Bulletin of Mathematical Biology

, Volume 43, Issue 5, pp 579–591 | Cite as

Dynamic structure theory: A structural approach to social and biological systems

  • A. I. MacFarlane


The relationships that define the structure of a given ecosystem, social system, or even a physiological function can only exist if certain parameters are confined to a certain range of values. As the values change and exceed this given range the relationships are forced to change, and so produce a new pattern of relationships. The concept of a dynamic structure captures this potential for structural change in relation to a set of parameters. The precise definition of structure and allowable transformation constitutes the definition of a category. The total range of parameters associated with all the relevant structures provides a parameter space which is assumed to be a manifold. Maps with extra structure from the manifold to the category define dynamic structures. The domain of differential dynamic systems is the manifold, and a flow or movement across the manifold is associated with a series of structural transformations in the category. In some cases a structure outruns its parameter range, to be faced with an obstruction—an absence of possible transformations. Ways of studying such “obstructions” are considered along with the related problem of extending a dynamic structure beyond a previously given set of parameters. The cost or resistance of transformations is also studied. The concepts of dynamic structures are illustrated by the structural change of food webs and they are used in a necessarily qualitative fashion to study dominance structures of social orders and finally to speculate on the qualitative nature of evolutionary change of functional aspects of organisms.


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Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. I. MacFarlane
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Computing and Systems AnalysisPacific Steel LimitedAucklandNew Zealand

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