The Gordian Knot of Complexity

Scott Virden Anderson Blog

A few days ago, I awoke early from a dream in which I’m with a small group of experts considering “what might be a good parable of complexity.”  As I reflected on the dream, I realised such a “parable” might be helpful in understanding the here unfolding Yoga Science.  I drifted asleep again, and found myself again with the experts in their deliberation.

Upon awakening the second time, I felt this might be an important dream, given how relatively uncommon it is to enter the same dream twice.  I let myself stay with the question, now in the hypnopompic state (no longer asleep) and immediately the legend of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot came to mind.  “Nah, that can’t be it,” was my immediate reaction (more on this phenomenon later).

Readers unfamiliar with the legend may enjoy the brief article at wikipedia.  It was one of the mythic tales I learned about in school — one that I dont think I’ve thought of before in connection with Yoga.  However, recalling Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, the idea must be an ancient one — if only that insight is a key feature of any spiritual practice.

In my e-inbox that same morning was the announcment of the celebration of the fifth anniversary of Wolfram’s New Kind of Science being makred as well by a major new release of Mathematica.

Wolfram told me after a presentation at the Palace of Fine Arts about ten years ago that the whole reason he’d developed Mathematica was so that he could more effectively study complexity.  So, progress?  As far as I can see, NKS has shed very little light on complexity itself, whatever else might be said about it.

The “knot of complexity” seems to lie at the heart of so many of our contemporary messes — for instance, health care.  In the course of my twenty years in medical practice, I came to feel that “the biological floor was dropping out from under medicine:”  The medicine doctors are schooled is supposedly based on “sound biological science,” but as time went by during my career, that science was only revealing more and more complex systems.

There is a large chart of Metaboilic Pathways available from Sigma Chemicals that I had framed and put on the wall of my medical office — I would often point to it as I counselled my patients.  I referred to it as “an icon of complexity.”  (This chart is now available in 22nd edition at as product # M3907 for under $10 — a small version can be printed out from the site.)

The chart illustrates a core set of some 550 key chemical reactions, each of which is catalyzed by its own specific enzyme — numbered and named according to IUBMB Enzyme Commission (EC).  In the 19th edition I have framed on the wall to my left as I write, the numbers lable each reaction arrow, and the names are listed in columns in the margin on either side of the map.  Each of these named and numbered enzymes is itself a “gene product” — produced by its own complex process of genetically guided protein synthesis.  Complexity upon complexity upon complexity.

In describing this incident to Susan later the same morning, I came to feel that the SummaTime Scale might be “Alexander’s Sword” in this case — cutting as it does, in effect, to the root of all complexity in the Planckian.  Gradually I’m coming to see that the Gordian Knot and Alexander’s Cut is perhaps indeed an excellent “parable of complexity” for me to use with the Yoga Science.