Complex Systems Biology and Hegel’s Philosophy

Kazuyuki Ikko Takahashi



Hegel was a German philosopher who was a major figure in the philosophical movement known as German idealism. In this study I will argue that Hegel’s philosophy has similarity to the self-organization theories of Prigogine and Kauffman, and is therefore an idea in advance of its times.

The development of thought and thing is at the core of Hegel’s work. In The Phenomenology of Mind, he tackles the development of recognition and being, subject and object, and self and other, - from simple to complex forms. In The Science of Logic, Hegel deals with the progress of categories from abstract to concrete, - and pure being to absolute idea. In The Philosophy of Nature, his interest is in how nature evolves through the mechanism of self-organization. Hegel was writing before Darwin proposed the theory of evolution, and his dialectic is aimed at analyzing and describing development in the logical sense. The common feature of these works is their analysis of the fundamental structures by which order is generated.

Hegel struggled to produce the concept of life from that of matter. He proposed that matter should develop into organism, but only in a logical sense with subjectivity and centralization producing spontaneous order.

In The Philosophy of Nature, Hegel divides natural philosophy into three parts, mechanics (space and time, motion, and astronomy), physics (from physical to chemical process), and organics (minerals, vegetables, and animals). In Hegel’s view, nature develops logically. Nature itself is a system of self-organization through the random motion of the contingent.

Hegel would like to say that the basis of life is the non-equilibrium self-referential structure. In more modern terminology, we could interpret this as meaning that the first organism emerged from interaction between high polymers.

Kaneko proposes a model of complex systems biology, which I will argue, Hegel was proposing in his metaphysics 200 years ago. Kaneko conceptualizes life as a living system that develops when interaction between the elements in a system is sufficiently strong. Living creatures exhibit flexibility and plasticity through fluctuations in these elements. Complex systems biology uses a dynamical systems approach to explain how living things acquire diversity, stability and spontaneity.

First, simple single-celled organisms arose through interactions between proteins and nucleic acids. These are the archae-bacteria in modern terminology, or the universe itself in Hegel’s terminology. Next, the development of eukaryote cells from the prokaryotes is explained by symbiogenesis or endosymbiotic theory. According to this theory, mitochondria and plastids were formerly free-living bacteria that were taken inside another cell as an endosymbiont. Hegel would call this the universe’s self-particularizing. In other words, cells consist of cytoplasm enclosed within a membrane. They represent the first individual or self. The symbiogenesis theory means that the other comes into the self and then a new more complex self emerges.

Next, multicellular organisms appeared. These were networks of cells or systems of selves. They reproduce sexually and necessarily die. The process of individualization is complete.

   This is just a return to universality. The dynamism between universality and individuality is self-referential. Universality (the first simple prokaryote) becomes individuality (the complex animal), and it then returns to universality (human beings with spirit).

An animal reproduces itself and necessarily dies, and then as an individual, the animal returns to the universality of genus. However, the individual animal is unaware of this, only spirit knows it. Here, it is important to observe that spirit emerges from nature. Nature has the purpose of producing organism from matter and then spirit from organism. It is teleology without theology depending only on contingent and complex systems biology.






Hegel, natural philosophy, complex systems biology, the theory of evolution

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