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Complex systems of nested hierarchies
Laszlo Bencze  

 

Why complex systems of nested hierarchies like cars or living things cannot be produced from the lowest to highest level.

 

An automobile is an example of a complex system with nested hierarchies. At the highest hierarchical level, a car is a device for transporting people and things. It consists of several sub-hierarchies:

 

1. Steering mechanism
2. Braking system
3. Engine
4. Transmission  Etc.

 

The most complex of these is the engine. Within the engine we have further sub-hierarchies like the crankshaft assembly, a precisely machined and balanced steel bar which converts rotary to linear motion. Then we have the piston assembly which includes the piston itself, connecting rod, piston pin, and rings. The rings are a hierarchy down from the pistons. They are precision parts and typically sold as sets. The set of spark plugs and wires is yet another sub hierarchy of the engine. And each spark plug is a hierarchy of it's own consisting of insulator, threads, electrode and so on. And the same applies even to spark plug wires which consist of insulator, copper wire, and connectors.

 

The car does not function unless all the hierarchies of systems are included in the proper order. Nor can they be included helter-skelter. They have to be in the proper assembly order. The piston rods must be connected to the crankshaft. The cylinders must have spark plugs. The wheels must have tires. A car which has the pistons in the trunk and the tires on the back seat is useless. An engine without piston rings will not function.

 

Living things, too, consist of systems of nested hierarchies. The breathing system consists of lungs and diaphragm. The lungs consist of little sacs called alveoli which in turn consist of thin tissue and capillary systems. Through the capillaries flows yet another complex system: blood which contains the sub-hierarchy of molecules of hemoglobin which must be arranged into  precise molecular configurations critical to capturing and releasing oxygen.

 

Anyone desiring to build anything as complicated as a car or house realizes that the task must be carefully planned from the start. It will not do to specify a huge diesel engine only to realize at the assembly phase that it will not fit into a small sports car. Nor will it do to lay the foundation for a house and then decide it ought to have a basement. A builder needs to know how the house or car will end up before the first labor begins. That's what blueprints are for.

 

Nor can this planning start until the purpose of the project is well understood. A house cannot be modified into a car half way through construction. That is why the planning of complex building projects always proceeds from the top down at the highest hierarchical level from ideas to sketches to preliminary drawings to modifications which culminate in detailed engineering drawings and lists of specifications and parts. All this occurs prior to construction because once the project has begun changes are impossible or difficult and extremely costly.

 

Yet evolution claims that purpose is unnecessary; planning is unnecessary; knowledge of hierarchies of complexity is unnecessary. All that is necessary to life is the lowest level of the complex system plus chance. Random effects will mold molecules into the complicated hierarchies which lie above.

 

We now understand that the molecule lying at the lowest level of hierarchy is DNA. The random changes are simply substitutions of one DNA base for another resulting in a mutation. A useful mutation will aid survival and reproduction. The cycle of mutation/selection is the engine that drives evolution. So we are told. But wait: mutation takes place at the lowest level of a living organism's hierarchy. How can changes at this level be coordinated into the vast array of hierarchies above?

 

Imagine handing an ancient Roman engineer a spark plug and expecting that by tinkering with it he might eventually develop a car. How could this possibly happen without a vision of a car and how its hierarchies interrelate? Even if that ancient Roman somehow stumbled on a modification that improved the spark plug he would have no way to recognize the improvement because without all the hierarchies that make up a car, the spark plug is useless.

 

No amount of fiddling and tweaking will ever turn a spark plug into a car. Why then should we agree that the process of creating the highest hierarchy by modifying the lowest - a process which has never been observed in the history of technology - should work so well in biology?

 

Editorial Note: About nested hierarchies see also:
http://progettocosmo.altervista.org/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=122