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@ThinkCollab Group

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I found this to be an insightful perspective on Self Organizing systems and it may be helpful information for those who teach Adaptive Schools.

How Life Self-Organizes

By shifting their focus to relationships instead of separate entities, scientists made an amazing discovery—amazing at least to the mainstream western mind. They discovered that nature is self-organizing. And they set about discerning the principles by which this self-organization occurs. They found these principles or systems properties to be awesomely elegant in their coherence and constancy throughout the observable universe, from sub-organic to biological and ecological systems, and mental and social systems as well. The properties of open systems permit the variety and intelligence of life-forms to arise from interactive currents of matter/ energy and information. These properties or invariances are four in number:

1. Each system, from atom to galaxy, is a whole. That means that it is not reducible to its components. Its distinctive nature and capacities derive from the dynamic relationships of its parts. This interplay is synergistic, generating emergent properties and new possibilities, which are not predictable from the character of the separate parts. For example, wetness could not be predicted from the combination of oxygen and hydrogen before it occurred. Nor can anyone can predict the creative solutions that may emerge when a group of people put their wits together.

2. Thanks to the continual flow-through of matter/ energy and information, open systems are able to self-stabilize and maintain their balance in what von Bertalanffy called fliessgleichgewicht (flux-equilibrium). This homeostatic function enables systems to self-regulate amidst changing conditions in their environment. They do this by monitoring the effects of their own behavior and realigning their behavior with preestablished norms, like a thermostat. Feedback—in this case, negative or deviation-reducing feedback—is at work here. It is how we maintain body temperature, heal from a cut and ride a bicycle.

3. Open systems not only maintain their balance amidst the flux, but also evolve in complexity. When challenges from their environment persist, they can fall apart or adapt by reorganizing themselves around new, more functional norms. This is accomplished by feedback—in this case, positive or deviation—amplifying feedback. It is how systems learn and evolve. This feedback is blocked and ignored at the risk of system collapse. When a system is unable to adapt its norms, perhaps because of the scale and speed of change, the positive feedback loop goes into overshoot and runaway. As ever-increasing oscillations upset the balance of its interrelated parts, the system loses coherence and complexity—and begins to unravel.

4. Every system is a holon—that is, it is both a whole in its own right, comprised of subsystems and simultaneously an integral part of a larger system. Thus holons form nested hierarchies, systems within systems, circuits within circuits. Each new holonic level—say from atom to molecule, cell to organ, person to family—generates new emergent properties that are not reducible to the properties of the separate. In contrast to hierarchies of control familiar to organizations in which rule is imposed from above, in nested hierarchies (sometimes called holonarchies) order tends to arise from below, as well as be summoned or inspired by its larger context. The system self-generates from adaptive cooperation between its parts for mutual benefit. Order and differentiation go hand and hand, components diversifying as they coordinate roles and invent new responses.”

— Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to The Work that Reconnects by Joanna Macy, Molly Brown

Bridget Doogan
Pat Mullikin
Doreen Merola
Janet Crews


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