Self-organization, also called (in the social sciences) spontaneous order, is a process where some form of overall order and disorder, 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 Statistical fluctuations, fluctuations, amplified by positive feedback. The resulting organization is wholly decentralized, :wikt:distribute, distributed over all the components of the system. As such, the organization is typically robust (disambiguation), 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. Self-organization occurs in many physics, physical, chemistry, chemical, biology, biological, robotics, robotic, and cognitive systems. Examples of self-organization include crystallization, thermal convection of fluids, chemical oscillator, chemical oscillation, animal swarming, neural circuits, and black markets.


Self-organization is realizedGlansdorff, P., Prigogine, I. (1971).
''Thermodynamic Theory of Structure, Stability and Fluctuations''
, London: Wiley-Interscience
in the Extremal principles in non-equilibrium thermodynamics, physics of non-equilibrium processes, and in chemical reactions, where it is often characterized as self-assembly. The concept has proven useful in biology, from the molecular to the ecosystem level.Compare: Cited examples of self-organizing behaviour also appear in the literature of many other disciplines, both in the natural sciences and in the social sciences (such as economics or anthropology). Self-organization has also been observed in mathematical systems such as cellular automaton, cellular automata. Self-organization is an example of the related concept of emergence. Self-organization relies on four basic ingredients: # strong dynamical non-linearity, often (though not necessarily) involving Positive feedback, positive and negative feedback # balance of exploitation and exploration # multiple interactions # availability of energy (to overcome the natural tendency toward entropy, or loss of free energy)


The cybernetician 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 Attractor, 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. The cybernetician Heinz von Foerster formulated the principle of "order and disorder, order from noise (signal processing), 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 machine learning.


The idea that the Dynamics (mechanics), dynamics of a system can lead to an increase in its organization has a long history. The ancient atomism, atomists such as Democritus and 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. The philosopher René Descartes presents self-organization hypothetically in the fifth part of his 1637 ''Discourse on Method''. He elaborated on the idea in his unpublished work ''The World (Descartes), The World''. 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. Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, 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 William Ross Ashby, W. Ross Ashby introduced the term "self-organizing" to contemporary science in 1947. It was taken up by the cyberneticians Heinz von Foerster, Gordon Pask, Anthony Stafford Beer, 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). Self-organization was associated with systems theory, general systems theory in the 1960s, but did not become commonplace in the scientific literature until physicists Synergetics (Haken), Hermann Haken et al. and complex systems researchers adopted it in a greater picture from cosmology Erich Jantsch#The Self-Organizing Universe, 1979, Erich Jantsch, chemistry with dissipative system, biology and sociology as autopoiesis to system thinking in the following 1980s (Santa Fe Institute) and 1990s (complex adaptive system), until our days with the disruptive emerging technologies profounded by a Rhizome (philosophy), rhizomatic network theory. 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.

By field


The many self-organizing phenomena in physics include phase transitions and spontaneous symmetry breaking such as spontaneous magnetization and crystal growth in classical physics, and the laser, superconductivity and Bose–Einstein condensation in quantum physics. It is found in self-organized criticality in dynamical systems, in tribology, in spin foam systems, and in loop quantum gravity, river basins and deltas, in dendritic solidification (snow flakes), in capillary imbibition and in turbulent structure.


Self-organization in chemistry includes molecular self-assembly, reaction–diffusion systems and oscillating reactions, autocatalysis, autocatalytic networks, liquid crystals, grid complexes, colloidal crystals, self-assembled monolayers, micelles, microphase separation of block copolymers, and Langmuir–Blodgett films.


Self-organization in biology can be observed in spontaneous Protein folding, folding of proteins and other biomacromolecules, formation of lipid bilayer membranes, pattern formation and morphogenesis in developmental biology, the coordination of human movement, social behaviour in insects (bees, ants, termites) and mammals, and swarm behaviour, flocking behaviour in birds and fish. The mathematical biologist Stuart Kauffman and other Structuralism (biology), structuralists have suggested that self-organization may play roles alongside natural selection in three areas of evolutionary biology, namely population dynamics, molecular evolution, and morphogenesis. However, this does not take into account the essential role of energy in driving biochemical reactions in cells. The systems of reactions in any cell are catalysis, self-catalyzing but not simply self-organizing as they are open system (thermodynamics), thermodynamically open systems relying on a continuous input of energy. Self-organization is not an alternative to natural selection, but it constrains what evolution can do and provides mechanisms such as the self-assembly of membranes which evolution then exploits. 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 his 1995 conference paper "Cosmology as a problem in critical phenomena" Lee Smolin said that several cosmological objects or phenomena, such as spiral galaxies, galaxy formation processes in general, Structure formation, early structure formation, quantum gravity and the large scale structure of the universe might be the result of or have involved certain degree of self-organization. He argues that self-organized systems are often critical systems, with structure spreading out in space and time over every available scale, as shown for example by Per Bak and his collaborators. Therefore, because the distribution of matter in the universe is more or less scale invariant over many orders of magnitude, ideas and strategies developed in the study of self-organized systems could be helpful in tackling certain Unsolved problems in astronomy, unsolved problems in cosmology and astrophysics.

Computer science

Phenomena from mathematics and computer science such as cellular automaton, cellular automata, random graphs, and some instances of evolutionary computation and artificial life exhibit features of self-organization. In swarm robotics, self-organization is used to produce emergent behavior. In particular the theory of random graphs has been used as a justification for self-organization as a general principle of complex systems. In the field of multi-agent systems, understanding how to engineer systems that are capable of presenting self-organized behavior is an active research area. Optimization algorithms can be considered self-organizing because they aim to find the optimal solution to a problem. If the solution is considered as a state of the iterative system, the optimal solution is the selected, converged structure of the system. Self-organizing networks include small-world networks self-stabilization and scale-free networks. These emerge from bottom-up interactions, unlike top-down hierarchical networks within organizations, which are not self-organizing. Cloud computing systems have been argued to be inherently self-organising, but while they have some autonomy, they are not self-managing as they do not have the goal of reducing their own complexity.


Norbert Wiener regarded the automatic serial System identification, identification of a black box and its subsequent reproduction as self-organization in cybernetics. The importance of phase locking or the "attraction of frequencies", as he called it, is discussed in the 2nd edition of his ''Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine''. K. Eric Drexler sees Molecular assembler, self-replication as a key step in nano and Universal assembler, universal assembly. By contrast, the four concurrently connected galvanometers of W. Ross Ashby's Homeostat Hunting oscillation, hunt, when perturbed, to converge on one of many possible stable states. Ashby used his state counting measure of variety (cybernetics), variety to describe stable states and produced the "Good Regulator" theorem which requires internal models for self-organized Endurantism, endurance and stability (e.g. Nyquist stability criterion). Warren McCulloch proposed "Redundancy of Potential Command" as characteristic of the organization of the brain and human nervous system and the necessary condition for self-organization. Heinz von Foerster proposed Redundancy, ''R''=1 − ''H''/''H''max, where ''H'' is entropy. In essence this states that unused potential communication bandwidth is a measure of self-organization. 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), Homeostasis, 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 Gordon Pask#Interactions of Actors Theory, interacted via Countable set, countably infinite recursive concurrent spin (physics), 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 Gordon Pask#No Doppelgangers, 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 Closure (topology), closed or homeostatic processes that produce Endurantism, enduring and Coherence (physics), coherent products which evolve, learn and adapt.

Human society

The self-organizing behaviour of social animals and the self-organization of simple mathematical structures both suggest that self-organization should be expected in human society. Tell-tale signs of self-organization are usually statistical properties shared with self-organizing physical systems. Examples such as Critical mass (sociodynamics), critical mass, herd behaviour, groupthink and others, abound in sociology, economics, behavioral finance and anthropology. 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''. In economics, a 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.

In learning

Enabling others to "learn how to learn" is often taken to mean instructing them how to submit to being taught. Self-organised learning (S.O.L.) 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,Pask, G. (1973). ''Conversation, Cognition and Learning. A Cybernetic Theory and Methodology''. Elsevier or to systems theory. It can be conducted as a learning conversation or dialogue between learners or within one person.

Traffic flow

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. In 1996–2002 these complex self-organizing effects were explained by Boris Kerner's three-phase traffic theory.

In linguistics

Order appears spontaneously in the linguistic evolution, evolution of language as individual and population behaviour interacts with biological evolution.

In research funding

Self-organized funding allocation (SOFA) is a method of distributing Funding of science, 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.


Heinz Pagels, in a 1985 review of Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers's book ''Order Out of Chaos'' in ''Physics Today'', appeals to authority: 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 infinite regress. In theology, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) in his ''Summa Theologica'' assumes a teleological created universe in rejecting the idea that something can be a self-sufficient cause of its own organization:Article 3. Whether God exists?

See also

* Autopoiesis * Autowave * Self-organized criticality control * Free energy principle * Information theory * Constructal law * Swarm intelligence



Further reading

* W. Ross Ashby (1966), ''Design for a Brain'', Chapman & Hall, 2nd edition. * Per Bak (1996),
How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality
', Copernicus Books. * Philip Ball (1999),
The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature
', Oxford University Press. * Stafford Beer, Self-organization as autonomy: ''Brain of the Firm'' 2nd edition Wiley 1981 and ''Beyond Dispute'' Wiley 1994. * Adrian Bejan (2000), ''Shape and Structure, from Engineering to Nature'', Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 324 pp. * Mark Buchanan (2002), ''Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks'' W. W. Norton & Company. * Scott Camazine, Jean-Louis Deneubourg, Nigel R. Franks, James Sneyd, Guy Theraulaz, & Eric Bonabeau (2001
''Self-Organization in Biological Systems''
Princeton Univ Press. * Falko Dressler (2007)
''Self-Organization in Sensor and Actor Networks''
Wiley & Sons. * Manfred Eigen and Peter Schuster (1979), ''The Hypercycle: A principle of natural self-organization'', Springer. * Myrna Estep (2003), ''A Theory of Immediate Awareness: Self-Organization and Adaptation in Natural Intelligence'', Kluwer Academic Publishers. * Myrna L. Estep (2006), ''Self-Organizing Natural Intelligence: Issues of Knowing, Meaning, and Complexity'', Springer-Verlag. * J. Doyne Farmer et al. (editors) (1986), "Evolution, Games, and Learning: Models for Adaptation in Machines and Nature", in: ''Physica D'', Vol 22. * Carlos Gershenson and Francis Heylighen (2003)
"When Can we Call a System Self-organizing?"
In Banzhaf, W, Thomas Christaller, T. Christaller, P. Dittrich, J. T. Kim, and J. Ziegler, Advances in Artificial Life, 7th European Conference, ECAL 2003, Dortmund, Germany, pp. 606–14. LNAI 2801. Springer. * Hermann Haken (1983) ''Synergetics: An Introduction. Nonequilibrium Phase Transition and Self-Organization in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology'', Third Revised and Enlarged Edition, Springer-Verlag. * F.A. Hayek ''Law, Legislation and Liberty'', RKP, UK. * Francis Heylighen (2001)
"The Science of Self-organization and Adaptivity"
* Arthur Iberall (2016), ''Homeokinetics: The Basics'', Strong Voices Publishing, Medfield, Massachusetts. * Henrik Jeldtoft Jensen (1998), ''Self-Organized Criticality: Emergent Complex Behaviour in Physical and Biological Systems'', Cambridge Lecture Notes in Physics 10, Cambridge University Press. * Steven Berlin Johnson (2001), ''Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software''. * Stuart Kauffman (1995), ''At Home in the Universe'', Oxford University Press. * Stuart Kauffman (1993), ''Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution'' Oxford University Press. * J. A. Scott Kelso (1995), ''Dynamic Patterns: The self-organization of brain and behavior'', The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. * J. A. Scott Kelso & David A Engstrom (2006), "''The Complementary Nature''", The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. * Alex Kentsis (2004)
''Self-organization of biological systems: Protein folding and supramolecular assembly''
Ph.D. Thesis, New York University. * 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? * Lee Smolin (1997), ''The Life of the Cosmos'' Oxford University Press. * Ricard V. Solé and Brian C. Goodwin (2001), ''Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades Biology]'', Basic Books. * Ricard V. Solé and Jordi Bascompte (2006),
in Complex Ecosystems
', Princeton U. Press * * Steven Strogatz (2004), ''Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order'', Thesis. * D'Arcy Thompson (1917), ''On Growth and Form'', Cambridge University Press, 1992 Dover Publications edition. * J. Tkac, J Kroc (2017), ''Cellular Automaton Simulation of Dynamic Recrystallization: Introduction into Self-Organization and Emergence'
"(open source software)""Video – Simulation of DRX"
* 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''

External links

Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization, Göttingen

PDF file on self-organized common law with references

* [http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/papers/EOLSS-Self-Organiz.pdf The Science of Self-organization and Adaptivity], a review paper by Francis Heylighen
The ''Self-Organizing Systems (SOS) FAQ''
by Chris Lucas, from the [news://comp.theory.self-org-sys USENET newsgroup comp.theory.self-org.sys]
David Griffeath, ''Primordial Soup Kitchen''
(graphics, papers)
nlin.AO, nonlinear preprint archive
(electronic preprints in adaptation and self-organizing systems)

* [http://complex.upf.es/''Selforganization in complex networks''] The Complex Systems Lab, Barcelona
Computational Mechanics Group
at the Santa Fe Institute
"Organisation must grow" (1939)
W. Ross Ashby journal p. 759, fro

used under the GNU Free Documentation License, GFDL with permission from author.

UCLA Human Complex Systems Program

"Interactions of Actors (IA), Theory and Some Applications" 1993
Gordon Pask's theory of learning, evolution and self-organization (in draft).
The Cybernetics Society

* [http://prokopenko.net/IDSO.html Mikhail Prokopenko's page on Information-driven Self-organisation (IDSO)]
Lakeside Labs Self-Organizing Networked Systems
A platform for science and technology, Klagenfurt, Austria.
Watch 32 discordant metronomes synch up all by themselves
theatlantic.com {{DEFAULTSORT:Self-Organization Self-organization, Cybernetics Extended evolutionary synthesis Systems theory Concepts in physics