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FP — There are some scientists, for example Laszlo Barabasi, who talk about the emergence of a "science of networks." Do you believe in that, and what does it bring to you? What do you learn from that? How does it help you?
FC — This is a big subject. There are very few people today who have used complexity theory to study networks. As an example, let me use molecular evolution, which I mentioned a while ago. There is now a school of thought that does not believe that life evolved from a uniform chemical soup, which was the original Darwinian idea, but that bubbles were formed before, which had soapy or a fat membranes. They were made of lipids, which are fatty and oily substances. If you mix soap and water and shake them you'll have bubbles. If you mix oil and vinegar (which is a watery substance) you'll get bubbles quite naturally. There are very simple physical laws that say, when you have lipids in water and you shake or disturb this mixture, bubbles will form spontaneously. And the idea is that these bubbles formed in the primeval oceans when they cooled down, and that life evolved inside the bubbles. So first you had the membranes, or protomembranes, and then you had the evolution of complexity inside these membranes.
Now, the big difference is that, once these bubbles are formed, they create two kinds of spaces, an outside and an inside. And the laws of physics and chemistry are very different inside and outside. We are talking here about micro-bubbles, which give rise to a very different type of micro-chemistry. It has to be a network chemistry because things bounce off from the walls of the bubbles all the time. The space is small, so the molecules are forced to interact with one another in a much more intense way. And this produces radically different results.
For example, substances that are not synthesized with great probability on the outside, are synthesized in abundance on the inside. To come back to your question, we don't know how to deal with this network chemistry, we have not yet developed the appropriate concepts and methods. We have just started; it's just the beginning.
That's why I think that the analysis of networks and the application of complexity theory to the theory of networks will be a tremendous advance.
Another example would be morphogenesis, the origin of biological form. There, you have a genetic network interacting with a cellular network, which is subject to certain physical and chemical constraints from the environment. Out of this complex interaction grows, say, the leaf of a plant or the shape of a bone. Little work has been done in this area.
FP — Could the science of networks be used for these next steps?
FC — Yes absolutely.
FP — Is "network" a paradigm or a metaphor?
FC — Definitely a metaphor. My understanding of the Kuhnian notion of paradigm is that it is a set of concepts, values, and techniques that define useful problems, that define the research agenda. "Network" seems to be a little too narrow for a paradigm, not rich enough. It's a pattern and a powerful concept. I am more comfortable with calling it a metaphor than a paradigm, because a paradigm also includes values, norms of behavior and all that.
FP — If you use it in the social sciences you may want to come back to the paradigm notion because you have values, and meaning, then it could become a paradigm. Within your own thinking, you could raise this question.
FC — Perhaps, but we are talking about values in a different way. The values are the values that are shared by the scientific community. They tell us what we should and should not do. For instance, cloning. If you say "We should not clone human beings," that's more of a paradigm. It expresses a respect for life… This is not the value that's embedded in the object you study but the value shared by the scientific community doing the studying.