Georg Ivanovas From Autism to Humanism - systems theory in medicine

2. The medical paradigm and the anomalies of ‘Normal Medicine’

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2.8 Complexity

Complexity is the main characteristic of our world and it is probably the most common word used to describe biological phenomena (Alon 2007). Despite this fact, there is no generally accepted definition and the so-called science of complexity is mainly an amalgam of methods, models and metaphors from a variety of disciplines rather than an integrated science (Heylighen 2008: 3). Known is, however, that a central characteristic of all these ‘complex adaptive systems’ (Holland 1996) – of which the human is one – is their nonlinear, unpredictable and uncontrollable behaviour (Heylighen 2008: 2).

In medicine there are many situations, especially in hospital, where the knowledge of the principles of complexity is of minor interest. An appendicitis, a broken arm or a suicidal ingestion of drugs can be handled according to simple patterns. But outside this strict frame an understanding of complexity management is crucial for the practice of medicine. It is not necessary for the practitioner to know about the technical details. He must only know how these principles translate into medical practice. In contrary, the scientist aiming to develop models and therapies should have an understanding of both – the epistemology and its translation into practice.

The following examples shall demonstrate how complexity occurs in medicine without referring, at first, to related theoretical concepts except of the notions of nonlinearity and polycontextuality.

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