Practically all comments to the folk tales in my collection contained references to a book by the Russian ethnographer Vladimir Propp, who systematized Russian folk tales as ‘molecules‘ consisting of the same ‘atoms‘ of plot arranged in different ways, and even wrote their formulas. His book was published in the 30’s, when Claude Levi-Strauss, the founder of what became known as structuralism, was studying another kind of “molecules:” the structures of kinship in tribes of Brazil. Remarkably, this time a promise of a generalized and unifying vision of the world was coming from a source in humanities. What later happened to structuralism, however, is a different story, but the opportunity to build a bridge between sciences and humanities was missed. The competitive and pugnacious humanities could be a rough terrain.
I believed that chemistry carried a universal message about changes in systems that could be described in terms of elements and bonds between them. Chemistry was a particular branch of a much more general science about breaking and establishing bonds. It was not just about molecules: a small minority of hothead human ‘molecules’ drove a society toward change. A nation could be hot or cold. A child playing with Lego and a poet looking for a word to combine with others were in the company of a chemist synthesizing a drug.
Further on, Tarnopolsky, following his chemistry then thermodynamics leads, then found the pattern theory work of Swedish chemist Ulf Grenander, which he describes as follows:
In 1979 I heard about a mathematician who tried to list everything in the world. I easily found in a bookstore the first volume of Pattern Theory (1976) by Ulf Grenander, translated into Russian. As soon as I had opened the book, I saw that it was exactly what I was looking for and what I called ‘meta-chemistry’, i.e., something more general than chemistry, which included chemistry as an application, together with many other applications. I can never forget the physical sensation of a great intellectual power that gushed into my face from the pages of that book.
Although the mathematics in the book was well above my level, Grenander’s basic idea was clear. He described the world in terms of structures built of abstract ‘atoms’ possessing bonds to be selectively linked with each other. Body movements, society, pattern of a fabric, chemical compounds, and scientific hypothesis—everything could be described in the atomistic way that had always been considered indigenous for chemistry. Grenander called his ‘atoms of everything’ generators, which tells something to those who are familiar with group theory, but for the rest of us could be a good little metaphor for generating complexity from simplicity. Generators had affinities to each other and could form bonds of various strength. Atomism is a millennia old idea. In the next striking step so much appealing to a chemist, Ulf Grenander outlined the foundation of a universal physical chemistry able to approach not only fixed structures but also “reactions” they could undergo.
The two major means of control in chemistry and organic life: thermodynamic control (shift of equilibrium) and kinetic control (selective change of speed). People might not be aware that the same mechanisms are employed in social and political control, as well as in large historical events out of control, for example, the great global migration of people and jobs in our time or just the one-way flow of people across the US-Mexican border!!! Thus, with an awful degree of simplification, the intensification of a hunt for illegal immigrants looks like thermodynamic control by a honey trap, while the punishment for illegal employers is typical negative catalysis, although both may lead to a less stable and more stressed state. In both cases, new equilibrium will be established, different equilibria housed upon different sets of conditions.
Should I treat people as molecules, unless I am from the Andromeda Galaxy. Complex-systems never come to global equilibrium, although local equilibrium can exist for some time. They can be in the state of homeostasis, which, again, is not the same as steady state in physics and chemistry. Homeostasis is the global complement of the classical local Darwinism of mutation and selection.
Taking other examples, the immigration discrimination in favor of educated or wealthy professionals is also a catalysis of affirmative action type. It speeds up the drive to equilibrium. Attractive salary for rare specialists is an equilibrium shift (honey trap) because it does not discriminate between competitors. Ideally, neither does exploitation of foreign labor. Bureaucracy is a global thermodynamic freeze that can be selectively overcome by 100% catalytic connections and bribes. Severe punishment for bribe is thermodynamic control. The use of undercover agents looks like a local catalyst: you can wait for the crook to make a mistake or you can speed it up. Tax incentive or burden is a shift of equilibrium. Preferred (or discouraging) treatment of competitors is catalysis (or inhibition).
There is no catalysis without selectivity and no selectivity without competition. Equilibrium, however, is not selective: it applies globally to the fluid enough system. Organic life, society, and economy operate by both equilibrium shift and catalysis. More examples: by manipulating the interest rate, the RBI employs thermodynamic control; by tax cuts for efficient use of energy, the government employs kinetic control, until saturation comes. Thermodynamic and kinetic factors are necessary for understanding Complex-systems, although only professionals can talk about them reasonably, but they are not sufficient. History is not chemistry because organic life and human society develop by design patterns, so to speak, or archetypal abstract devices, which do not follow from any physical laws. They all, together with René Thom morphologies, have roots not in thermodynamics but in topology. Anything that cannot be presented in terms of points, lines, and interactions between the points is far from chemistry. Topology is blind to metrics, but if Pattern Theory were not metrical, it would be just a version of graph theory.