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Some things I have gathered.

Common properties

 - individuals 
 - communicate 
 - local view
 - selfish 
 - specialize 
 - organize 
 - replicate
 - cooperate 
 - emergence


cell               - human
while blood cells  - soldiers
electrical impulse - language
divide             - have sex
brain cells        - country leaders
cancerous cells    - rebels
minerals           - natural resources
organ              - company
consciousness      - ?
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closed as not constructive by mgkrebbs, Armatus, nico, jonsca, Mad Scientist Jul 28 '12 at 6:39

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i would say that most of the similarities are the result analogy. kind of hard to say more than that. cell have their own particular language and habits which are decidedly not humanlike. There are rules which dictate the organization of living things, but they are not so precise as to take in the sort of picture being described here. ant societies and human societies are a common metaphor for instance. –  shigeta May 27 '12 at 23:14
There are lot of similarities at different scales (say, from molecules to the whole ecosystem). However, making a "dictionary" based on one's common sense may be very misleading, unless one can support it with numerical or experimental data. Moreover, people like "telling stories" and while some analogies (or metaphors) can be good for the purpose of didactics, not necessary they go further. Compare with: trees are humans, forests are cities, ... - while it can make a good talk (e.g. comparing complex ecosystems), most of the corollaries don't work. –  Piotr Migdal May 28 '12 at 16:53

1 Answer 1

The answer to this question is surely audience dependent.

If you were explaining the difference between a cell and an organ to a lay-person, you could use the analogy quite effectively. For instance to say that a body is a company, then the brain (the board room) orchestrates the bodily processes by instructing the organs (the individual departments) to do x, y or z. The departments are then 'responsible' for performing their task, and each department is made of many individuals (cells), each with quite distinct roles within the department.

You just have to completely bear in mind this is an analogy, so when explaining in more detail it would not work so well;

  • An organ is a collection of tissues that grouped together perform a function (or many) - this could be said for a department, but the department (or country, whatever) will still have its hierarchical structure (this is universal in society as far as I understand it). I of course concede that some functions are really like this, for instance breathing can be controlled consciously (to a point), and is thus regulated directly by the brain.
  • However many processes tend to function more independently than this; the digestive system, for example, is highly autonomous; the cells communicate on a cell-to-cell basis, and the work is completely collaborative and yet independent from any overriding control or supervision. Very unlike any human organization.
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Another good example: The heart beats on its own, nerves from the brain can only speed it up or down a little. The beats themselves are initiated by a group of nerve cells called the "SA node" (sinoatrial) in the right atrium of the heart. –  Armatus May 28 '12 at 18:12

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