Cook and the Quantal System

Norman Cook, a researcher in the area of neurosurgery, presented in 1980, his version of the Natural Systems in the book Stability and Flexibility. His theory describes how the functional duality of flexibility/stability influences five main levels of natural organization in our surrounding world. Together these levels are called the quantal by Cook.

These five levels represent the following fundamental units of nature and society and show structural and functional similarities.

  • atom
  • cell
  • human organism
  • human family
  • nation state

Cook sees the atom as the only complete stable organization of space/time at the temperatures and pressures found in our own solar system. It is also the smallest entity known to physical science which deserves the name system. The cell is seen as the optimal unit of complex molecular organization on earth. It has emergent properties necessary to be the basic building block of life. Man, at the third level, is seen as the quintessence of biological evolution. The family system is seen as an entity unified by genetic factors as well as by the psychological need for self- expression. The nation state, finally, is seen as the natural result of interaction between families, clans, etc. fulfilling the human need for an arena where political and philosophical ideas can be realized.

The fundamentally antagonistic tendencies toward constancy and change on each level must be handled in such a way as to preserve internal stability of existing information. This also applies to flexibility and the possibility to share information with the external world. The functional duality of control allows for

  • long-term viability of each system, a requisite for
  • evolution of growing complexity within each system, making possible
  • the functioning of the system within its suprasystem

The control centres managing this functional stability/flexibility duality on the five levels are as follows.

  • in the atomic nucleus, neutrons and protons
  • in the cellular nucleus, DNA and RNA
  • in the brain, the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere
  • in the family the parents, woman and man
  • in the government, the legislative branch and the executive branch

In his examination of the quantal, Cook finds a significant structural similarity between the atom and the other levels of his system. The neutron is specialized for atomic stability while the proton is specialized for contact with an external electron structure. No doubt a kind of genuine information exchange takes place in the atom allowing for a kind of systemic synergism.

As the building block of life, the cell is a highly ordered and complex system of biomolecular information. Information is stored in DNA molecules and expressed in the form of protein through RNA molecules. Genetic change is seen as a result of a creative cellular response to the biochemical milieu. Biological evolution per se may be seen as a continuous struggle to cope with the challenge of a changing and dangerous chemical environment. Cellular changes may then correlate with different environmental changes.

Man has a single personality in spite of his bicameral brain with two control elements. The co-ordination of both hemispheres of the brain is fundamental for the normal functioning of the unified individual.  The right hemisphere is conventionally defined as soft, female, emotional; the left as dominant, male, intellectual. A rightsided lifestyle could be represented by Eastern meditational religions and use of drugs, music and poetry, and ecological awareness. The left-sided lifestyle could then be represented by the hard-working business man with his fixation on rational thinking, money and power.

The family is the natural means for one of the most essential activities of life: an expression of the human self through the distribution of one’s own genes and distribution of one’s modes of thought. To produce offspring who may (or may not) share one’s qualities and world-view is to live beyond one’s own biological existence. On the broader family level, anthropology has not found a culture where the social roles of woman and man have not been differentiated. There are also very few cultural exceptions to the dominant pattern of the internal, domestic female and the mobile, external man. As part of this stability/flexibility duality, the woman has been the idealist and the keeper of a stable, self-consistent worldview. Man has been the practical half and the realizer of family values in the external world.

In the social system of the nation state, Cook associates stability/ flexibility to the metaphor of conservatism and liberalism. He also uses the analogy of the capitalist and the communist world to demonstrate some real consequences of the concept. The challenge on this level is to maintain a balance between collectivism and individualism. Most Western societies have approached this task by way of a division of the government into a legislative and an executive branch. The laws should be formed and enacted so as to reflect the needs of the nation rather than that of selected interest groups. Direct contact is seen as a threat to the autonomy of the legislative branch. The executive branch, however, should be in close contact with the needs of the people and facilitate processes such as lobbying, polling and voting. Stability on the national level is mainly concerned with protection of the ecological base to ensure the material existence of the nation and the existing rights of the people. Flexibility is a response to the basic needs of the people and a rational reaction to new economic and technological challenges.

A recapitulation of the control-centre duality and the resultant emergent qualities within the quantal levels is presented in Table 3.1.

Table 3.2 shows the malfunctions which arise when the predominance of one of the control-centre functions leads to an imbalance in the system.

In the development toward higher levels of the quantal, Cook identifies the following four evolutionary stages.

  • The Primitive stage has only one control centre and consequently neither functional duality nor emergent qualities representative of higher levels.

  • The Classical stage has an emerging control duality but an insufficient internal communication.
  • The Modern stage has an existing control duality and sufficient internal The nature of its flexibility is however not correlated to the system as part of the surrounding metasystem.
  • The Completed stage has full internal communication. The changes in the flexibility element are synchronized to changes in the system’s environment.

The development of the four stages is of special interest with regard to the human organism. Cook’s theory is supported by a similar train of thought originating from J. Jaynes in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (see bibliography). Here the correlation between human evolution and the cerebral hemisphere function is emphasized. With the liberation of the left hemisphere from total domination by the right we see the beginning of modern man with analytic, and later scientific, capability. An overview of this four-stage development within all quantals is presented in Table 3.3.

Inasmuch as systems in the earlier stages of their development lack complete control duality, the suprasystem must answer for this function as part of a more complex, higher level system.

Source: Skyttner Lars (2006), General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, Wspc, 2nd Edition.

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