The Complementary Nature ~ A Review by Olaf Sporns

“The division of our world (natural and social) into distinct contraries or opposites has become almost universal practice in most fields of human endeavor and inquiry, including science.

Undeniably, imposing such divisions on space and time, wave and particle, order and chaos, action and perception, or organism and environment have enabled significant progress in our scientific understanding of these separate domains. However, understanding based on separation or contraries is fundamentally limited, as is powerfully demonstrated by modern physics, biology and neuroscience.

Kelso and Engstrøm’s book offers an alternative, synthetic view based on the principle of complementarity, the reconciliation of contraries as jointly necessary and mutually reinforcing aspects of reality.

This volume not only presents a comprehensive history of the idea of complementarity, it also puts forth a theoretical framework, called coordination dynamics, within which complementarity is rooted. The originator of this framework and lead author of the book, Scott Kelso, is a world-renowned neuroscientist whose unique perspective on brain dynamics pervades much of the text.

The dualist stance, epitomized in the writings of Descartes and his followers, has had a dominant influence on our modern conception of brain and mind as separate entities. Within neuroscience, the dualistic counterposition of the concepts of localized function versus global processing, of segregation versus integration, continues to create major obstacles to theoretical progress in the discipline.

Coordination dynamics offers a way out of this crippling dilemma. Coordination abounds in the living world, as seen in the emergence of morphology from genetic instructions, movement from the action of joints and muscles, and cognition from nerve cells.

Coordination dynamics describes how coordinated patterns form and transform within and between parts of a given system. Core concepts, developed at length in the book, include self-organization, pattern dynamics, multifunctionality and functional equivalence, and information flow.

The theory developed in this volume may well have far-reaching consequences, not only in paving the way to a more complete understanding of brain and mind, but in bridging and effectively erasing artificial conceptual boundaries that have hampered progress in many other fields of science. The accessible and thought-provoking style of the book will appeal to a broad range of readers from various fields. The impact of this volume will be felt for years to come.”

-OLAF SPORNS, Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. The Quarterly Review of Biology (March, 2007) 82:37-38.

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