it's the stuff in between that's important

One of the lessons of the modern world is that the mental objects that we have been most interested in up to this point are not the hard part of systems to understand. The hard part is rather the glue of processes between those objects, and those processes connecting these objects are often where the unbelievable complexity of systems comes from.

An example is the folding of proteins and their expression, which has proven a far deeper well of mysteries than the enumeration of the human genome's DNA. Other metaphors that remind me of this include the old saying that jazz is about "the space between the notes", and the emotional complexity of great plays often having little to do with whats written in the script. There's also something that feels connected to the adjacent possible for me, the call to continue looking at the connections between things as the primary metric of interest in systems.

From The century of the gene:1

The word β€˜gene’ does not begin to do justice to the ingenuity of the mechanisms required to put biological organisms together β€” no more than the concept of the neuron does to the ingenuity and dynamic complexity of neural organisation, and no more than talk of individual minds to the complexities of language and cognition.

From Thinking in Systems, emphasis mine:

System structure is the source of system behavior. System behavior reveals itself as a series of events over time.

  • It is the structure, not necessarily the agents or payloads, that often deliver the complexity in systems.


  1. I like what I assume was the original title as it is the slug of the article: The ontological inadequacies of the word 'gene'. ↩