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Artificial Life

Fall 2005, Vol. 11, No. 4, Pages 445-457
(doi: 10.1162/106454605774270589)
© 2005 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Modular Interdependency in Complex Dynamical Systems
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Herbert A. Simon's characterization of modularity in dynamical systems describes subsystems as having dynamics that are approximately independent of those of other subsystems (in the short term). This fits with the general intuition that modules must, by definition, be approximately independent. In the evolution of complex systems, such modularity may enable subsystems to be modified and adapted independently of other subsystems, whereas in a nonmodular system, modifications to one part of the system may result in deleterious side effects elsewhere in the system. But this notion of modularity and its effect on evolvability is not well quantified and is rather simplistic. In particular, modularity need not imply that intermodule dependences are weak or unimportant. In dynamical systems this is acknowledged by Simon's suggestion that, in the long term, the dynamical behaviors of subsystems do interact with one another, albeit in an “aggregate” manner—but this kind of intermodule interaction is omitted in models of modularity for evolvability. In this brief discussion we seek to unify notions of modularity in dynamical systems with notions of how modularity affects evolvability. This leads to a quantifiable measure of modularity and a different understanding of its effect on evolvability.