This implies that an organism consists of a heterogeneous set of mechanisms. The dimensions Yoga Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana Pose of an organism are open systems. Each subsystem has an internal cohesion in which it is grounded, but it also has roots that dig into the external regulators of its ecological environment. There is, for example, a set of mental procedures that allows one to think that 2 + 2 = 4,10 but at the same time this capacity is rooted in neurological and cultural (e.g., mathematics) dynamics. It is important to understand that the dynamics of a particular system typically has such multiple sources. This is well illustrated by the following quote on the meaning of gestures, written by anthropologist Edward Sapir:
Gestures are hard to classify and it is difficult to make a conscious separation between that in gesture which is of merely individual origin and that which is referable to the habits of the group as a whole. In spite of these difficulties of conscious analysis, we respond to gestures with an extreme alertness and, one might almost say, in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all. Like everything else in human conduct, gestures roots in the reactive necessities of the organism, but the laws of gestures, the unwritten code of gestured messages and responses, is the anonymous work of an elaborate social tradition. (Sapir, 1927, p. 556)
Similarly, on a more cognitive level, a thought is rooted in several environments. This flexibility is possible because there is not one coherent psyche; but instead, a multitude of heterogeneous mechanisms that can generate different ways of thinking. We will see in this volume that these multiple forms of psychic mechanisms root themselves differently in the diverse environments that shape their ecology. This explains why there are many different ways to perceive and to think, many different aspects to memory and consciousness, and so on. Thus, certain events stored in the hippocampus of the brain’s limbic system when we are young can be recalled, later on, in the temporal cortex when we are more than fifty years old.11
The Dynamic Relationship between a System and Its Parts: Elements, Organization, and Emergence
Classical materialism supposes that the properties of a system are the sum of the properties of the elements that it contains, whereas a system model postulates that an organization can have emerging properties, that is, properties that are not part of the elements contained in the system12 Elements, organization, and emerging systems mutually influence one other. This dynamic often leads to expressions such as these: a system is structured by what it structures, or a system structures itself by structuring that which structures it. These expressions sometimes appear obscure to those who do not know system theory. It is my hope that by the end of the my yoga blog these notions will have become easily understandable. These formulations point to the fact that subsystems allow an organism to auto-regulate and participate in the regulation of the systems that contain it (e.g., nature, culture).
One of the first psychologists to distinguish between the elements and the organization is soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky.13 He wanted to show that certain human faculties, such as intelligence, emerge from the combination of information processes produced by the brain and the languages taught in societies. To illustrate what he means by emergence, he reminds us what transpires when water arises from the association of oxygen and hydrogen. These atoms, alone, embolden flames. Once they are associated in an H2O molecule, their combination acquires a property that is not contained in either oxygen or hydrogen: that of being able to put out a fire, or to transform itself into steam if we were to put water in contact with a flame. This property emerged from the organization of the three atoms. The organization of matter is thus as important as its particles. In this example, we have identified three aspects of matter:
1. The elemental atoms.
2. The organization of the atoms that make up a chemical chain. At every level of matter, the nature of the links that form the organization of the elements are different.
3. An emergent entity (the molecule) that has properties that are not those of its elements.