Is there any relationship between what we can call complexity and what we can call organization in biology? And if there is, what is it? Can we define these terms independently of each other or would the definition of one of them always inescapably include the other and vice versa? If the second is the case, what can such a relationship tell (or, at least suggest) us about life?

  • $\begingroup$ I would like to draw a parallel between my question and another question here on SE pertaining to the same notion-that of complexity in biology, to show how we can shape a question in a much clearer and precise style and get more information about the same issue. Here it is- biology.stackexchange.com/questions/13853/… I'm trying to show how the topic discussed there can be presented in clearer and more exact style if we concentrate on a particular issue instead of trying to cover everything in 1 question $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 0:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think if one starts out a question with a clause that includes "depending on the definition of the terms you use" one must be prepared to provide such definitions, otherwise it isn't possible for anyone to answer without using their own definitions and therefore making the question opinion-based. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 1:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hi, @YordanYordanov. Complexity & organisation have specific meanings depending on context. For example, I work with sequences in terms of simple and complex depending on their linguistic entropy. Some people would call a protein structure complex if it was very disordered due to estimations of chemical entropy. Some people would call one cell more complex than another if there were more external forces interacting with it, others if the structures were more varied. Because of the vagueness of the term "complexity" in this question, I'm voting to close as off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ I have edited my question. Are you happy now, @Bryan Krause ? In this form is it still "opinion-based" according to you? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ Hey, how can you put it on hold? I just edited it! What is the problem now? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


Here's food for thought. Entropy is always considered to flow naturally in a direction of order, to disorder. That is, the higher entropy a system has, the greater degree of disorder it has, and the less amount of work it can perform.

Now, look at a cell. It is a biological system of organic molecules that are able to organise themselves in a way that outweighs the forces of entropy. To "fight" the natural tendency of the universe that moves toward a state of disorder requires a highly complex system. And, in the process of going against entropically favorable mechanisms, a cell is also able to produce its own energy (stored as potential energy, or ATP if you will).

I guess you could say, a more complex system is able to organise itself in a greater number of ways for the purpose (and I use this word very loosely, as nothing really has a purpose) of yielding entropic energy to do work.

  • $\begingroup$ I think you are on very right track here. The question, however remains can we define organization as the state which forces the system to go against the entropy gradient and if we can, then what is really complexity then? Does the increase in organization drives the increase in complexity or is it the vice versa? Or may be some even more intricate and "complex" relationship? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ Another thing to consider is that complexity can sometimes be more apparent than real, because an underlying simple mechanism that is not understood by the observer can give rise to complex results. For instance, consider how the growth of plants &c can be modeled by L-systems (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L-system ), or how the widely different forms of mollusc shells conform to a few mathematical rules. Or indeed, how a couple of simple principles produces evolution. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ "Does the increase in organization drives the increase in complexity or is it the vice versa?" seems a lot like the question, "did the chicken or the egg come first?". I do understand why people voted to put this question on hold - because there isn't really any way to answer it. I honestly do not know because it is too abstract. I think I have somewhat of an idea about how it works, but I have no idea how it came to be. $\endgroup$
    – Bob
    Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 22:56

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .