One of the areas where human understanding has made great leaps over the last few decades has been in the field of complex systems. We hear phrases such as "Chaos Theory", "Chaoplexity" and "Deep Systems". Yes, these researchers speak in terms very different from other scientists.

Niels Bohr used to tell his students to "always be ready for a big surprise." Those who study complex systems live on a steady diet of surprises. If, when these studies began, anybody imagined that the world is predictable, they certainly have no ground to stand on now.

Everything we know is either a system or a component of a system. The biggest system we call the universe, which is made of smaller systems, such as galaxies, which in turn are made of sub-systems, all the way down to ecosystems, organisms, cells, molecules and atoms' perhaps smaller.

Each system is a wondrously harmonious whole—in two ways: First of all, there are generalities to a system, a consistency of rules and order often called, "homogeneity". Rules that apply in one part of the system apply in every other part. Behaviors of similar objects are consistent in both time and space. Newton's gravitational formula will work just as well in one part of the universe as the other. Water is wet no matter where it goes.

The other side to harmony is the significance of the part: The tiniest element of any system can change everything with the most subtle event.

Is there a common element of all systems?

Common sense would tell us that once we get a sense of what goes on in one system, we should be able to predict the next system up in the hierarchy—and vice-versa. In fact, it doesn't quite work that way. From the knowledge of isolated protons, neutrons and electrons we could never know the properties of chemical elements. From the chemical elements, we could never predict the properties of organelles, from which we could never predict the behavior of cells. And so on all the way up the scale to organic microsystems such as the cortical minicolumns, to organs such as the hypothalamus, to supersystems such as CNS, to individuals to social groups to societies, to world systems. At each level something new emerges as other properties submerge. Each has its unique wholeness. Each is its own world.

In effect, it is fallacious to talk in terms of a "hierarchy" of systems from simple to complex, since all have their unique complexity. As the great American physicist, Richard Feynman, commented, we cannot determine, "which end is nearer to G‑d, if I may use a religious metaphor." To those who don't need excuses to use the word G‑d, this says that G‑d is no less found in an atom than in a galaxy.

Searching for a commonality means something like determining if we can find G‑d's signature there. How much does He want to be known by His work?

In a talk in 1986, the Lubavitcher Rebbe answered this question by saying, yes, the artist is recognized in His work. He then pointed out a commonality of all systems at all degrees of scale.

The Rebbe studied science at the University of Berlin, the Sorbonne and the University of Paris—and continued keeping up with the latest developments. The Rebbe provides us an expert convergence of deep science and Jewish mystical thought. So, to understand the Rebbe's insight, we need some background in Jewish thought as well.

Two fundamental principles of Torah are the oneness of G‑d and G‑d as Creator. The whole concept is really beyond the human mind: If G‑d created a universe, how could He remain a simple oneness? An event implies change. Furthermore, the universe is made of a fantastic multitude of diversity. How could such plurality extend from an absolute oneness?

Jewish thought, especially the Kabbalah and Chassidism, deal with these issues. It is even noted that true diversity can only come from truly formless simplicity, for otherwise it would be limited in some certain form or direction.

Hopefully, I will cite some of these explanations in coming articles. I'm bringing it up here to note that this paradox is the central theme of the Jewish view of the cosmos: The universe is understood as infinite plurality extending from absolute oneness. Complexity extending out of the ultimate simplicity. A mass of events and objects and life and conscious beings on the outside, a singular essence on the inside. In simpler words, a universe of many things created and sustained by a G‑d who is one.

From one, many. This, the Rebbe points out, is also the common theme of every system of the universe, from the galaxies to the atom, from human being to the cells of which he is made. And it is seen in two ways:

From one: Each system has its own self-contained unity, as explained earlier. A tree only exists because there is sun and air and earth and water. There is no tree that functions alone. And similarly with every system we have ever observed: The branches, the leaves, the trunk, the roots—all the parts of the tree work together as a single whole. The planets work in synchronized harmony, following shared natural laws. Any organ of a living being has its particular unity.

Many: All these harmonious wholes are comprised of many diverse parts, which in turn divide into more parts and so on. As late as the turn of the twentieth century we thought this division would end at the atom—which were assumed to be "homogenous, infinitesimal, distinct particles, incapable of further analysis." But then a smart-aleck named Rutherford blew the atom to pieces. Since then we've been building bigger and more powerful nuclear accelerators which keep finding more and more pieces for us—now at 50 by most counts, and we have yet to find an end to it all.

Simple oneness expressed in endless diversity. That is how Torah described the universe and that is what we find common in every system of which the universe is made.

There is a second expression of this same theme that exists equally at every level: Each system has a center about which everything else moves. In an atom it is the nucleus—and so too in a cell. In the nervous system it is the brain. In the cardiovascular system, the heart. In a world ecosystem it is the earth. Planets and stars move in grand systems about their orbits. The same can be found in the human being as a whole, in societies, organisms, thermodynamic systems, etc. Examine each one and eventually you will find this same theme in every system: Activity centered about a stable core. Once again, G‑d's signature upon every detail of what He does.

Interestingly, the idea is not new. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, in his classic work, Tanya, discusses the concept mentioned in the Zohar of a "Holy of Holies in every world and in every world-within-a-world." This, he explains, is the place where the Infinite Light enters a world and becomes the source of that world's existence and vitality.

In our physical world, that place is found in Jerusalem, at a physical spot called the "Foundation Stone", called that because—in the words of the Talmud, "from it the world was founded." It is the interface of the physical world with its inner core, the nothingness from which it extends.

More on this thought, G‑d willing, in future articles.