The Tao of life: from the dynamic unity of polar opposites to self-organization

  • Eugene K. Balon
Part of the Perspectives in vertebrate science book series (PIVS, volume 6)


The phenomena of bifurcation in epigenesis and dichotomy in evolution linked with the concepts of self-organization closely parallel the Taoists’ Order of Nature, the dynamic interplay of the two archetypal poles yin and yang. The eight trigrams (pa kua) and hexagrams illustrate the natural constraints on variation. Patterns of bifurcation as an image of mechanisms for achieving alternative stabilities in organized change are reflected in more indirect and more direct ontogenies, r- and K-selection, maintenance and dispersal phenotypes, generalists and specialists, and altricial and precocial life histories. These and other examples seem to point to an overlying principle: that like the wave-particle duality in physics, life processes use bifurcations to create both novelties and alternative answers, as and when required at any interval of ontogeny and evolution. Constant interactions, changes and an increase in complexity, required for the maintenance of stability, are the self-organizing forces of life. Bifurcations create viable alternatives in either direction akin to Taoist harmony rather than dialectic conflict.

Key words

Yin Yang Chinese philosophy Mysticism Science Physics Biology Trigrams Hexagrams Life history Ontogeny Epigenesis Phylogeny Evolution Dichotomy Bifurcation 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eugene K. Balon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, College of Biological ScienceUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada

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