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Branching Growth of the Penultimate Level

A fundamental result of a metasystem transition (MST) is that the process of replication of the now subsystems comes under the control of the metasystem. This concentration results in the growth of the penultimate level, or an explosive increase in the number of subsystems embedded in the overall metasystem.

This "law of the branching growth of the penultimate level" might be seen as the beginning of a more detailed dynamics of MST's. It states that after the formation, through variation and selection, of a control system C, controlling a number of subsystems Si, the Si will tend to multiply and differentiate. The reason is that only after the formation of a mechanism controlling the Si it becomes useful to increase the variety of the Si. Complementarily, the larger the variety of Si to be controlled, the more important it is to develop and refine the control mechanism C. The development of C and the multiplication of the Si are thus mutually reinforcing processes. The result is that an MST is characterized by a positive feedback where a small evolutionary change is strongly accelerated, after which it slows down again by the time a new level of equilibrium is reached.

Initially, the integration of replicated subsystems Si can take place only on a small scale. This is the law of combinatorics. The trial and error method can work only on combinations of relatively few elements; otherwise the number of possible combination becomes so huge that there is no chance to find the needle of a stable configuration in this bundle of hay.

However, when the needed combination is found, and a new controlling agent has emerged, it becomes, typically, possible to control greater and greater numbers of integrated subsystems, and this is advantageous for stability because of the geometric and combinatorial factors. An integration on a grand scale starts. The emergent agent is on the ultimate control level of the emergent system; the integrated subsystem make up the penultimate level. A metasystem transition leads to multiplication of these penultimate-level subsystems. When nature had discovered the principle of coding protein forms with sequences of four nucleotides, the growth of the number of nucleotides began, resulting in huge molecules with many thousands of nucleotides. When the concept of a cell that can cooperate with other cells emerged, multicellular organisms started being formed with growing numbers of integrated cells, until they reached the sizes of present day animals. The same with human society Reference: Turchin V. (1977): The Phenomenon of Science. A cybernetic approach to human evolution, (Columbia University Press, New York).

Copyright© 1996 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

V. Turchin, F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn,

Jan 26, 1996 (modified)
Aug 1993 (created)


Metasystem Transition Theory

The Metasystem Transition

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