May 28, 2008

Towards an Understanding of Hierarchy in Natural Systems

Social scientists have known for years how increased complexity in human habitation has historically shifted towards hierarchical organization. For example, in her pioneering research on ancient cultures, scholar Raine Eisler helped elucidate the key role of hierarchical structures in human societies - and the critical difference between ‘dominating hierarchies’ and ‘growth hierarchies’.

Recent integral theory has further elaborated on the distinctions between hierarchical systems, making considerable use of the term ‘holarchies’ to describe the complex relationship between parts and wholes.

Now, scientists are beginning to understand more clearly how hierarchy (in various forms) is actually a defining feature of most complex and adaptive systems. Here is Roland Piquepaille blogging on the most recent research on the structure of complex networks:
Extracting the structure of networks

Networks are used to represent the structure of complex systems, including the Internet or social networks, but often these descriptions are biased or incomplete. Now, researchers at the Santa Fe Institute have shown that it's possible to extract automatically the hierarchical structure of networks. The researchers say their results 'suggest that hierarchy is a central organizing principle of complex networks, capable of offering insight into many network phenomena.' They also think that their algorithms can be applied to almost every kind of networks, from biochemical networks (protein interaction networks, metabolic networks or genetic regulatory networks) to communities in social networks.

Recent human imaging studies have also identified brain circuitry associated with social status and hierarchy, according to researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the National Institutes of Health. They found that important brain areas are activated when a person moves up or down in a pecking order - or simply views perceived social superiors or inferiors.

From the principle researchers:
“Our position in social hierarchies strongly influences motivation as well as physical and mental health. This first glimpse into how the brain processes that information advances our understanding of an important factor that can impact public health.”
Read More: Here

Also check out a succinct opinion piece on the related topic of ‘Hierarchy and Peer to Peer” from Michael Bauwens: Here

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