Self-Organization Overview


If a system, such as a plant, a building or
a car, shows organization we tend to assume that someone or something must have design
in that particular order. Self-organization is the idea that this type of global coordination
can instead be the product of local interactions. The theory of self-organization has grown
out of many different areas from computer science to ecology and economics. Out of these
areas have emerged a core set of concepts that are designed to be applicable to all
self-organizing systems from galaxies to living cells. But Lets start by talking a bit about
Organization itself. Organization is a highly abstract concept
but we can loosely equate it to the idea of order with its opposite being what is called
entropy or disorder. Order and entropy are typically measured by scientist in terms of
information, that is the more information it takes to describe something the more disordered
the systems is said to be. An example of this might be a piece of metallic
substance consisting of tiny magnets called spins, each spin has an particular magnetic
orientation and in general they are randomly directed and thus cancel each other out, This
disordered configuration is due to its heat energy causing the random movements of the
molecules in the material. When we cool the material down the spins will
spontaneously align them self so that they all point in the same direction. To describe
the state of the spins in this order system would involve far less information relative
to it’s original state that requiring unique values for each randomly directed spin. This process of magnetisation is often cited
as an example of self-organization, that is the spontaneous appearance of order or global
coordination out of local level interactions. But lets take a closer look at how this happens. As we cooled the material down there was some
area that had by chance some spins pointing in the same direction, their alignment generated
an increased magnetic force that was exerted upon its neighbours, creating what is called
an attractor state, attracting other spins to this configuration. Each time another spin aligned itself with
this particular attractor state it augmented the force it exerted upon other spins through
what is called a positive feedback loop that would cascade through the system until all
elements were aligned within this new regime. Another example of self-organization through
positive feedback is what is called the network effect, where the more people that use a product
or service the greater its value becomes, the telephone and Facebook are such examples
becoming more useful as more users join, in this way local connections between individuals
can rapidly form into global patterns. The network effect illustrate the positive
relations or synergies between elements that can be created when they coordinate, it is
due to the presence of these synergistic relations that the system as an entirety can become
more than the sum of its parts, in a process called emergence. Ant colonies are a classical example given
of emergence, ants governed by very simple rules and only local interactions can through
their combined activities generate colonies that exhibit complex structures and behaviour
that far exceed the intelligence or capability of any individual ant and thus is said to
have emergent properties. Ant colonies also illustrate the decentralised
structure to self-organizing system, The queen does not tell the ants what to do, instead
each ant reacts to stimuli in the form of chemical scent exchanged with other ants,
in this way organization is distributed over the whole of the system. All parts contribute
evenly to the resulting arrangement. As opposed to centralized structure such as
most social organization that are often dependent upon a single coordinator, this decentralized
structure that is inherent to self-organized systems gives them resiliency and robustness,
as any element that is damaged can be simple replace by any other given them hug redundancy. Whether the self-organizing system is a social
institution, a technology or eco-system for it to sustain itself over time it must be
able to with stand change and interventions from its environment, requiring the system
to be both robust to these perturbations and capable of adapting to changes. The generation of noise and variation within
the system is a classical mechanism for achieving this. With out diversity a system can become
ridged and develop into what is called a critical state. An example of self organized criticality,
could be an economy who’s many industries have developed a dependency upon petrochemical
fuels, this lack of diversity of energy sources means a small disruption in the supply of
petroleum from the systems environment could have a large global consequence. Inversely systems with a high degree of diversity
between elements will be more robust as the variety between elements will make them more
effective at absorbing change. Eco systems are a classical example of this generating
a large variety of specie that make it capable of surviving significant changes within it’s environment.

7 Replies to “Self-Organization Overview”

  1. The amount that a system self organizes R = (Ea-Ed)/ Δt

    Ea = Energy absorbed
    Ed = Energy dissipated

    Postulate 1.
    The amount of self re-organisation of a physical storage system can be measured as a change in energy in that system over a change in time.
    R = (Ea-Ed)/Δt
    Ea = Energy absorbed
    Ed = Energy dissipated
    t = time
    Postulate 2.
    The change in energy of a storage system, is the product of a re-organisation of the storage and a change in time.
    ΔE = R.Δt
    Postulate 3.
    Change in time is the change in energy over the reorganization of a storage system.
    Δt = ΔE / R
    Using R/m, (J/s)/m we can calculate the reorganization of a system over the storage medium (measured in mass).

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