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Methodology and Philosophy of Biological Sciences

Institution
Universidade Federal de Pelotas UFPel
Typology
Syllabus, Curriculum
Thematic Area
Natural Sciences
Factual description
Prof Gustavo Maia Souza at Federal University of Pelotas (Brazil) deliver two undergrad courses dealing with different aspects of Complex Systems and Systems Thinking. A course on “Methodology and Philosophy of Biological Sciences” in which he introduces aspects of the Systems Thinking comparing with classical one (based on Newtonian mechanicism and cartesian reductionism) and some concepts of Complex System such as self-organization and emergent properties in biological systems. The other undergrad course is on “Aspects of Intelligence and Cognition in Plants: how plants deal with their environment” in which he discusses a new concept of plants as complex cognitive systems (cognition in a post-cognitivism ground). Therein, he also introduces the concept of plant cognition as a self-organized emergent property from the integration of plant modules. At the the graduate program on Plant Physiology, he teaches “Plant-environment interaction” and Philosophy of Science as well.
In all these coursed Complex Systems (especially biological ones) are introduced as open systems, far from thermodynamical equilibrium, composed by self-organizing interacting elements (parts or modules), engendering small-world networks often with different scales (eventually free-scale ones), exhibiting emergent properties in each specific hierarchical level. The temporal dynamics of this kind of systems are mainly non-linear, eventually exhibiting chaotic behavior (in a mathematical sense, NOT in a Greek sense).
Complexity can be a measurable property of the system (e.g. his fractal dimension, or level of dynamical “chaoticity”), as well as the paradigm by which science “see” nature. Any means, we have to consider Complexity (and all its related topics) the foundation of the XXI Century Science.
In his courses prof Souza use Network Theory, Theory of Self-organization (including SOC), Hierarchy Theory, Downward Causation, Chaos and Fractal Theories, Power Laws everywhere to describe at different level the concept of complexity
Even if as first instance his intention is to reach an inter-disciplinary teaching (ideally trans-disciplinary), sometimes he feel to teach mostly in a multi-disciplinary way, is not simple to really reach integration among different disciplines, especially because in Brazil such perceptive is mostly theoretical than practical.
He have not a systematic approach to teach complexity, and define his teaching mostly “self-organized” focused on the creation of a new open mind approach in the classes too much fossilized in a classical concept of Science and Nature.
Even if his courses are not dealing with sustainability as systemic biologist, I consider that the whole aspects of Complex Systems should be considered insofar “sustainable development”
Systems Thinking is the foundation of prof Souza teaching. He introduces the main aspects, in a philosophical way, and the main aspects of complex systems as well, specially focused on plants life. This not involve the direct implication of an ethical dimension even if in the course ethical discussion are constantly introduced.
Relevance in complex systems
Prof Souza highlight, the openness of the complex system, his self-organized dynamic (affected but not driven by external conditions), his hierarchical organization with respective emergent properties, which confer some level of irreducibility and, particularly in the case of plants, the integration of a modular systems with a changing environmental and how such amazing biological systems reach (meta)stability (herein, stability is related with systems homeostasis – robustness - and resilience - flexibility).
Strong points
Complexity can be a measurable property of the system (e.g. his fractal dimension, or level of dynamical “chaoticity”), as well as the paradigm by which science “see” nature. We have to consider Complexity (and all its related topics) the foundation of the XXI Century Science
Transferability potential
The concept of plants as complex cognitive systems used to describe the natural Network