Does language fit reality? Probably not, language is an evolved Adaptation for solving particular survival problems. There is less congruence with reality as observational proximity increases. This is an old problem, noticed by Plato and amended by population biologists who think in patterns rather in idealized forms. Psychology compromised a bit with means and variances while retaining the concept of Error Factors. Still, let's give it a shot.
Brian Goodwin (1994) addresses the problem of oscillation and excitable fields in biological and social structures. He moves from simple chemicals, one-celled forms, ants, neurons, and human organizations. He has several core arguments, including (a) genes are not little dictators but have different expressions as a function of their setting, (b) physics and chemistry have rules that determine genetic expression during ontogeny, and (c) the notion of "excitable fields" is a useful model for describing many biological outcomes.
A personal example: I transplanted about 200 silver maples one weekend, most of them in a rectangular plot with about 8 feet between trees. That patch has grown extraordinarily tall. The remainder were scattered in accord with the terrain across the rest of my lot and grew shorter and fuller with many graceful, multiple trunks coming from a single transplant. Presumably, same genes, very different outcomes as a function of access to light, itself regulated by the proximity of another tree.
Oscillations between growth and inhibition occur. I handle my confusion by imagining the results of having no oscillations.
One condition would be that of unrestricted growth. Creatures without predators, the human population, and perhaps the universe are possible examples. Even these run into inhibitory limits, even if imposed by the exhaustion of resources. (Internet Chat Rooms so far appear to have neither predators nor a lack of resources.)
Unrestricted negative feedback leads quickly to extinction of the process even if it were launched from some non-zero value..
Thus, Thorndike or Darwin or Adam Smith or Christian morality ... things that work are preserved and replicated. Things that do not, vanish.
So, we have oscillations. The model likely fits moods (if plotted, a complex wave moving from positive values to negative and back again). Homeostasis is not a static value but a moving average that results from sequential mood shifts. The Approach Avoidance Conflict Model seems to be another oscillatory system.
A lot of the fun is perhaps in specifying the fine details of how the oscillation is imposed, accelerated or slowed. It's possible that the mechanisms for dominance are dampened by opposing ones for timidity or embarrassment. Still more fun lies in figuring the extent that these competing, (evolutionarily stable?) strategies are better expressed within a single person or achieved by a partnership such as often seen between "enablers" and "control freaks."
There's another partnership between the ESS of "Cheater" and "Sucker." (Which may be no different than that between manics and "codependents.") There are likely many more to be found.
Despite millennia of selection pressures that balance growth and inhibition, expansion and cooperation, there are periodic lapses. The American electronic media currently shows properties of unstable expansion. Such times of mass synchrony can be associated with fads, cult figures (Diana, Farakhan, or Hitler), heightened "national resolve," or lemming behavior. Some of the mechanisms may be mediated by sensory mechanisms that give priority to supernormal stimuli and our possible Psych Adaptations to "copy the alpha." By whatever means, a smile, a hand toss, an earring, a personal bauble and a forest or a species disappears and another landfill blossoms.
I understand through other sources that Stuart Kaufman and the Santa Fe Institute have invested great amounts of thought into the problems of evolved complexity. Check Belew & Mitchell (1996) for some recent articles.
Jim (10/7/97, 4:20am!)
Goodwin B. (1994) "How the leopard changed its spots: The evolution of complexity" NY: Simon & Schuster.
Belew R & Mitchell M (1996) Adaptive individuals in evolving populations: Models & Algorithms. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, (Buy this one cautiously, there's a whole damn series on evolved complexity, sponsored by the Santa Fe Institute Studies in the Sciences of Complexity.)