By Roland Watson

Both this and the next article are about abstract ideas. They are far removed from our everyday experience. This means they may be more difficult to understand.

Unfortunately, though, if you really want to understand life, you need to understand them. I'll use examples to make this easier.

Systems, systems, systems

I want to begin with a basic statement: The universe is a web of systems, of loose and not so loose forms of organization, and of an extremely wide variety. Okay. What do I mean by this? Let me give a couple of examples.

The human body, your body and mine, has many systems. These include the musculoskeletal system; the brain and nervous system; the circulatory system; the respiratory system; the digestive system; and the reproductive system. There are other major systems as well, and each system in turn has many subsystems.

The fact that these are forms of organization is clear. They have a process that they follow without fail, and they do something. They have a purpose. They keep us alive.

On the other hand, take a box of wood matches. If you drop a handful on a table, they are organized in the sense that they have followed the laws of physics - beginning with gravity. But, they are also in a sense random. However, if you pick them up and stack them, they become ordered. A pattern and structure becomes evident. There is now another system.

There are so many systems out there that it is hard to keep track. Indeed, some systems are very difficult to recognize. One of the best examples of this is the wide variety of patterns that exist in numbers, and which mathematicians have been able to reveal.

A basic distinction exists between systems or structures that we are aware of, and those of which we are not, for whatever reason. The latter includes systems that we have not yet learned about,
as well as systems that it is not possible for us to recognize - which we will never understand. A basic question in life is: What types of things can we never understand, and why?

Form, form, form

In these articles, when I refer to form, at the fundamental level this is what I mean. A form is any type of system, organization or structure, including any thing or process.

Also, and as an aside, the words "form" and "system" are interchangeable. I'll use both. But, I prefer form, because it is a more revealing concept, especially when we are talking about behavior, the behavioral patterns that people exhibit.

To give some other examples: when we consider music using the structure of scales and octaves, or numbers using a base system of ten, these are forms. A basic question that we need to consider is: Are these forms real aspects of nature, of physical reality, or are they merely human projections onto it?

Furthermore, some things - like music - are in a sense both a thing and a process. So are you and I. For the process side, forms can include rhythm, movement, and more generally any type of change.

Levels of form

It is clear that there are many levels of form in the universe. To start, there is the physical form of the universe itself, which is the study of science. Also, it is worth noting that the universe is a global form. It is a structure that embodies a whole.

Within the universe there are two basic forms of parts: its inorganic components, and those that are organic, meaning life. However, life is also a global system. Each living thing comprises its own self-contained universe.

Within life we find its various kingdoms, including animal, and within animal, human. Human life in turn is comprised of two sets of form, individual and social, and which also interact. The form of any given individual, for example, you, is a consequence of your genes, and free will, and the interaction of these with all of the social influences to which you are exposed.

Finally, social influences themselves can be distinguished between education, and other types of influences. The purpose of education is to enlighten and inform. It is a noble and selfless task.

Other social influences, though, have a selfish underpinning. The sources of the influences want something from you.

Form and content

I want to end this article with a couple of questions. I'll consider them directly elsewhere.

As everything that I have said so far implies, another basic aspect of form is its content. What does the organization or structure contain? Viewed in reverse, this means that a form is anything with content. But, must a form always have content, or can it be empty, like an empty glass that is waiting to be filled?

Also, if form does imply content, then is anything truly random? Wouldn't the content necessarily take on some aspect of the form? Finally, if nothing is truly random, is there such a thing as chance, or luck?

In the next article, I will review the connections between systems and forms, and cycles.

© Roland Watson 2013