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Modularity and complexity management



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  • 1. Modularity thinking as a way of managing complexity in developmental biology Vivette Garc ía UNAM PhD Student
  • 2. overview
    • Complexity management as problem solving (PS)
    • Reduction of complexity
    • Management and systems thinking
    • Modularity and management (examples)
    • Management beyond problem solving: modularity thinking is not PS
  • 3. 1. complexity management as problem solving
    • Wildness, unruliness, freedom, diversity, and complexity often represent “problems” demanding solutions (Bavington 2002)
    • Reduction of complexity is often treated as a way of managing complexity (PS)
  • 4. 2. reduction of complexity
    • Analytic approaches
    • Complexity surpasses limits of cognition: must be reduced
    • Decomposition and localization (Bechtel & Richardson 1993)
    • Heuristics and their biases (Wimsatt 1974,1980)
    • Cognitive strategies for PS
  • 5. 2. reduction of complexity
    • Clinical approaches
    • Complexity of object of study/situation stands in the way of experimental research
    • Experimental /strategic interventions for PS
    • The experimental system as reducer of complexity (Rheinberger 1997)
    • The social system as reducer of complexity (Thomposn & Trisoglio 1997)
  • 6. 3. management and systems thinking
    • Either a system’s complexity is reduced (analytic approaches) or
    • A system becomes the reducer of complexity (clinical approaches)
    • In both cases, systems thinking enters the picture as part of a managerial solution to a problem
    • We owe this to Simon (1962)
  • 7. 3. management and systems thinking
    • The watchmakers’ parable (argument A)
    • Hora and Tempus face the same problem: constant interruption while assembling watches
    • Hora and Tempus assemble their watches in different ways: the first, hierarchically (in subsystems), the second piece by piece
    • When Hora is interrupted he loses less work than Tempus when he is interrupted
    • Hora prospers -while Tempus fails- because his hierarchical watch design is a solution to the problem of being constantly interrupted
  • 8. 3. management and systems thinking
    • The watchmakers’ parable (argument B)
    • Watches/watchmaking present complexity
    • Hierarchical design allows Hora to manage (via PS) this complexity
    • To have a hierarchical design is to have the property of being modular
    • Modularity is a way of managing complexity within the PS perspective - or is it?
  • 9. 4. modularity and management
    • Even though modularity of developmental/biological systems is linked to Simon’s notion,
    • Use of modularity in biology does not render a solution to a problem
    • Complexity management by way of modularity does not amount to PS
  • 10. 4. modularity and management
    • Is complexity management via modularity a solution to a problem?
    • Problem: > complexity of molecular developmental processes, needs reduction
    • Solution: decomposition of developmental system and localization of developmental modules ?
  • 11. 4. modularity and management
    • It is not modules per se, but other types of decompositions, that participate in PS:
      • gene territories (e.g., oral ectodermal)
      • gene networks (e.g., Pax/Six/Eya/Dach )
    • Modularity thinking does not provide a general strategy for partitioning systems
  • 12. 4. modularity and management
    • The notion of modularity is “a simple, but
    • evocative term to describe an array of
    • signaling pathways, protein interactions,
    • gene networks, etc. Some might even argue
    • that because its definitive meaning is
    • unclear it is useful in its vagueness. We can
    • mold it to suit our particular purpose”
    • (Heanue, interview)
  • 13. 5. management beyond problem solving
    • Complexity management as PS has been fruitful in many ways:
      • Elucidation of cognitive, experimental, and other intervention strategies for dealing with complexity
      • Epistemology of discovery expanded from the individual to the social realm
      • Characterizations of complexity (Simon’s, Wimsatt’s), and as a property that comes in degrees (reducible)
  • 14. 5. management beyond problem solving
    • Simon-like systems thinking constrains our framework for inquiry into complexity management
    • Emphasis on systems thinking has disallowed us to question PS
    • Current accounts of complexity management remain within the PS perspective
  • 15. 5. management beyond problem solving
    • Take home messages:
    • Modularity thinking is a way of managing complexity in biology
    • Modularity thinking is not PS
    • There is more to complexity management than problem solving
  • 16. thanks to
    • Edna Su árez
    • Griesemer Lab
    • Peter Taylor (NEWSSC)
    • Elihu Gerson
    • UNAM funding