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Heterarchy and Hierarchy -
Two Complementary Categories
of Description


by Eberhard von Goldammer


The term 'heterarchy' was introduced into science more than half a century ago by the neurophysiologist and cybernetician Warren St. McCulloch in his study "A Heterarchy of Values Determined by the Topology of Nervous Nets". Since that time the term 'heterarchy' which has be considered as complement to 'hierarchy' has scarcely been noticed by the main stream of scientific research. This is amazing because McCulloch introduced this term in connection with the function and organizational structures of neural networks. Therefore one would expect that at least the neural networkers, i.e., the researchers from the camp of Artificial Intelligence, of cognitive and neuro-sciences, or of brain research and connectionism would be interested in the interplay of heterarchically and hierarchically organized process structures – but not at all! Obviously there is no interest on heterarchical process structures, i.e., one is convinced that the models of neuro-sciences which are known today already simulate the conditions of heterarchical process structures. If the latter assumptions should be true then this would be not only a big mistake but also a kind of scientific a self-deception.

Today the term heterarchy has been re-discovered form the side of organizational theory. This is not a surprise since hetararchical structures can only be observed within living systems such as organisms or for instance in social organizations such as post-industrial companies. The sociologist David Stark, for example, reports on heterarchical organizational structures in post-socialist enterprises. In his book Many Dimensional Man James Ogilvy writes "the new self is heterarchical, many dimensiona…l" and in his recent book Creating Better Futures Ogilvy writes "complex problems may require the complexity of heterarchy". But what is the complexity of heterarchy ?

In his contribution "Organisation und Postmoderne" Markus Reihlen describes the transition of the modern society in a post-modern or post-industrial society form the organizational point of view (see also: The Logic of Heterarchies [6a]).

However, what has been ignored until today is the fact that the study of heterarchical process structures is essential for any modeling of living systems in general. Such a modeling provides a new scientific logical understanding – a new scientific paradigm. In the early in seventies it was the philosopher and logician Gotthard Günther who interpreted McCulloch's study "A Heterarchy of Values …" Two of his essays should be mentioned within this context, namely: "Cognition and Volition" and Das Janusgesicht der Dialektik.

In the sense of "knowledge recycling" in "Heterarchy and Hierarchy - Two Complementary Categories of Description" the attempt is made to redraw the scientific logical problem which is known for more than half a century in order to deduce a sharper scientific definition of the complementary terms heterarchy and hierarchy.

Important note: For the deeper understanding of the above mentioned text "Heterarchy and Hierarchy - Two Complementary Categories of Description" an additional and coordinated text "Heterarchy sidetext" is necessary which either directly contains or deepens sources mentioned in the actual article. It is advisable to keep both texts open within Acrobat Reader in order to jump forth and back using the links between them. Attention: If you want to download the texts, store them in the same folder and do not change the filenames, otherwise the links don't work!

Remark: The link to Markus Reihlen was changed 22.11.2012. Markus Reihlen is no longer Member of the Universit of Cologne, he owns a professorship for strategic management at Leuphana University Lüneburg.

Explicit listing of links:
[1] http://www.amphilsoc.org/library/mole/m/mcculloc.htm
[2] http://www.sociology.columbia.edu/people/index.html?professors/dcs36/index.html
[3] http://ag.arizona.edu/futures/fut/ogilvy.html
[4] http://www.amazon.de/exec/obidos/ASIN/0195146115/qid=1064765884/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_8_2/302-9682129-6952867
David Stark (Santa Fe Institute) "I'm interested in finding out to what extent hierarchy versus heterarchy is there in the new kind of firm which is emerging,"
[5] www.leuphana.de/markus-reihlen.html 
[6] http://www.vordenker.de/reihlen/mr_org-post.pdf
[6a] M. Reihlen (english text)
[7] http://www.vordenker.de/ggphilosophy/c_and_v.pdf
[8] http://www.vordenker.de/heterarchy/a_heterarchy-e.pdf