Self-Organization and Evolution in system perspective

An important quality of what we call dead matter is that it organizes itself. It transforms  itself  into  states  of  higher order  and  escapes chaos under its own power if the flow of energy is strong enough. The universe has demonstrated its predisposition to create structures in all scales and kinds from snowflakes to galaxies, stars and planets. Overall, it   is   possible   to   see   a trend toward increasing sophistication, complexification and functionality. From its very beginning, the universe has gone through a process that in the general sense is similar to that of the origin of life. A sequence of evolutionary events is structuring the universe where each emergence is the starting point for the next one in the next level. Order arise naturally from the laws of physics and chemistry. It emerges spontaneously from the molecular chaos and is identified by system growth. This phenomena is not to be found in a certain individual piece but in the overall dynamics of its collective behaviour. “Organization generates organization”.

Atoms strive for a minimum energy state by the establishment of chemical bonds with each other, thereby organizing themselves into patterns knows as molecules. Photons sometimes spontaneously group themselves into a single powerful beam where every photon is moving in lockstep. When water vapor condenses and form droplets or when water freeze, a basically formless state is transformed by a phasetransition, creating structure and complexity. A hurricane organizes itself, driving the wind and drawing rainwater from the oceans by the steady influx of energy from the sun.

Nature thus prepares the condition for the complex selforganization known as life. This phase transition take place if one get beyond a certain threshold of complexity like genes in a developing embryo which organize themselves in a certain way to make brain cells or muscle cells. The process of creation is no longer to be seen as an isolated incident but rather like a continuing and still unfinished phenomenon. If the chance to create life was a truly random event, one would have to wait far longer than the lifetime of the universe to see even a single useful protein molecule. The same goes for the creation of a planet, suitable for the existence of life. Life is part of nature’s compulsion for self-organization.

Life has passed through distinct stages of biological evolution (prokaryotick and euaukaryotic life, asexual and sexual reproduction as well as prebiotic stages). Certain physical principles interconnect these events and it is possible to see how organizational complexity increase with time. The driving force behind the evolutionary changes is that the biosphere constantly become forced away from a normal state of dynamic equilibrium by internal or external transformations.

In the living world, all evolution is irreversible when everything goes from less ordered to more ordered states. As time pass, amoebas has evolved into animals but animals never turn back to the stadium of amoebas. The proceeding towards increasing differentiation, increasing structural organization, increasing complexity and increasing integration never stops. Evolution goes from dependence to relative independence of the environment and to greater and greater autonomy of individuals. Finally, a greater and greater consciousness is established. The highest states of order known at present are living systems and their collective superstructures, the ecosystems. Thus spontaneous self-organization generate much of the order also in large, complex, and apparently random systems.

Self-organization can be ascribed to all kinds of natural systems, from physical, chemical, biological, psychological to cultural. Selforganization is everywhere and is possible to see by looking from a proper perspective. Complex adaptive systems in the natural world can be seen as elements acting in parallel. In a brain the element are nerve cells and in a cell they are organelles like the nucleus and the mitochondria. In an embryo, the elements are cells, and so on. The coherent behaviour in the system arise from competition and cooperation among the elements. No one plays the role of an organizing master. As they gain experience, all these complex adaptive systems constantly re-arrange and revise their building blocks. The human brain (like all more advanced brains) organize and re-organize its neural connections when learning from experience (See p. 282 regarding brain placticity) Marketplaces respond to changing technological development, changing lifestyles and preferences, immigration and the price of raw materials. Organizations promote individuals who work well and often change their structure for greater efficiency. National states build new alliances and species try to survive better in a changing environment just as industries and corporations try to do.

Self-organization also exists in many different phenomena like immune systems, stock markets, traffic flow, urban developments, social behaviour of termites, weather conditions, etc. Regulation in these systems arise through the interaction of positive and negative feedbacks.

With this background, it is evident that self-organization can be used as a term for a category of related although not identical concepts like autopoiesis (see p. 60), synergetics, self-reference and deterministic chaos. It may be regarded as a theory about the way chaotic systems organize themselves and attain order. As such, it can be considered a general theory and explanation framework for the sciences and an unifying paradigm.

To study the fields of self-organization and evolution allow us to understand how systems emerge from unstructured aggregates of components and how variation and selection take place at different levels and between different, co-evolving systems. Also how these system are regulated by rules that are generated by themselves, thereby showing autonomy. Self-organization enfolds general principles that extend beyond the boundaries of classic areas like biology, physics and chemistry. Hereby, it may enhance our means for a better relation with both the natural and social world. The strategies found in nature how to build complex self-organizing and self-reproducing systems might provide guidance on how to design better social organization and for other purposes that we consider important. Finally, to study self- organization make us not assume central causes where none exist. As designers, we can then omit to impose centralized control where none is needed, letting the system govern itself as much as possible.

Once upon a time, the German philosopher Schelling lamented “Why is there something rather than nothing?” It seems reasonable to state that self-organization is part of the answer.

Source: Skyttner Lars (2006), General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, Wspc, 2nd Edition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *