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The bulletin of mathematical biophysics

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 317–348 | Cite as

Topology and life: In search of general mathematical principles in biology and sociology

  • N. Rashevsky
Article

Abstract

Mathematical biology has hitherto emphasized the quantitative, metric aspects of the physical manifestations of life, but has neglected the relational or positional aspects, which are of paramount importance in biology. Although, for example, the processes of locomotion, ingestion, and digestion in a human are much more complex than in a protozoan, the general relations between these processes are the same in all organisms. To a set of very complicated digestive functions of a higher animal there correspond a few simple functions in a protozoan. In other words, the more complicated processes in higher organisms can be mapped on the simpler corresponding processes in the lower ones. If any scientific study of this aspect of biology is to be possible at all, there must exist some regularity in such mappings. We are, therefore, led to the following principle: If the relations between various biological functions of an organism are represented geometrically in an appropriate topological space or by an appropriate topological complex, then the spaces or complexes representing different organisms must be obtainable by a proper transformation from one or very fewprimordial spaces or complexes.

The appropriate representation of the relations between the different biological functions of an organism appears to be a one-dimensional complex, or graph, which represents the “organization chart” of the organism. The problem then is to find a proper transformation which derives from this graph the graphs of all possible higher organisms. Both a primordial graph and a transformation are suggested and discussed. Theorems are derived which show that the basic principle of mapping and the transformation have a predictive value and are verifiable experimentally.

These considerations are extended to relations within animal and human societies and thus indicate the reason for the similarities between some aspects of societies and organisms.

It is finally suggested that the relation between physics and biology may lie on a different plane from the one hitherto considered. While physical phenomena are the manifestations of the metric properties of the four-dimensional universe, biological phenomena may perhaps reflect some local topological properties of that universe.

Keywords

Biological Function Transformation Rule High Animal Mathematical Biophysics Organic World 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© University of Chicago 1954

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Rashevsky
    • 1
  1. 1.Committee on Mathematical BiologyThe University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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