LifeOS: exploring the system that executes DNA

May 13, 2008

Systems Theory

Filed under: Ch 05 Cyber Systems — Tags: , , — insomniac @ 1:20 pm

 “Systems theory is an interdisciplinary field of science. It studies the nature of complex systems in nature, society, and science. More specifically, it is a framework by which one can analyze and/or describe any group of objects that work in concert to produce some result. This could be a single organism, any organization or society, or any electro-mechanical or informational artifact.

“The systems view was based on several fundamental ideas. First, all phenomena can be viewed as a web of relationships among elements, or a system. Second, all systems, whether electrical, biological, or social, have common patterns, behaviors, and properties that can be understood and used to develop greater insight into the behavior of complex phenomena…” 

 Back in the 1940s, when systems theory got its start, the concept of studying systems as functioning units was fairly new, but the idea that the actions of systems as diverse as cells, machines, social groups and computers could share some “patterns, behaviors, and properties”, was and still is, revolutionary. 

 In this work, we are expanding the systems concept to include the biosphere and beyond, all the way to the big Whole, the Universe. We are on the lookout for the common “patterns, behaviors, and properties”, as the organizational elements underlying the physical Universe. What we are looking for is the set of rules that govern these common attributes.

 Within the highly complex Universal System, Life qualifies a special kind of subsystem.

 more from Wikipedia:
“Complex adaptive systems are special cases of complex systems. They are complex in that they are diverse and made up of multiple interconnected elements and adaptive in that they have the capacity to change and learn from experience.”
This is the kind of system i’m talking about. These systems show consistency of operation, inferring some sort of systematic operating rules, laws or protocols: LifeOS.


 Although the concept of looking at whole systems may not seem like a big deal, it is opposite to the way science has been doing things for centuries. When scientists set out to study something, they break it down into its component parts and study those units in minute detail. It is called, “reductionism”. The idea is that creation started with the smallest particles which organized themselves as they evolved. Reductionism is seen following that conceptual path backwards to its origin, a sort of reverse engineering. Seems logical.

 In the systems approach we take a different perspective. We take the something we want to study and place it in the larger framework of the system within which it functions. This amounts to an about face.

 Science is very good at breaking things down into smaller and smaller units and has reached some conclusions based on this point of view. Most of our western scientific world view is based on this concept that the whole is made up of a collection of individual parts. Science is very satisfied with the world view thus created, but looking at the larger systems view alters the picture in some fundamental ways. 

 In the systems view, the very first “thing” to exist was the System. No part exists without being part of the System. The system is controlled/managed by information. The information, in the form of system protocols, comes first. In biological systems, we find this information stored in DNA code.

 Code Driven Systems

 In a code driven system, three elements must be present before the system can function; there must exist a language, a specific string of code in that language and a processing unit that has the resources available to execute the string of code, including reading it in the first place. In all biological systems yet studied, these three elements are in place. In a living cell, DNA represents the language and a specific string of code that the cell selects and processes. It is hard to imagine how these three could have evolved independently, without a system being in place. 

 Two of the elements, the code and the processing unit, are bound together by the third, the language. Reductionists will come up with all kinds of theories about how individual parts can build themselves without a system, and then “invent” the language that they need to become a system. In the systems view, the language, the information, comes first. The system is a concept before it functions. As it functions, the system expresses those concepts as physical reality.

End of Chain Codons

 As pointed out earlier, the three codons that signify the end of a polypeptide chain are part of the language and had to be functional within the first cell in order to produce protein. Since even the smallest cell has to produce more than one polypeptide chain, the “end of chain” marker had to be working,(in the right place in the code, read and recognized by the cell), before the first cell could build itself. The concept of an “end of string marker” had to exist before one could function. 

 The code came first, living tissue second. Looking at the system as coming first, means that the Whole becomes the “fundamental” unit rather than the smallest building block. The Whole manufactures building blocks as needed. The value of the individual parts is their ability to interact with other parts in order to accomplish some task to benefit the larger System. System wide organization becomes the controlling factor, rather than the actions of individual parts multiplied. 

 In other words, system organization is specified by DNA, and has been a fundamental element from the beginning of Life. The evolutionary structure that Life takes is specified in DNA, rather than invented by adaptation to local environments. Adaptation is an inherent function of the system and not a function of relative agent intelligence.

 Evolution is the product of the original organization contained in DNA, expressed through time. This does nothing to clarify the origins of Life; indeed it indicates that they may be obscured by a great deal more time than we could have imagined.

 I’m getting ahead of myself, what we want from Systems Theory at this juncture, is to give us some help finding our way. Since everything is connected, we have one total, all inclusive System/Universe that we can study using a tried and proven technique. We can use the framework of systems analysis to describe the Whole System. 

 If everything is connected to everything else, in order not to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, the system has to have a super efficient way of managing communications. The method must be functional from the smallest subsystem all the way up to the Whole, the Universe.


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