Self-Organization

Self-organization, sometimes called spontaneous order, is a process in which order arises from disorder. In sociocracy, it refers to a disorganized group of people or a person that organizes itself. The process can be spontaneous as well as the result of feedback from an external source. The resulting organization is likely to be very strong with power distributed all throughout the system. In addition to natural systems, it is used in reference to teams, crowds, emergency responses, unpredicted events, etc.

The distribution of power—the ability to act independently within the organization or group—in self-organization creates a strong system that is able to self-repair. And it can better survive change and disruption.

Self-organization occurs in many physical, chemical, biological, and cognitive systems. Examples of self-organization include crystallization and animal swarming.

The psychiatrist and engineer W. Ross Ashby introduced the term “self-organizing” in 1947. It was taken up by the cyberneticians Heinz von FoersterGordon PaskStafford Beer. Von Foerster organized a conference on “The Principles of Self-Organization” 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).

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The language and study of self-organization are grounded in the sciences and can be overwhelming if you don’t have a background in physics, biology, and chemistry.

A longer summary can be found in Wikipedia, Self Organization. It includes an extensive bibliography and links to other resources.

Another resource is the Cybernetics Society. This is an old fashioned HTML website reminiscent of DOS and visually unimpressive. But the information is very impressive and broad including conference announcements, biographies, and articles. It’s a very deep site. You can get lost.

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