Self-organization in micron-sized Nb3O7(OH) cubes during a
hydrothermal treatment at 200 °C. Initially
amorphous cubes gradually transform into ordered 3D meshes of crystalline
nanowires as summarized in the model below.
Self-organization, also called
spontaneous order in the
social sciences, is a process where some form of overall
order arises from local interactions between parts of an initially disordered
system. The process can be spontaneous when sufficient energy is available, not needing control by any external agent. It is often triggered by seemingly random
fluctuations, amplified by
positive feedback. The resulting organization is wholly decentralized,
distributed over all the components of the system. As such, the organization is typically
robust and able to survive or self-repair substantial perturbation.
Chaos theory discusses self-organization in terms of islands of
predictability in a sea of chaotic unpredictability.
availability of energy (to overcome the natural tendency toward
entropy, or loss of free energy)
William Ross Ashby formulated the original principle of self-organization in 1947. It states that any deterministic
dynamic system automatically evolves towards a state of equilibrium that can be described in terms of an
attractor in a
basin of surrounding states. Once there, the further evolution of the system is constrained to remain in the attractor. This constraint implies a form of mutual dependency or coordination between its constituent components or subsystems. In Ashby's terms, each subsystem has adapted to the environment formed by all other subsystems.
Heinz von Foerster formulated the principle of "
noise" in 1960. It notes that self-organization is facilitated by random perturbations ("noise") that let the system explore a variety of states in its state space. This increases the chance that the system will arrive into the basin of a "strong" or "deep" attractor, from which it then quickly enters the attractor itself. The biophysicist
Henri Atlan developed this concept by proposing the principle of "
complexity from noise" (
French: le principe de complexité par le bruit) first in the 1972 book L'organisation biologique et la théorie de l'information and then in the 1979 book Entre le cristal et la fumée. The physicist and chemist
Ilya Prigogine formulated a similar principle as "order through fluctuations" or "order out of chaos". It is applied in the method of
simulated annealing for
problem solving and
The idea that the
dynamics of a system can lead to an increase in its organization has a long history. The ancient
atomists such as
Lucretius believed that a designing intelligence is unnecessary to create order in nature, arguing that given enough time and space and matter, order emerges by itself.
Immanuel Kant used the term "self-organizing" in his 1790 Critique of Judgment, where he argued that
teleology is a meaningful concept only if there exists such an entity whose parts or "organs" are simultaneously ends and means. Such a system of organs must be able to behave as if it has a mind of its own, that is, it is capable of governing itself.
In such a natural product as this every part is thought as owing its presence to the agency of all the remaining parts, and also as existing for the sake of the others and of the whole, that is as an instrument, or organ... The part must be an organ producing the other parts—each, consequently, reciprocally producing the others... Only under these conditions and upon these terms can such a product be an organized and self-organized being, and, as such, be called a physical end.
Sadi Carnot (1796–1832) and
Rudolf Clausius (1822–1888) discovered the
second law of thermodynamics in the 19th century. It states that total
entropy, sometimes understood as disorder, will always increase over time in an
isolated system. This means that a system cannot spontaneously increase its order without an external relationship that decreases order elsewhere in the system (e.g. through consuming the low-entropy energy of a battery and diffusing high-entropy heat).
18th-century thinkers had sought to understand the "universal laws of form" to explain the observed forms of living organisms. This idea became associated with
Lamarckism and fell into disrepute until the early 20th century, when
D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860–1948) attempted to revive it.
The psychiatrist and engineer
W. Ross Ashby introduced the term "self-organizing" to contemporary science in 1947. It was taken up by the cyberneticians
Heinz von Foerster,
Stafford Beer; and von Foerster organized a conference on "The Principles of Self-Organization" at the University of Illinois' Allerton Park in June, 1960 which led to a series of conferences on Self-Organizing Systems.Norbert Wiener took up the idea in the second edition of his Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (1961).
Around 2008–2009, a concept of guided self-organization started to take shape. This approach aims to regulate self-organization for specific purposes, so that a
dynamical system may reach specific attractors or outcomes. The regulation constrains a self-organizing process within a
complex system by restricting local interactions between the system components, rather than following an explicit control mechanism or a global design blueprint. The desired outcomes, such as increases in the resultant internal structure and/or functionality, are achieved by combining task-independent global objectives with task-dependent constraints on local interactions.
The evolution of order in living systems and the generation of order in certain non-living systems was proposed to obey a common fundamental principal called “the Darwinian dynamic” that was formulated by first considering how microscopic order is generated in simple non-biological systems that are far from
thermodynamic equilibrium. Consideration was then extended to short, replicating
RNA molecules assumed to be similar to the earliest forms of life in the
RNA world. It was shown that the underlying order-generating processes of self-organization in the non-biological systems and in replicating RNA are basically similar.
In the 1970s
Stafford Beer considered self-organization necessary for
autonomy in persisting and living systems. He applied his
viable system model to management. It consists of five parts: the monitoring of performance of the survival processes (1), their management by recursive application of regulation (2),
homeostatic operational control (3) and development (4) which produce maintenance of identity (5) under environmental perturbation. Focus is prioritized by an alerting "algedonic loop" feedback: a sensitivity to both pain and pleasure produced from under-performance or over-performance relative to a standard capability.
In the 1990s
Gordon Pask argued that von Foerster's H and Hmax were not independent, but
countably infinite recursive concurrent
spin processes which he called concepts. His strict definition of concept "a procedure to bring about a relation" permitted his theorem "Like concepts repel, unlike concepts attract" to state a general spin-based principle of self-organization. His edict, an exclusion principle, "There are
No Doppelgangers" means no two concepts can be the same. After sufficient time, all concepts attract and coalesce as
pink noise. The theory applies to all organizationally
closed or homeostatic processes that produce
coherent products which evolve, learn and adapt.
In social theory, the concept of self-referentiality has been introduced as a sociological application of self-organization theory by
Niklas Luhmann (1984). For Luhmann the elements of a social system are self-producing communications, i.e. a communication produces further communications and hence a social system can reproduce itself as long as there is dynamic communication. For Luhmann, human beings are sensors in the environment of the system. Luhmann developed an evolutionary theory of society and its subsystems, using functional analyses and systems theory.
market economy is sometimes said to be self-organizing.
Paul Krugman has written on the role that market self-organization plays in the business cycle in his book The Self Organizing Economy.Friedrich Hayek coined the term catallaxy to describe a "self-organizing system of voluntary co-operation", in regards to the spontaneous order of the free market economy.
Neo-classical economists hold that imposing
central planning usually makes the self-organized economic system less efficient. On the other end of the spectrum, economists consider that
market failures are so significant that self-organization produces bad results and that the state should direct production and pricing. Most economists adopt an intermediate position and recommend a mixture of market economy and
command economy characteristics (sometimes called a
mixed economy). When applied to economics, the concept of self-organization can quickly become ideologically imbued.
Enabling others to "learn how to learn" is often taken to mean instructing them how to submit to being taught. Self-organised learning (SOL) denies that "the expert knows best" or that there is ever "the one best method", insisting instead on "the construction of personally significant, relevant and viable meaning" to be tested experientially by the learner. This may be collaborative, and more rewarding personally. It is seen as a lifelong process, not limited to specific learning environments (home, school, university) or under the control of authorities such as parents and professors. It needs to be tested, and intermittently revised, through the personal experience of the learner. It need not be restricted by either consciousness or language.Fritjof Capra argued that it is poorly recognised within psychology and education. It may be related to cybernetics as it involves a
negative feedback control loop, or to
systems theory. It can be conducted as a learning conversation or
dialogue between learners or within one person.
The self-organizing behavior of drivers in
traffic flow determines almost all the spatiotemporal behavior of traffic, such as traffic breakdown at a highway bottleneck, highway capacity, and the emergence of moving traffic jams. These self-organizing effects are explained by
three-phase traffic theory.
Order appears spontaneously in the
evolution of language as individual and population behaviour interacts with biological evolution.
Self-organized funding allocation (SOFA) is a method of distributing
funding for scientific
research. In this system, each researcher is allocated an equal amount of funding, and is required to anonymously allocate a fraction of their funds to the research of others. Proponents of SOFA argue that it would result in similar distribution of funding as the present grant system, but with less overhead. In 2016, a test pilot of SOFA began in the Netherlands.
Most scientists would agree with the critical view expressed in Problems of Biological Physics (Springer Verlag, 1981) by the biophysicist L. A. Blumenfeld, when he wrote: "The meaningful macroscopic ordering of biological structure does not arise due to the increase of certain parameters or a system above their critical values. These structures are built according to program-like complicated architectural structures, the meaningful information created during many billions of years of chemical and biological evolution being used." Life is a consequence of microscopic, not macroscopic, organization.
Of course, Blumenfeld does not answer the further question of how those program-like structures emerge in the first place. His explanation leads directly to
In short, they [Prigogine and Stengers] maintain that
time irreversibility is not derived from a time-independent microworld, but is itself fundamental. The virtue of their idea is that it resolves what they perceive as a "clash of doctrines" about the nature of
time in physics. Most physicists would agree that there is neither empirical evidence to support their view, nor is there a mathematical necessity for it. There is no "clash of doctrines." Only Prigogine and a few colleagues hold to these speculations which, in spite of their efforts, continue to live in the twilight zone of scientific credibility.
Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.
^Nicolis, G. and Prigogine, I. (1977). Self-organization in nonequilibrium systems: From dissipative structures to order through fluctuations. Wiley, New York.
^Prigogine, I. and Stengers, I. (1984). Order out of chaos: Man's new dialogue with nature. Bantam Books.
^Ahmed, Furqan; Tirkkonen, Olav (January 2016). "Simulated annealing variants for self-organized resource allocation in small cell networks". Applied Soft Computing. 38: 762–70.
^Palmer, Ada (October 2014).
Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance. Harvard University Press.
ISBN978-0-674-72557-7. Ada Palmer explores how Renaissance readers, such as Machiavelli, Pomponio Leto, and Montaigne, actually ingested and disseminated Lucretius, ... and shows how ideas of emergent order and natural selection, so critical to our current thinking, became embedded in Europe's intellectual landscape before the seventeenth century.
As an indication of the increasing importance of this concept, when queried with the keyword self-organ*, Dissertation Abstracts finds nothing before 1954, and only four entries before 1970. There were 17 in the years 1971–1980; 126 in 1981–1990; and 593 in 1991–2000.
^Smollin, Lee (1995). "Cosmology as a problem in critical phenomena". In Ramón López-Peña; Henri Waelbroeck; Riccardo Capovilla; Ricardo García-Pelayo; Federico Zertuche (eds.). Complex Systems and Binary Networks: Guanajuato Lectures Held at Guanajuato, México 16–22 January 1995. Vol. 461–461.
^Wiener, Norbert (1962) "The mathematics of self-organising systems". Recent developments in information and decision processes, Macmillan, N. Y. and Chapter X in Cybernetics, or control and communication in the animal and the machine, The MIT Press.
^Cybernetics, or control and communication in the animal and the machine, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and Wiley, NY, 1948. 2nd Edition 1962 "Chapter X "Brain Waves and Self-Organizing Systems" pp. 201–02.
E.V. Krishnamurthy (2009)", Multiset of Agents in a Network for Simulation of Complex Systems", in "Recent advances in Nonlinear Dynamics and synchronization, (NDS-1) – Theory and applications, Springer Verlag, New York,2009. Eds. K.Kyamakya, et al.
Paul Krugman (1996), The Self-Organizing Economy, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Elizabeth McMillan (2004) "Complexity, Organizations and Change".
Marshall, A (2002) The Unity of Nature, Imperial College Press: London (esp. chapter 5)
Müller, J.-A., Lemke, F. (2000), Self-Organizing Data Mining.
Gregoire Nicolis and
Ilya Prigogine (1977) Self-Organization in Non-Equilibrium Systems, Wiley.
Heinz Pagels (1988), The Dreams of Reason: The Computer and the Rise of the Sciences of Complexity, Simon & Schuster.
Gordon Pask (1961), The cybernetics of evolutionary processes and of self organizing systems, 3rd. International Congress on Cybernetics, Namur, Association Internationale de Cybernetique.
Christian Prehofer ea. (2005), "Self-Organization in Communication Networks: Principles and Design Paradigms", in: IEEE Communications Magazine, July 2005.
Mitchell Resnick (1994), Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds, Complex Adaptive Systems series, MIT Press.[ISBN missing]
Tom De Wolf, Tom Holvoet (2005), Emergence Versus Self-Organisation: Different Concepts but Promising When Combined, In Engineering Self Organising Systems: Methodologies and Applications, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, volume 3464, pp. 1–15.
K. Yee (2003), "Ownership and Trade from Evolutionary Games", International Review of Law and Economics, 23.2, 183–197.
Louise B. Young (2002), The Unfinished Universe[ISBN missing]