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self-organization





The phenomenon by which many physical and chemical systems can, under certain circumstances, jump spontaneously to states of greater organizational complexity. Self-organization tends to occur in non-linear, open systems that have been driven far out of thermodynamic equilibrium by their surroundings. First studied in physical systems by Ilya Prigogine and his followers, as well as the Synergetics School founded by Hermann Haken, self-organization is now studied primarily through computer simulations such as cellular automata, Boolean networks, and other phenomena of artificial life. However, self-organization is now recognized as a crucial way of understanding emergent, collective behavior in a large variety of systems including the economy, the brain and nervous system, the immune system, and ecosystems. The build-up of system order via self-organization is now conceived as a primary tendency of complex systems in contrast to the past emphasis on the degrading of order in association with the principle of entropy (second law of thermodynamics). However, rather than denying entropy, self-organization can be understood as a way that entropy increases in complex, nonlinear systems.

One possible conclusion is that the laws of nature are, in a sense, biased so that they tend locally to direct matter toward states of increasing complexity and order. Some researchers have concluded from this that the probability for abiogenesis is very much greater than that expected from the random shuffling of molecules in a prebiotic environment (see life, origin). Manfred Eigen is among those who have investigated the effect of connected, self-organizing chemical processes in generating complex molecular arrangements.1, 2 His ideas have been taken further by Stuart Kauffman3 and Per Bak4 and are supported by Robert Shapiro and others.


References

  1. Eigen, M., and Schuster, P. "Stages of Emerging Life - Five Principles of Early Organization," Journal of Molecular Evolution, 19, 47 (1982).
  2. Eigen, Manfred, and Winkler, Ruthild. Laws of the Game: How the Principles of Nature Govern Chance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press (1993).
  3. Kaufmann, Stuart. At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. New York: Oxford University Press (1995).
  4. Bak, Per. How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality. New York: Springer-Verlag (1996).

Related categories

   • CHAOS, COMPLEXITY, AND DYNAMICAL SYSTEMS
   • SYSTEMS THEORY
   • ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION OF LIFE
   • ASTROBIOLOGY