Posted on July 29, 2015 @ 07:50:00 AM by Paul Meagher
I am reading a classic in biology by
called Growth & Form.
The "Introductory" chapter is the main chapter I have read so far. This is a philosophical chapter and D'Arcy made a few remarks on growth and form that I found thought providing and which I want to discuss in this blog.
For D'Arcy the form of an organism and its growth over time are the result of forces acting upon the organism.
The form, then of any portion of matter, whether it be living or dead, and the changes of form which are apparent in its movements and in its growth, may in all cases alike be described as due to the action of force. In short, the form of an object is a "diagram of forces".
Likewise, we might find it useful to think of a business as a diagram of forces and we might put our business in the center of such a diagram along with the principle forces that determine its present form. These forces, like physical forces, should have a magnitude (or size) and a direction so that we can think like an engineer about it's form and manner of growth.
To terms of magnitude, and of direction, must we refer all our conception of Form. For the form of an object is defined when we know its magnitude, actual or relative, in various directions; and Growth involves the same concepts of magnitude and direction, related to the further concept, or "dimension", of Time.
To understand growth and form, D'Arcy argues that we should think about them in terms of immediate causes (i.e., mechanical cause) and final causes (i.e., problem it solves or the teleological cause). Ideal understanding occurs when the mechanical causes explain the final causes and vice versa.
Still, all the while, like warp and woof, mechanism and teleology are interwoven together, and we must not cleave to the one nor despise the other; for their union is rooted in the very nature of totality. We may grow shy or weary of looking to a final cause for an explanation of our phenomenon; but after we have acccounted for these on the plainest principles of mechanical causation it may be useful and appropriate to see how the final cause would tally with the other, and lead towards the same conclusion.
So we might think that it is our mission statement, goals or objectives that explain our success, but it is also the low level mechanical stuff we do each day that explains that success.
The purpose of today's blog is to begin exploring the concepts of growth and form using D'Arcy Thompson as our guide. His success in finding mathematical and physical laws to understand the size, shape, and growth of organisms might be one reason to follow his approach to understanding growth and form in other contexts such as business. I'll conclude with a final quote from the introduction where he explains the book's title.
The terms Growth and Form, which make up the title of this book are to be understood, as I need hardly say, in their relation to the study of organisms. We want to see how, in some cases at least, the forms of living things, and of the parts of living things, can be explained by physical considerations, and to realise that in general no organic forms exist save such as are in conformity with physical and mathematical laws. And while growth is a somewhat vague word for a very complex matter, which may depend on various things, from simple imbibation of water to the complicated results of the chemistry of nutrition, it deserves to be studied in relation to form: whether it proceed by simple increase of size without obvious alteration of form, or whether it so proceed as to bring about a gradual change of form and the slow development of a more or less complicated structure.
So can the study of growth and form as it applies to organisms to used to understand growth and form as it applies to business? Seems to me that the concepts of growth and form apply in the first instance to plant and animal organisms and, by metaphorical extension, to business, love, and other areas of human concern. So my answer would be that studying growth and form in the natural world likely be a fruitful avenue to explore as a means to understanding the corresponding concepts in other domains of human experience.