08 Apr 2012
The engineering approach to a system is to look at it from top down. In this way one is able to determine the functionality as well as the characteristics of the system. This requires for less comprehensive understanding than a bottom up approach. In fact one may even regard the system as a black box and look at it purely from input and output characteristic in order to determine how it behaves. From a bottom up approach, small individual changes cause the system to change behavior, but in a completely unpredictable fashion. One would have to change each part individually leaving everything else the same, thus seeing how this affects the system. Unfortunately changing one thing frequently changes several others, which are unknown and discovered later. This is the way of biological systems, which make the bottom up approach even more difficult.
On top of this we have to add the fact of the sophistication of the biologic machinery versus the level of sophistication of the persons making changes. The difference in the level of sophistication of the designer would be as if a carpenter were trying to fix a modern computer driven automobile engine with his tools, a hammer, nails, saw and a screwdriver. Pieces could be removed to alter the behavior of the car without any idea of how this would affect overall function. This is analogous to the state of our medicine, yet we have the arrogance to say, because we are carpenters equipped as we are with the equivalent tools, the problems are all solvable with screws and screwdrivers, nails and hammers because we are simply unaware of electric tools we simply say non-mechanical tools do not exist.
A far better approach is to measure output and to change the inputs to determine the characteristics of the biologic black box. We have determined that it is self-regulating and self-healing. There are enough spontaneous cures to tell us this. We should change our approach in experimenting with the black box by leaving it intact and studying its characteristics. We may be able to glean more information about generating the behavior that we want from it based solely on input. It is far more likely to be effective.
There are a number of reasons why the bottom up approach is not successful. All systems are governed by Newton’s Laws whenever attempts are made to produce local changes. In effect Newton’s Laws are created at the point of resistance, within the system, to local change. The system permits small local changes, but as these increase in magnitude so does the resistance. This eventually becomes energy prohibitive on a local level. Such effects create a circumstance that dooms such attempts to failure. Each new generation of antibiotics becomes more cost prohibitive and usually despite promise, showing only marginal improvement. This is an example of Newton’s Laws within a biologic system. These can be bypassed only by looking at input/output where the shifting balance within the system depending on input is able to generate the desired output.
The lesson here is that unless, as individuals or as society, we approach problems from the perspective of restoring balance then we will inevitably fail.