THE name “organism,”given to the individual units of living matter as they are met with in Nature, implies that these act as unified and co-ordinated entities. At the same time, it must be remembered that an organism considered apart from its environment is merely a theoretical abstraction; but, apart from the way in which they react to external influences, there must be means by which the activity of any one part is adjusted to the needs of the whole, and the investigation of these various means may be said to form a large part of modern physiology. In a general sense, it may be looked upon as distinctive of the more recent outlook, for most of us are not content with ascribing the mutual co-ordination of function to a presiding directive agency, be it called “entelechy,” “elan vital,” or other mysterious influence. We want to know more of the actual chemical and physical methods at work in the process, and we believe that it is possible to find out a great deal more about them than we know as yet. The change in the point of view of the physiologist may be realised better if we call to mind that it is no longer thought scientific to devote attention to the “functions of the liver,”for example, but to those processes, such as deanimation and regulation of carbohydrate supply, in which this organ plays a part in combination with various other tissues of the organism. We ask: What part does the liver play in the correlated series of changes associated with the using up of the materials of the food for the supply of energy to, and for the growth of the cells of, the organism as a whole?
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Complex Systems Are More than the Sum of Their Parts: Using Integration to Understand Performance, Biomechanics, and Diversity
Integrative and Comparative Biology (2015)