ISIP Primer Project


Synergy of Complements in Living Systems

By Gyorgy G Jaros



Synergy of Complements is the creative collaboration between two complex systems or processes which have many common, but also some opposing characteristics. These two systems should not be regarded as opposites, as it is generally the case, but rather as complements to one another.

Such a synergetic behaviour can be explained within a process-based framework, such as teleonics (Jaros & Cloete, 1987). The relevant aspects of teleonics are introduced with some synergies of complements as examples. Finally, it is proposed that teaching the principle of the Synergy of Complements should start early in life, in order to avoid some of the serious difficulties and even disasters which stem from the generally inappropriate applications of the Law of Excluded Middle to complex systems.

Keywords: Opposites, complements, synergy, teleonics, process-based systems



Fuzzy logic (Zadeh, 1965) is generally considered to be an alternative to the precision mathematics based on the Law of the Excluded Middle of Aristotle, which holds that every proposition must either be true or false (Brule, 1985) . It must be acknowledged that the application of this law has served us well and has lead to many of the technological developments that we can enjoy today. However, fuzzy logic has allowed us to extend our capabilities in the technological arena even further.

But, fuzzy logic is not the only alternative to the Aristotelian Law, which has been inappropriately extended to complex systems in a form which could be called the "Exclusivity of Opposites". According to this principle, complex systems are classified into opposing groups on the basis of only one (and generally not even the most important) of their characteristics. Thus there can be opposing groups consisting of men and women, blacks and whites, disabled and able bodied, etc.

This classification is generally done according to relatively trivial differences between the two groups and in spite of the great multitude of common characteristics between them. From here it is only a small step to racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, dictatorship of the proletariat, fundamentalism, feminism, affirmative action, aggressive trade unionism and scores of further such problems plaguing mankind. By putting all these disparate entities into one group I am, of course, also practicing what they do, albeit for the dramatic demonstration of the principle. So, if you are upset for being included in the above grouping, especially together with a group that you particularly dislike, examine your conscience. Are you not perhaps practicing the principle of the "Exclusivity of Opposites" for which you need to classify people as belonging or not belonging to a particular group?

The principles which negate the Aristotelian law actually preceded it by almost two centuries and are due to Heraclitus of Ephesus (Kahn, 1979) , as well as his contemporaries, Buddha and Lao Tzu, the originator of Taoist doctrine (Bahm, 1958) . It is interesting to note though that, while Heraclitus' teachings did not survive after the time of Aristotle, the equivalent concepts of Buddhism and Taoism have remained in existence up to the present day and form part of the world view of people who follow these religions / philosophies.

From what we know of Heraclitus' writings through quotations by other writers (Kahn, 1979) , it is obvious that he knew that in order to mention opposites, one has to acknowledge their commonality. This implies, that it is impossible to classify items consisting of multiple dimensions into two groups, because they do not have an axis of commonality. Heraclitus did not condemn opposition and even the strife resulting from the interaction of opposites, but actually welcomed them by stating that "counter trust", "conflict" , "war" and the interaction of "opposites" leads to "attunement" or "synergy". He specifically mentions the harmony of music and the creativity of the sexes.

The commonality between the interacting entities is obviously much more important than their differences. For example, men and women share millions of bodily processes of which only a handful are different. It is really through the interaction between all the processes that creativity occurs; the differences simply catalyse the process of creation.

A characteristic of a complex system, which appears as opposite in a single dimension, represents only a limited aspect of the entire system and, therefore, is insufficient for the complete classification of the system into categories of opposition. The essence of such a situation is in fact complementarity, which can lead to creative synergy between the participants. It is for this reason that we propose that it is more correct to talk about the "Synergy of Complements", rather than about the "Union of Opposites" (Sabelli, 1989) or about "Complementary Opposition" (Xu & Li, 1989) .

What needs to be removed from the expression is the word "opposite", as it can so easily be misinterpreted and misused.

When Heraclitus said that "all things come to pass through conflict", he meant that things are created through the interaction of those processes , which are complements to one another in some way. In other words, it does not help simply to have males and females; it is only though the interaction of the male and female processes that creativity occurs. Similarly, it is through the playing of the notes, which is a process, that music is created.

We can only turn the principle of the Synergy of Complements to our advantage within a process-based paradigm. When we say that something new is created we really mean that we have a process the result of which is the appearance of something that was not there before. Heraclitus has probably realised this when he made his famous statements about the process nature of all things (Kahn, 1979) . This principle of action and change is also one of the cornerstones of Buddhism, which states that "the entire system of life everywhere in the universe is motion" (Ranasinghe, 1957)

The most important exponent of process thinking today is Hector Sabelli who formulated a Process Theory (PT) (Sabelli, 1989; Sabelli & Carlson-Sabelli, 1994; Sabelli, 1991) . He recognises that the essence of life is action and accepts change and uncertainty as being normal components of the world around us. Having two opposing elements helps to maintain and, at the same time, to vary processes. Sabelli called this principle the "Union of Opposites".

Other authors in the field, Xu and Li proposed the "Complementary Opposition" as a systems model (Xu & Li, 1989) , that "recognises the interdependence of opposites" which "not only co-exist and interact, but also form a complementary relationship."


Teleonics and the synergy of complements

Teleonics is a process-based systems approach, developed by Jaros and Cloete about the same time, but independently of the above two groups (Jaros & Cloete, 1987; Sabelli, 1989; Xu & Li, 1989) . The approach has been elaborated and applied in different contexts since its inception (Jaros & Cloete, 1993; 1994) .

According to teleonics, the world can be viewed as being composed of process units (or process systems), which are foregrounded with respect to structures and matter. Entities, such as cells, the body and society are regarded as 'bundles' of processes, which are not confined to entities, but extend beyond their boundaries. Entities are regarded as taking part in processes, instead of the classical systems view in which entities interact through processes. This is a subtle, but important difference.

Processes are thus informationally bound systems as opposed to entities which are physically bound. The information that drives the processes is related to the goal or aims of the processes. One can say that processes are goal-related. (Process is derived from pro = for and cedere = to go; process = going for it ( ie. for some kind of a goal or destination)).

When one considers a process, it is easy to see that opposing tendencies might occur and even be beneficial. For example, a hormone which stimulates the release of glucose from the liver, glucagon, increases the concentration of glucose in the blood. Another hormone, insulin, helps to take the glucose out of the blood into the cells and therefore decreases of its concentration in the blood. These hormones are referred to as antagonistic (opposites) in all textbooks of physiology. It is quite easy to see from the process point of view that the hormones in fact are complementary, as they both help with the shifting of glucose from the liver to the cells.

The classification as antagonists is done on the trivial fact that they have an opposite effect on the blood glucose concentration. Of course, this is done because of the fact that the blood concentration can be easily measured as compared to the measurement of the shift of glucose from the liver to the cells. Similarly, it is easier to see someone's skin colour or bodily shape than to know their feelings or even thought processes. This leads to the superficial classifications we are so familiar with.

The discovery of an easy measure of intelligence by the IQ has lead to similar problems. By using this measurement technique, children were classified into groups of "gifted" and "stupid" (maybe not under that name) and treated accordingly. The multifaceted nature of human intelligence was completely ignored in the process. Children so classified eventually acted the part which was assigned to them and many valuable, but non-measurable qualities were left undeveloped. A use for fuzzy logic can surely be found in this very sensitive area!

The world can also be regarded as being composed of a concentric hierarchy of layers of complexity, ranging from the atomic to the universal level (Koestler, 1978; Laszlo, 1972) . Processes run through these levels in two directions. Those processes which have their goals related to a level lower than the level of observation are called inward processes and those with goals related to a higher level are the outward processes. At certain points, the two groups of processes strongly interrelate, giving rise to actual physical or conceptual entities. Thus entities are in essence bundles of interrelating inward and outward processes, which occur at all levels of the concentric hierarchy.

The two way processes, which would undoubtedly be classified by some people as opposites, are in fact responsible for the creation of the material entities of this world.

The complex interactions between processes and entities can be likened to a fisherman's web, in which the strings are the (goal-related) processes and the knots the entities (that are in fact entangled processes appearing as entities).If the reader would consider him or herself as a knot somewhere in the middle of the complex network of life, he or she would be related to his or her cells through the inward processes and to the world outside through the outward processes. But because the cells and the outside world are similarly connected, the reader is indirectly in contact with all parts of the world, from the subatomic particles of his or her body to the entire universe. From a picture of such a multilayered web it is easy to see that a disturbance of some of the processes could lead to disturbances in other processes, even though they might be far removed in space.

The complementarity of processes and properties such as integration and differentiation, freedom and equality, divergence and convergence, production and distribution, contribution and taking as well as those of many others becomes quite evident. A full discussion of these is presented in detail elsewhere (Dodds & Jaros, 1994; 1995; Jaros & Cloete, 1987) . One is reminded here of Sir Isaac Newton, who stated in his famous law that [in the process of keeping something in equilibrium] "for every action, there must be a reaction". He also said, that "a body will remain at rest or in motion in a straight line at a constant speed until unbalanced external forces act upon it." These are in fact process laws and in fact only make sense when one is talking of processes, as the state of rest in the universe can only be maintained by processes.

An important aspect of processes is the uncertainty that always exists regarding the reaching of their goals or destinations. Although this uncertainty can either be real or imagined, its effects are the same; it interferes with the proper functioning of the system. Widespread uncertainty in several processes in a system will lead to malfunctioning of the system.

On the whole, uncertainty has to be removed . However, the process of its removal can lead to the reorganisation of process structure or even to the creation of entirely new processes and structures. In this respect uncertainty can in fact be regarded as being beneficial.

It is this beneficial aspect of uncertainty, that plays a role in the Synergism of Complements. The difference between two processes, coupled to a common context, causes uncertainty, the resolution of which leads to creativity. In teleonics, conflict is accepted as being part of complex systems. If it is attended to at an early stage, conflict can be turned to creative advantage. It is important that the similarities and the common goals are emphasised and the processes are reorganised according to the common goals.

Differences should be accepted but de-emphasised as they tend to distract attention from the common processes. However, differences can be utilised to stimulate creativity in small regions of the complex systems. One must warn that unattended, large scale conflict can have detrimental consequences and should be avoided at all costs.


The purpose of this paper was to show that it is basically incorrect to regard complex systems which display some opposite characteristics as being "opposites". People tend to take such information at face value and as a result act in completely inappropriate ways.

Ideally, the concept of "opposite" should be reserved to single dimensions. Complex systems which are similar, but at the same time have some limited opposing characteristics, very often act synergistically. Men and women, the processes of differentiation and integration, of divergence and convergence, of production and distribution, of freedom and equality are complementary to one another and together they often lead to greater things. This can be clearly seen when processes are placed in the wider framework of teleonics.

It is, therefore, wrong to call these pairs "opposites" as their synergy is much more important than their opposition. Once so labelled, people tend to treat the opposition seriously and act accordingly.

On the job discrimination between men and women, for example, is the result of thinking about men and women as opposites. The "remedy" offered by feminism and affirmative action is not much better, as it is based on the same dichotomous world view. A much better solution would emerge if the similarities and differences between women and men were recognised, accepted and built upon. A synergistic relationship could then replace the present adversarial one with benefit to both sexes as well as society as a whole.

But alas, the concept of opposites is deeply engrained in our society. Right from the beginning of our life, we classify things into opposite pairs. We start conscious life by realising the difference between me and not-me.

This is wonderful at that stage, and for an infant this may be appropriate at that stage of mental development. But the dichotomous thinking, which is a sign of infantile behaviour, should end very soon thereafter. If we cannot start earlier we should at the latest start at the primary school. Instead of teaching our children about opposites, we should teach them about complements and synergy. We should teach, that men and women, day and night, black and white, people speaking our language and those who do not, etc. are complements and not opposites.

Such an approach might be an antidote to the hopeless strife we have been experiencing and continue to experience in our world. Through it we might appreciate that the world cannot be divided into two camps, one of which is right and the other wrong. We might be able to understand those who might look different from us, but share the great majority of our own concerns for love, peace, justice and beauty.

As a final word we must add that the Synergy of Complements is an inclusive principle: it does accept opposition, turning it to advantage. Unfortunately one cannot say this of the principle of the Exclusivity of Opposites.


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Appendix 1: Heraclitus and Tao on The Synergy of Complements

A. Heralitus ( Roman numerals refer to fragments classified by Kahn, 1979)


Professor Gyuri Jaros, PhD
Department of Anaesthetics
University of Sydney
NSW 2006
Tel: +61-2-351-5573
Fax: +61-2-519-2455
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