hard to fix this link, TP ^-^
From Ecology, Meaning and Religion, Roy A. Rappaport
Adaptive Structure and Its Disorders
This essay is an Expansion of the second half of the essay "Ecology, Adaptation, and the Ills of Functionalism (Being, among Other Things, a Response to Jonathan Friedman) originally published in Michigan Discussions in Anthropology 2.139-190, 1977.
* Note: All red is added by me, Burl Grey for MY emphasis.
It would be well to comment upon certain features of this characterization before exploring its implications. First, I include with the class "living systems" both organisms and associations of organisms, The latter may include such social groups as families, clans, tribes, States, and even societies and ecosystems-- any association that can be shown to have inhering in it as a unit distinct processes initiated in response to and as response to perturbation.
The application of a common set of concepts to organisms and to associations of organisms, some of which are culturally governed, is likely to attract charges of organic analogizing. Such charges would be, in my view, misplaced. To say that organisms and associations of organisms are loci of adaptive processes is to recognize that they are both subclasses of a larger class, namely living or adaptive systems, and not to propose that social systems are detailed icons of organisms (or vice versa). To recognize general similarities among systems differing in obvious respects is not to deny their differences or the significance of their differences, but to contextualize them. We shall return to certain of these differences shortly. It may be noted in passing, however, that the organic analogy doesn't even apply very well to organisms, which turn out to be more like ecosystems than is generally thought (Thomas 1974).
Adaptation is a process, or category of processes, universal to life. It is to be observed in simple animals and elaborate empires, and its application to human affairs may provide supracultural criteria in terms of which the operations of particular societies may be assessed. Although it may be acceptable to speak of adaptive processes inhering in "living systems," it is more accurate and therefore preferable to propose the converse: that adaptive processes define (and bound) living systems. The scope of an adaptive process distinguishes a living system (which may, of course, include others and be included by others of greater scope) from its environment.
Relatively autonomous adaptive systems are what have sometimes been called "general purpose systems." The term is ugly but it does convey the notion that such systems do not have special goals. They cannot he defined as can the special purpose systems which they include, by the production of some special product, like petroleum or pituitrin, or by some special activity, as can hearts, lungs, or fire departments. Their ultimate goal is so low in specificity as to seem a virtual non-goal. It is simply to persist. As Slobodkin (1968) has put it in a discussion of the difficulties of applying game theory to evolution, general purpose systems are players of the existential game, a game that is peculiar in that the only reward for successful play is to be allowed to continue to play, a game in which the phrase "cashing in your chips" is a euphemism for losing. Individual humans and societies may, of course, mystify such goals (or non-goals) while maintaining their low specificity (e.g., It is the goal of society to serve God."), but for them to set for themselves enduring goals as specific as those appropriate for their subsystems is likely to reduce their chances of staying in the existential game by reducing their flexibility. Central to adaptation is the maintenance of systemic flexibility, the maintenance of an ability to keep responding homeostatically to perturbations the magnitude and nature of which
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usually cannot be predicted, given the complexity of the universe. A second feature of our definition of adaptation bearing brief comment is its inclusion of the term "environment." "Environment" and "ecosystem" are not synonymous, and "environment" here is meant to embrace cultural and social as well as physical and biotic phenomena. Whereas both individuals and ecosystems are to be included within the class "living systems," social and cultural anthropologists may be expected to take human social units or formations to be the adaptive systems with which they are primarily concerned.
Third, the term "homeostasis" appears in the definition. Systemic homeostasis may be given specific, if not always precise, meaning if it is conceived as a set of ranges of viability on a corresponding set of variables abstracted from what, for independently established empirical or theoretical reasons, are taken to be conditions vital to the persistence of the system. This is to say that any process, physiological, behavioral, cultural, or genetic, that tends to keep the states of crucial variables (e.g., body temperature, population size, protein intake, energy flux) within ranges of viability or tends to return them to such ranges should they depart from them may be taken, other things being equal, to be adaptive. Later it will be necessary to consider difficulties in the association of adaptiveness with particular variables, but this preliminary formulation may stand for the present, because it underlines certain features of adaptive process and structure.
Fourth, it is important to note that the terms "homeostasis" and "dynamic equilibrium" do not imply changelessness. Indeed, the opposite is the case. In an ever-changing world the maintenance of homeostasis requires constant change of state and, for most systems at least, occasional change in structure. We shall return to this.
The definition of adaptation offered here implies, or even entails, self-regulation. Self-regulation depends upon a limited family of mechanisms. These include, first, immutability, in which some aspect or component of the system is held in what seems to be an absolutely invariant state. The clearest cases are probably religious propositions, such as creeds, taken by those adhering to them to be eternally true.- These have considerable importance in the self-regulation of human societies. Second, there are what Piaget (1971: 14) calls operations. These are perfectly reversible processes, best exemplified by mathematical and logical formulations. As such they are of considerable importance in thought. Although they do not apply directly to matter and energy transactions, within which inexactitude prevails and entropy is ubiquitous, they may be important in the regulation of such transactions. In
tionary changes, such as fin to leg, may be distinguished from "functional" changes or "systemic adjustments" on some grounds, but they are not separated from them in the larger more inclusive scheme of adaptive process. Together they form ordered series of responses to perturbations. Several comments are in order before discussing adaptive response sequence.
first, it is worth reiterating because there seems to be considerable confusion surrounding this matter that the view of adaptation proposed here suggests that there is no contradiction between the maintenance of homeostasis and evolutionary change. Indeed, Romer's parable--it may be no more than that--suggests that the most salient question to ask concerning any structural change is "What does this change maintain unchanged?"
Second, earlier I proposed that the goal of an adaptive system, as a player of Slobodkin's existential game, is simply to persist. Our account suggests that that which persists is not necessarily any particular feature or component of the adapting system, but simply an organized set of adaptive processes. Even structure may change. It follows that the frequently asked question, "When does a system stop being what it has been and become something else is a question that is generally deemed impossible to answer and thus devastating to systemic approaches to evolutionary transformation, is close to nonsensical. There has been, for instance, an unbroken continuity in English society from the days of the heptarchy until today despite enormous changes in both structure and cultural content. In the course of their unbroken successions ecosystems may replace all, or almost all, of their constituent species several times. That we distinguish and name the phases following each other in these successions, just as we may distinguish and name and periods following each other in the history of societies, or, for that matter, in the ontogeny of individuals, and that these phases and period differ in important ways, does not mean that they are discontinuous. Slobodkin and Rapoport (1974) have noted two distinct ways in which distinctive associations of conspecifics can cease to exist, and they have admonished us not to confuse them. On the one hand, there can come a time when no descendants of that association remain alive. At such time we can say that the adaptive processes that it embodied have come to an end. We can further say in such cases that the evolutionary process has ended in failure. On the other hand, such an association may apparently cease to exist because its descendants have been so transformed as to warrant being called by a new species name. In this instance the adaptive processes continue and the evolutionary process continues to be successful.
A third major point is that insofar as adaptive processes are cybernetic they are possessed of a characteristic structure because cybernetic
systems have a characteristic structure, namely that of the closed causal loop: in a cybernetic system a deviation from a reference value itself initiates the process that attempts to correct it.
Fourth, although adaptive processes may have cybernetic characteristics, all that is cybernetic is not adaptive in the sense outlined in the first paragraphs of this essay. In the most general terms, cybernetic systems attempt to maintain the truth value of propositions about themselves in the face of perturbations tending to falsify them (Bateson 1972). In systems dominated by humans, at least, the propositions so maintained (and the physical states represented by such propositions) may not correspond to, or may even contradict, homeostasis biologically or even socially defined.
Adaptation is not constituted of a class of isolated responses. Orderly adaptive processes are, rather, organized into ordered sequences of responses, and these sequences as sequences have certain interesting structural properties (Bateson 1963: Frisancho 1975; Rappaport 1976a; Slobodkin and Rapoport 1974; Vayda and McKay 1975). The responses most quickly mobilized are likely to be energetically and behaviorally expensive, but easily and quickly reversible following the cessation of stress. Should a perturbation or stress continue, however, the earlier responses are eventually relieved by slower-acting, less energetically expensive, less easily reversible changes. Responses earlier in the sequence are likely to be gross behavioral and physiological state changes. Changes later in the sequence are likely to be structural (constitutional in social systems, irreversible somatic change, and ultimately genetic change, in organisms and populations of organisms; formally similar sequences can possibly be observed in various psychological processes). While the earlier responses operate, the system may well be deprived of some behavioral flexibility, but while these earlier easily reversible responses continue the structure of the system in which thev occur remains unchanged. Later responses, although they may be more efficient energetically than the earlier, and although they do restore some immediate behavioral flexibility to the system, are less easily reversible or even irreversible. This is to say that later responses may entail structural change. Both Bateson, and Slobodkin and Rapoport, have suggested that the probable effect of structural change in response to specific problems is the reduction of long-term flexibility. There is likely to be trade-off, then, in adaptive response sequences, of long-term systemic fexibility for immediate effeciency (or other advantage. In an unpredictably changing universe it is good evolutionary strategy, they say, to give up
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as little flexibility as possible, to change no more than is necessary. (To put the matter in more familiar terms, structural change in response to particular stresses is likely to lead to increased specialization, and increased specialization to earlier loss in the existential game, a game in which even the rules change from time to time.) This argument was presaged in Evolution and Culture, edited by Sahlins and Service in I960.
Evolutionary wisdom seems to, be intrinsic to the graduated structure of the adaptive response sequences of organisms, but may not be as well founded in social systems. In human social systems, at least, adaptive response sequences can, and do, become disordered, a matter to which I shall return in the next section. First, however, we must consider the structure of adaptive systems, to consider, that is, how systems must be constructed if they are to maintain continuing homeostasis through the mobilization of orderly sequences of responses to perturbation.
We have already noted that adaptive systems are self-regulating and that self-regulating processes have characteristic structures. The causal structure of the cybernetic mode, probably the most important, takes the form of a closed circuit. Adaptive processes are not only cybernetic, sequential, and graduated, however. The adaptive structure of any living system is not merely a collection of more or less distinct feedback loops. Particular or spcecific adaptations must be related to each other in structured ways, and general adaptations, human or otherwise, biological or cultural, must take the form of enormously complex sets of interlocking corrective loops, roughly and generally hierarchically arranged, and including not only mechanisms regulating material variables, but regulators regulating relations between regulators and so on (Kalmus 1966; Miller 1965a, 1965b; Pattee 1973. Rappaport 1969, 1971a; Simon 1969). Adaptive structures are structured sets of processes, and regulatory hierarchies, whether or not they are embodied in particular organs or institutions, are found in
biological and social systems. It is important, however, to issue a caveat here: to say that regulatory structure is hierarchical is not to say that it is centralized, nor that it entails social stratification. For instance, among some egalitarian societies, components of regulatory hierarchies are embedded in ritual cycles; in others in segmentary kinship organization (Brookfield and Brown 1963; Meggitt 1965, 1972; Ortiz 1969; Rappaport 1968; Sahlins 1961).
The hierarchical organization of adaptive processes is manifested not only in the relationship of regulators to each other but also in the relationships of parts to the systems in which they are included. This relationship is, of course, implicit in the parable of the emerging amphibia. Transformations in one or several subsystems made it possible for
the general structure of those organisms to remain unchanged during the initial stage of the terrestrial adaptation. It may be possible to distinguish transformations of differing degrees of profundity. "Low order" transformations, transformations of the internal structure of specific subsystems, may be occurring more or less continuously, but because complex living systems are, to use Simon's (1969) phrase, "loosely coupled," their effects may be confined to the subsystems in which they occur. High-order transformations, transformations in the structures of more inclusive systems, are rarer, and, of course, their effects are more profound. To speak, simply, of structural transformation is not sufficient, but there are possibilities for identifying transformations of different order and to consider relations --temporal, causal, and formal-- among these transformations.
Whereas the adaptive structure of all living systems must share certain fundamental features-- hierarchical organization and both self-regularing and self-transforming properties (see Piaget 1971), those of different classes surely differ in important respects that may be most significantly related to differences in their characteristic coherence and in the relative autonomy of their subsystems. There are also, and perhaps related, differences among hierarchies in the extent to which they are organized in accordance with segmentary or sectorial principles (in the former, subsystems at each level are similar, in the latter differentiated).
The increasing differentiation, in the course of evolution, of discrete special-purpose subsystems in organisms, societies, and ecosystems has been called "progressive segregation," and it is often accompanied in organisms and social systems, but not ecosystems, by increasing centralization of regulatory operation, or "progressive centralization." In organisms we note the elaboration of central nervous systems, in societies the development of administrative structures. This contrast between the development of ecological and other systems may rest upon their contrasting bases for order maintenance. The basis of orderliness in ecosystems seems to shift, in the course of their development from "pioneer to "mature" stages, from a reliance upon the resilience of individual organisms to a reliance upon the increasing redundance of matter and energy pathways resulting from increasing species diversity. These contrasting bases of order maintenance may, in turn, reflect differences in the degrees of coherence that different classes of systems require and can tolerate. Whereas anthropologists traditionally have been concerned with the ways in which the various components of sociocultural systems are bound together--the jargon is "integrated"--they have generally ignored the ways in which the parts and processes of such systems are buffered from each other and each other's disruptions. I further suggest that organisms are, and in their nature must be, more coherent than
social systems, and social systems more coherent than ecosystems. As a rule of thumb, the more inclusive the system the less coherent it is and must be. The less inclusive the system, the more its internal orderliness and the effectiveness of its activities depends upon the fine coordination of its parts. An organism requires and can tolerate closer coordination of the activities of its parts than societies, and societies more (at least from time to time) than ecosystems. Coordination depends upon centralization, hence progressive centralization in organisms and societies but not ecosystems.
The relative autonomy of a system is a function of the degree to which the regulatory mechanisms upon which its persistence depends are intrinsic to itself. To put it a little differently, "relative autonomy" refers to the extent to which systems are themselves more or less distinct adaptive units. Organs, for instance, have very little autonomy, for they cannot function in the absence of the organisms of which they are parts. Whole organisms have a much higher degree of relative autonomy; they are distinct adaptive units. It should be kept in mind, however, that no system less inclusive than the solar system is absolutely autonomous. To repeat, whereas the adaptive structures of all living systems share certain fundamental features, they also differ in certain ways, probably related most importantly to differences in their coherence and in the relative autonomy of their subsystems.
Much conceptual and empirical work remains to be done, but it may be tentatively suggested that in orderly adaptive systems, relations between subsystems and regulators at different levels should be hierarchical along a number of dimensions. The simplest of these, entailed by the characteristics of response sequences, to which reference has already been made, include: specificity of goals (highly specific at lowest levels to highly general at highest levels), response time (very fast and continuously operating at low levels, slower and tending toward sporadic operation at higher levels), and reversibility (easily and quickly reversible at lowest levels to irreversible only at the highest levels).
It follows from the ordering of the simple dimensions that higher-order regulators are not so much engaged in the regulation of specific material and behavioral processes as they are in the regulation of relations among these processes. They become involved in the details of the systems subordinate to them only when lower-order regulation experiences difficulty. In contrast to regulators of low order, each of which may respond to fluctuations in a number of distinct and specific processes, higher-order regulators operate in terms of simplified and
highly aggregated variables, like monetary values. This implies that higher-order regulators do not "know" or need to know all that is known by their subordinates; that they needn't be any more complex, and may be simpler, than those of lower order; that they may operate less continuously than those of lower order; and that they include within their repertoires programs for changing structurally, or even replacing, lower-order regulators or subsystems.
In sum, there is an ordering in adaptive hierarchies from a range of highly specific concerns at lowest levels to increasingly more aggregated and general concerns at higher levels, and characteristic relationships of reversibility and time are associated with this order. The temporal dimension requires further brief discussion, for it is rather complex and we have considered only one of its aspects, the speed of response. There is also the matter of duration. First, the concerns of lower-order systems are likely to be transitory, while those of higher order systems are enduring. This is refected in differences in the temporal qualities of the sentences typically concerned with regulation of lower and higher order. Low-order directives are typically commands, and as such are situation-specific and therefore ephemeral. Rules, which are more or less enduring, being category, rather than situation-specific, are typical of middle-range regulation. Principles, characteristic of yet higher order regulators, may be taken by those accepting them to reflect enduring or even timeless aspects of morality or nature, and highest-order regulation is likely to be associated with propositions concerning gods conceived to be altogether outside of time and man's reach. We move from the quick to the eternal. Adaptive structures include processes, experienced by those participating in them as continuously changing in the flux of time, and components, understood as immutable and thus not subject to time's vicissitudes. Adaptive structures not only include both temporal and atemporal features; they are constituted by relationships among these features; and, it may be suggested, evolution and history are to be understood in terms of the dynamic relationship between the everchanging and what is understood as never-changing.
The correlation of the dimensions of time, specificity, and reversibility, a correlation that may be intrinsic to adaptive systems of all classes, leads to, or perhaps even entails, other dimensions of hierarchy that may be unique to human social systems. These dimmensions may be related both to the low degree to which patterns of behavior are specified generically among humans and to the relative autonomy of higher-order regulatory goals and conventions from environmental constraint. In proceeding from lower, more goal-specific regulation to regulation of higher order, the degree to which operation is determined or limited by environmental and other factors decreases. Regulation of increasingly
*I refer doubters to our currency.
A hierarchy of values is, ipso facto, a hierarchy of meaning, for values are a category of meaning. In ascending hierarchies of values we proceed, as I have already noted, from highly specific and often precise instrumental values to more general, vague, and even cryptic ultimate values. There are corresponding changes in the nature of their meanings and in meaning in general. Low-order meanings, in particular the meanings of words per se, are those of definition and distinction, and as such are virtually synonymous with information in the technical sense. Low-order instrumental values can be specified adequately in words and numbers.
Higher-order meaning is of a different sort. The sense of meaning to which the question (What does it all mean!) points is really no longer that of simple distinction or definition when asked by one confronted by a complex mass of information, indeed, in answering such a question, information is radically reduced: "it all means that the world is good," or that "the world is evil," or that "Life is like a fountain." But as information is decreased, meaningfulness is increased; for similarities, substantive or structural, between that which we seek to understand and that which we already "know," are made explicit. Metaphors are constructed. The application of a rule, principle, or classificatory device to a wide range of Phenomena (such as the application of the hot/cold dichotomy to gender, other social relarions, plants, and conditions of the body) invests the world with meaning, for everything is not only itself but also an icon of other things.
Higher-order meaning is, then, not information in the digital sense but, rather, metaphoric. Although the discursive content of higher-order meanings may be less than that of lower-order meanings, higher-order
meanings may well be affectively more powerful, which is to say more meaningful. It is significant that representations of art, poetry, and ritual rely heavily upon metaphor, and that primary process thought is largely metaphoric.
The meaningfulness of highest-order meaning, that which lies around --and beyond--ultimate sacred postulates, is again different. The discursive content of ultimate sacred postulates is low, and beyond such sentences the meanings of language may evaporate completely. Even metaphor's grasp is exceeded. Just as meaningfulness does not vanish with information, neither is it limited to that which metaphor may reach. Meaning may be nondiscursive. All distinction and all likeness may dissolve into a sense of no-distinction, or unity. Ultimate meaning is without reference, signifying only itself. It is a state of being, and is sometimes called by such names as "pure being" and "Being-Itself." It is of interest that the meanings that seem peculiar to humans, those we associate with what we are wont to call their "highest faculties," predominate at lowest levels. The meanings prevailing at higher and highest levels are diminishingly discursive, increasingly affective, and, perhaps, increasingly archaic and decreasingly distinctive of humanity. Be this as it may, the objectification of self and the world, and the concomitant alienation of self from the self and the world that is intrinsic to the use of language, may be overcome for the nonce by the sense of identity with self and the world (see Van Baal 1971) that constitutes highest-level meaning. This is mystical. It should not be forgotten, however, that mystical experiences (in a broad sense) do occur, particularly in religious rituals, the characteristics of which tend to encourage them. Elsewhere (1967b; "Sanctity and Lies in Evolution" in this volume) I have argued that such experience may provide deeper and more compelling understandings of perfectly natural and extremely important aspects of the physical and social world than can be provided by discursive reason alone. They may make palpable to us the reality of the larger systems of which we are parts, but which are ordinarily hidden from us by the evidence of our senses, which inform us of our autonomy and separation. Highest-order meaning has an important place in the adaptive structure of humanity, and so does the order of meaning in general.
I commenced with adaptation, a notion derived from biological disciplines, but find myself discussing meaning and meaningfulness, notions more obviously associated with the disciplines of mind. Two enterprises have proceeded in anthropology since its earliest days. One, objective in its aspirations and inspired by biological disciplines, seeks explanation and is concerned to discover laws and causes. The other, subjective in its orientation and influenced by philosophy, linguistics, and the humanities, attempts interpretation and seeks to elucidate meanings. I take any
radical separation of the two to be misguided, for the relationship between them, with all of its difficulty, ambiguity, and tension, is a refection of, or metaphor for, the condition of a species that lives in terms of meanings in a physical world devoid of intrinsic meaning but subject to causal law. The concept of adaptation when applied to human society must take account of meaning as well as cause and of the complex dynamic of their relationship.
It could, perhaps, be argued that all organisms behave in terms of meanings, but it is obvious that meaning must be implicated in unique ways in the adaptive organization of a species whose constituent groups not only conduct themselves in accordance with meanings, but must themselves construct those meanings. My earlier attempts (1963, 1968, 1971b) to deal with the place of meaning in adaptive structure by proposing that "cognized" as well as "operational" models are requisite to analyses of the ecological relations of human groups were inadequate on several grounds. In a more recent essay ("On Cognized Models," in this volume) I have tried to rectify some of the earlier problems, among which was too great a readiness to take the relationship of meaning to biology to be, simply, instrumental and contingent, instrumental in that understandings could be taken to be parts of the survival mechanisms of organisms and populations of organisms, and not themselves the objects of homeostatic processes. Relations of contingency take a little more spelling out in this context.
I have suggested that the proper goal of adaptive systems is merely to persist, but have said nothing about what persistence entails. We may be reminded here that the term "adaptation" is biological in origin and that the cultural systems with which we are concerned are founded upon living organisms. Cultural systems are living systems, and it is obvious that no living system (cultural or otherwise) could persist if the population of organisms realizing it did not persist. No particular convention is indispensable to the persistence of any human social system, but human organisms, in contrast, are obviously indispensable to the persistence of all such systems and, of course, the maintenance of ecosystemic function is indispensable to the survival and well-being of humans.
We note here that contingency may be regarded as another dimension of the hierarchical structure of adaptive systems. The cultural is ultimately contingent upon the organic, but consideration of relations of contingency leads beyond dimensions of hierarchy to consideration of the shape, as it were, of hierarchy itself; "the organic" is, of course, realized in individuals, and, in the end, contingency turns the adaptive hierarchies of human societies back upon themselves. They become circular. That is, although humans are subordinate to the regulatory structures of the societies in which they participate, their persistence is
the sine qua non of the persistence of those societies. The highest and lowest levels of the hierarchy thus meet in the individual.
To say, however, that persistence is nothing if not biological is not to say that it is only biological. We have alreatly noted that in the most general terms, cybernetic and other self-regulating mechanisms can be understood to operate In a manner that preserves the truth value of propositions concerning the systems in which they occur in the face of perturbations tending to falsify them (Bateson 1972). Although the effect of such mechanisms may be, and often is, the regulation of matter and energy processes, they operate in terms of information in a broad sense, including meanings. Whether or not we wish to argue that meanings are guiding for all creatures, there are special problems for humans. The "truths" maintained in organic processes are, in large measure, genetically established, and no doubt correspond closely to organic requisites. The same may be asserted, to a greater or lesser degree, for he behavioral and social processes of infrahuman species. Humans, nowever, must construct the meanings they maintain, and considerable disparity may develop between those meanings on the one hand and, on the other, the organic requisites of individuals and the requirements of he ecosystems in which they participate. We shall discuss such dispariies later in the course of discussing maladaptive forms. Here I shall nerely reiterate two obvious points. First, adaptive systems must mainain meanings as well as organic function because the self-regulatory processes upon which organic function depends (and is in some degree ,ordered) operate in terms of information and meaning. The relationship, n fact, between meaning and information on the one hand, and matter nd energy on the other, is so intimate and interdependent that it is an error to take either to be ultimate. And just as the organic is realized in individuals, so are the processes of meaning and information. Although symbols and other forms of collective representation may be the vehicles of meaning, meaningfulness is experienced and experience has its locus in idividuals. The hierarchical structure of adaptive systems turns back upon itself, or is circular with respect to meaning as well as, and partially as corollary of, the circularity following from contingency relations. In the conjunction of the highest and lowest levels of the hierarchy in the idividual, I have argued elsewhere (see "Sanctity and Lies in Evolution" in this volume), the ambitions of separate men may be subordinated to, common interest while, at the same time, the operations of societies are reviewed and tempered by the psychic and physical needs of the humans constituting them.
Second, and also obvious, disagreements between the meanings mainined by a society and the requisites, organic, populational, and ecostemic, of its persistence may be likely to develop in all human
societies not only because of the opportunity and need to invent meanings but also because the increased information processing capacity provided by language increases opportunity for error. The likelyhood of such disparities may, furthermore, increase in the course of cultural evolution because, among other things, cultural evolution produces, as a concomitant of social differentiation, what are called "special interests." In orderly adaptive structures, however, the meanings maintained are not in conflict with the persistence of organic and ecosystemic processes. This does not mean that biological variables are explicitly denominated as ultimate. They never seem to be in the religious systems of living societies, and it would probably be adaptively ineffective for them to be thus elevated. I have already argued chat sacred postulates, themselves specifying nothing, appropriately occupy the status of ultimate. The implication of my argument is that the maintenance of organic and ecosystemic function is intrinsic to orderly adaptive structure, to a certain ordering of processual and systemic components with respect to time, specificity, reversibility, sanctity, value, contingency, and meaning.
At the beginning of this essay I associated systemic homeostasis with the maintenance of sets of vital variables within ranges of viability, but immediately noted that difficulties attend such a conception. As far as biological variables are concerned, given the counter-intuitive nature of complex systems, it is difficult or impossible to assess the long-run effects of any aspect of culture on particular biological variables. For a second, it does not seem possible to specify any particular feature of biological structure or function that will always contribute to survival chances (Slobodkin and Rapoport 1974) Although particular variables are, and must be, maintained within ranges of viability at particular times, these ranges, and even the systemic components of which they are states, may be changed by evolution. As there may be no particular biological variables that under all circumstances must be maintained, neither are there specific meanings that must always and everywhere be taken as true.
Adaptiveness, therefore, is not to be identified with specific variables, but with a general or systemic, homeostasis that is structural in nature. If orderly adaptive structure is maintained, organic function, meaning and meaningfulness will be maintained. This is to propose that the formal or structural characteristics of adaptive processes have substantive implications. This proposal will become clearer in the course of a discussion of maladaptive forms, particularly that called "usurpation."
If adaptive processes are those tending to maintain homeostasis in the face of perturbation, maladaptations are factors internal to systems
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interfering with their homeostatic responses. They reduce the likelihood of a system's persistence, not so much by subjecting the system to stress as by impeding its ability to respond effectively to stress. Maladaptations are not to be confused with exogenous stressors or perturbing factors, although they themselves can, of course, produce stress. This view of maladaptation is similar to, the concept of disease
(dis-ease) proposed by Young and Kowley (1967)
If the maintenance of homeostasis depends upon hierarchically ordered sequences of responses, and the mobilization and ordering of such responses depends upon a structure of a characteristic sort, then it should be possible to describe or define maladaptation, or maladaptations, structurally. Maladaptations may be conceived as anomalies in the hierarchical and self-regulatory features we have taken to be characteristic of orderly adaptive structure. That is, relations along the several dimensions of adaptive order-- response time, duration, reversibility, specificity, sanctity, meaning, value- can become disordered, producing interlevel contradictions or conficts. These disorders are what I mean the term "maladaptation" to designate. Although maladaptation may be conceived in structural terms, these structural anomalies have material consequences that we recognize as substantive problems-- the ecological problem, the energy problem, the problems of oppression and imperialism. We may now turn briefly to a few of the many possible maladaptive forms.
The simplest of these forms are such cybcrnetic difficulties as impedances to the detection of changes in the states of variables; the delay, loss, or distortion of information transmitted to system regulators; and the inability of regulators to interpret the signals they receive. These structural problems may produce inappropriate responses, or errors in scale of response, like "too little, too late." These difficulties are exacerbated by increased size. For instance, the more nodes through which information must pass, the more subject it is to distortion or loss. Thus, the higher the administrator, the less accurate and adequate his information is likely to be, and the more likely the production of an erroneous or inappropriate regulatory response.
The likelihood of hierarchical anomaly also increases with scale. For instance, the deeper the regulatory hierarchy, the more likely are time aberrations. Whereas excessive lag may be a problem, so may be premature responses of high-order regulators, for if they constantly override those of lower order they will destroy them, throwing additional burdens on themselves, perhaps to the point of overload and breakdown. Moreover, premature responses of higher-order regulators may well be overresponses--"too much too soon," resulting in more or less irreversible changes when less drastic adjustments would not only have been sufficient but conservative of long-term flexibility. The contribution of