will
never happen during our lifetime. The answer is: it
is what can happen faster that most probably will
Transition state is the
fleeting, unstable, irregular configuration
between the stable initial and final ones. It is always
very unstable in chemistry because it is
irregular. If the transition states were stable,
anything that happen in the world would immediately
slide down to the most stable equilibrium and freeze
there. That will be the true end of the world. The
transition state limits the speed of a transformation
from one stable structure to another, see Figure 7.
Pattern Theory of transition states has not yet been
developed, but it is obvious that they can be
experiments with pattern simulate transitions between two
regular configurations through an intermediate irregular
Figure 8 is a visual metaphor of a
transition state between two regular images.
I believe that full-blownchemistry
patternsin human mattersis the
most exciting goal for an adventurous exystemologist.
Alas, a grant is by no means guaranteed. But you can do it
just for the funand
it.The concept applies to reorganized
institutions, reforms, wars, politics, electoral
campaigns, decision making: to EVERYTHING.
Sometimes a historical change is quasi-reversible: while
complex configurations do not repeat, patterns do. For
example, the formerly stagnant history of Soviet Russia
now offers patterns of change. The old authoritarian
patterns, however, come back.
When we speak
about butterfly effect as a pattern "large
consequences from small causes," how can we measure
the size of consequences and causes?
The most general measure is instability. It can be
compared with the waves of a stormy see. The stormy
periods alternate with quiet stretches. History of any
nation looks like waves of instability revolutions, wars, invasions, calamities, fast
growth, radical reformsalternating
periods of quasi-equilibrium, peaceful development,
gradual progress, or gradual decline.
Figure 9, taken from History
Points and Lines (Figure 21-7 ), is a typical
example of history as weather. Any point of the wavy
line stands for a certain social configuration. Some of
configurations of history are given in the book.They would look less naΓ―ve if drawn by
Figure 10, which is a
modified Figure 23-1 from Points and Lines,
presents the first wave of Figure 9.Obviously, the alternation of ups and downs
in a sequence of events repeats on different scales
in a sequence of events. I call it quasi-fractal
structure of history (Essay
49: Terrorism and its Theorism ,
Appendix 3). I repeat here the two
figures from Essay 49,see
Figures 11 and 12 (3 and 4
in Essay 49).
The word quasi points to
the main distinction of history: configurations
never exactly repeat, quite like the shorelines, but
in time, not in space.The map
of history is never finished and a new Columbus is
The broken red line represents
the overall trend. But the trend of what?Instability is just energy, modified to fit
EVERYTHING, and especially human matters.
I see in Technos a new super-kingdom oflife or, to be more exact, a separate
evolving complex system, on par with living
organisms and human society. I am sure that today
Vernadsky would separateit
from the noosphere, but he died in 1945.
As animals diverged fromplants
humans later diverged from animals, the things
have been diverging from humans since the
appearance of digital code, the thingish
equivalent of genetic code.
Here we come back
to Michael Pollan, a writer with interests
comprising a very big chunk of EVERYTHING. I
believe that Things use humans as much as
humans use Things. I believe they desire
each other as much as plants and humans.They can also hate each other. I
believe that the belt of the suicide bomber is
the killer as much as the bomber himself.More important, Things can compete for
resources, and not just space, energy, and
matter: the most strained and hopelessly
limited resource in our times is time itself.
I believe that the Things with stored digital
blueprints are the newest really big historic
evolutionary cigar-, peapod-,
lens-, or torpedo-shaped
trend after the Industrial Revolution (Figure
13). They have been moving to
the same position of domination that the
humans are used to in relation to organisms
and things. They take good care of those who
takes care of them. They are our gardeners.
The peapod in Figure 13 (compare
with Figure 10) symbolizes a historic period
with events inside. We can see today only its
present end. Can we foresee its distant end?
This is, of course, too much for this Essay.
I have been writing about this troubling for me subject
mostly in simplicity,
but this time I can refer to the third section of myspirospero
THE CHEMISTRY OFDESIRE
say that I desire a candy as much as the candy
desires me would be simply a statement of our
belonging to the same system. Economists and
businessmen know that very well. But what is
desire from the point of view of a chemist? For a
chemist the world is not just pictures from putty
balls and toothpicks: it is a process.I am not familiar with psychology of action
and this is pure my guesswork.
My desire to possess a candy and my
attempt to get hold of it includes four participants, Figure
14.Two of them
are "real"� material objects: myself and my goal.Two others are my ideas of myself and my goal.
of several stages.First, I
perceive my goal, next I evaluate it against my context
(current state, long time preferences, recent history,
long time history, negative factors), and then I
actually decide whether I really desire to achieve the
goal, and if so, I act. The success may be guaranteed
for a candy, but not necessarily with more complex goals
requiring more resources of energy and time.
In Figure 15 the stages are:
1. Myself and the goal are the
only components of the system.
2. The image of the system
appears on the border between myself and the goal.
3. My image of myself joins
the system in the context.
4. The image of myself
connects with the image of the goal: I imagine
toward the goal.
6A. The image of the goal does
not contradict the physical state: success.
6B. The image of
the goal contradicts the physical state: failure.
A pattern chemist sees more.
Depending on various external and
contextual circumstances, I can interrupt the process at
any stable stage.Whether I move from
stage to stage, it depends on the instability of the
transition state between the stages.For
the entire pathway from perception to action, the
instability profile looks as in Figure 16.Whether it goes to the very end depends on the
relations between minimumsand
maximums along the way.Personal
relations, professional life, and especially love are full
of chemistry of this kind.
The above is part of the picture in my
mind,whichMichael Pollan's epic
tribute to the grass under the sun illustrates. We can see
from a new angle the wars for land, of which human historymostly consists. They were waged, literally, for
the place under the sun, only more for grass than for
humans. Grass was the first energy resource used by
humanity for conquering distance on landon horsebackandconducting even more wars. Grass and grain were the
oil of Middle Ages, tapped right from the sun. Our Western
civilization started, in
Africa and Asia, in areas where grass for food
could grow well along the great rivers.
History is a record of human bonding to
land under the sun, their subsequent infatuation with dead
Things growing with roots immersed into dark oil, and
gradual emergence of the life of Things, with their own
digital genome and the pending emergence of the digital
What is going to happen next?Global bonding of humans to each other? Global
beehive? War of Things for parcels of our personal time?
Dehumanization, dematerialization, numerization,
digitalization? Divorce between humans and Things?Growth of a human-thingish Leviathan? Exhaustion of
resources and the end of the peapod of the Industrial
What is going to happen?
can happen faster.
1. What do we gain, if anything, by regarding
history in the exystemic framework?
2. Buildings and idle machines may need maintenance, but
not a constant intake of energy. Why do we need to
supply energy to maintain order in an exystem?
3. Why would a system in steady state move to another
steady state? What is the driving force of change in
exystems? Why are they inherently unstable?
4. Do we really need historical stability?
5.Why are we obsessed with growth? What are the hidden
consequences of growth?