The complexity of anatomical systems

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Background: The conception of anatomical entities as a hierarchy of infinitely graduated forms and the increase in the number of observed anatomical sub-entities and structural variables has generated a growing complexity, thus highlighting new properties of organised biological matter. Results: (1) Complexity is so pervasive in the anatomical world that it has come to be considered as a primary characteristic of anatomical systems. (2) Anatomical entities, when viewed at microscopic as well as macroscopic level of observation, show a different degree of complexity. (3) Complexity can reside in the structure of the anatomical system (having many diverse parts with varying interactions or an intricate architecture) or in its behaviour. Often complexity in structure and behaviour go together. (4) Complex systems admit many descriptions (ways of looking at the system) each of which is only partially true. Each way of looking at a complex system requires its own description, its own mode of analysis and its own breaking down of the system in different parts; (5) Almost all the anatomical entities display hierarchical forms: their component structures at different spatial scales or their process at different time scales are related to each other. Conclusion: The need to find a new way of observing and measuring anatomical entities, and objectively quantifying their different structural changes, prompted us to investigate the non-Euclidean geometries and the theories of complexity, and to apply their concepts to human anatomy. This attempt has led us to reflect upon the complex significance of the shape of an observed anatomical entity. Its changes have been defined in relation to variations in its status: from a normal (i.e. natural) to a pathological or altered state introducing the concepts of kinematics and dynamics of anatomical forms, speed of their changes, and that of scale of their observation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTheoretical Biology and Medical Modelling
Volume2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 19 2005

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Health Informatics

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