Self-Organizing Systems

— giving us a universe of surprise

5. A General Hypothesis of Self-Organizing Systems

Perhaps now, after the previous discussions, it is time to put forward the general hypothesis upon which this book is based.

Hypothesis –

There is a tendency in the universe for parts to spontaneously assemble into systems, and for systems to combine to produce new states of increased organizational complexity.

This is a non-random process based upon the properties of the components. Systems affiliate with compatible system partners. The new organization may be characterized by abrupt transitions and the emergence of new structures, properties and/or processes. Systems produced engender feedback arrangements in which the new structures and properties act to change the environmental conditions and thereby induce more novelty in the universe.

For the process of self-organization to take place an input of energy is always necessary.

Note 1: The skeptic will say, “Where is the evidence for the postulate above?” All one can say is to look around. The world is full of systems when the eye is open to them. There is no living thing that can exist alone. It must be part of a larger interaction. The realm of inanimate matter is replete with parts linked by their interactions. For a hurricane to form it must absorb energy from the ocean surface. A molecule cannot exist without the interconnectedness of its atoms. The very atoms of which all matter is made are built out of the electrostatic relationships of subatomic parts.

The hypothesis cannot proved or disproved by experiment yet it remains a strong suggestion of how the world comes together.

Note 2: The hypothesis as stated refers to operations starting from basic particles conceptualized as material objects i.e. electrons as point objects. The view that fundamental reality are fields of various sorts and that entities such as electrons and quarks are wave-like manifestations of such fields is acknowledged but does not alter the basic premiss.

Note 3: The systems referred to are dynamic ones. Systems in thermodynamic equilibrium may not be participants in the hypothesized process.


For self-organization of a system to take place a set of conditions is necessary.

1. At a minimum the parts to be organized must have a requisite degree of affinity, characteristics that will make them "stick."

2. There has to be a force, an organizing principle, at work that will bring the parts together.

3. The parts need to be within the range of an organizing principle. An obvious example: the electrostatic attraction principle cannot function if the particles are too widely separated.

4. For the system to continue to exist bonds must develop that are strong enough to hold the parts together in the face of environmental perturbations.

5. For the system to function the parts must maintain interactive relationships in order for them to function within the system. Each part, in some sense, must “feel” the presence of the other parts and react to what the other parts are doing. This stems from the basic system characteristic of interdependence of parts.

These conditions, necessary for system building, must be quite prevalent since so many systems abound in nature. One can say that the universe itself is one vast system that contains many subsystems.