We argue that a critical difference distinguishing machines from organisms and computers from brains is not complexity in a structural sense, but a difference in dynamical organization that is not well accounted for by current complexity measures. We propose a measure of the complexity of a system that is largely orthogonal to computational, information theoretic, or thermodynamic conceptions of structural complexity. What we call a system’s dynamical depth is a separate dimension of system complexity that measures the degree to which it exhibits discrete levels of nonlinear dynamical organization in which successive levels are distinguished by local entropy reduction and constraint generation. A system with greater dynamical depth than another consists of a greater number of such nested dynamical levels. Thus, a mechanical or linear thermodynamic system has less dynamical depth than an inorganic self-organized system, which has less dynamical depth than a living system. Including an assessment of dynamical depth can provide a more precise and systematic account of the fundamental difference between inorganic systems (low dynamical depth) and living systems (high dynamical depth), irrespective of the number of their parts and the causal relations between them.
Via Bernard Ryefield