Here is the second installment of the Chaos Theory post. If you haven’t read the first part, may I recommend you read Chaos Theory – Part One. To the rest of you, thanks for waiting for the follow up!
In this post I am almost going to diverge from chaos to talk about self-organisation. They are different subjects, but they do have parallels. Self-organisation is the name given to a process of organisation that is carried out by a system without external influence.
“Self-organization is a process of attraction and repulsion in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source.” – Wikipedia
There are many examples of self-organisation, from the cells of a fetus perfectly arranging themselves in a very particular and complex structure to the flocking of birds and other animals. Self-organisation is everywhere, happening all the time, but mostly we don’t even realise it. Physics, chemistry, entropy, biology, cybernetics, mathematics, computer science and society are all areas of study which have been found to display signs of self-organisation.
It was once widely thought that within the biological kingdom there were hierarchical leaders of packs, herds, flocks or other such group of animals. This is now being disputed by those who believe self-organisation is actually at work here, too.
“Each member is constantly aware of its external environment and the other members in its group and instantly synchronizes its behavior with them according to very simple rules.” – The Bumble Bee
It must be noted, however, that the term ‘self-organisation’ is one which cannot be thrown around.
“As the list grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine whether these phenomena are all fundamentally the same process, or the same label applied to several different processes. Self-organization, despite its intuitive simplicity as a concept, has proven notoriously difficult to define and pin down formally or mathematically, and it is entirely possible that any precise definition might not include all the phenomena to which the label has been applied.
It should also be noted that, the farther a phenomenon is removed from physics, the more controversial the idea of self-organization as understood by physicists becomes. Also, even when self-organization is clearly present, attempts at explaining it through physics or statistics are usually criticized as reductionistic.” – Wikipedia
So as you can see, it is a tough thing to truly define.
Incorporated into this post are images of bacterial growth in Petri dishes. As you can see, the results are beautiful. Many different bacterial growths with form into elaborate and complex formations such as these, and this only reinforces the truth that self-organisation is all around us. Time and time again these patterns will form if bacteria is introduced to a Petri dish. The outcomes will always look similar, meaning that there is some underlying rule at hand, but yet they still look different enough to prove that there is clearly deviation from this rule. This is a very chaotic system due to its dependence on initial conditions. It is also a great example of self-organisation. Every cell ‘knows’ exactly where to go in order to produce the outcome we see in the images. The process of a biological organism developing its shape and form is known as Morphogenesis. This subject incorporates things such as the formation of patterns on animals such as the Leopard or Zebra, as well as the form of the bacterial growth in the Petri dishes.
Another example of self-organisation in the biological world is that of species levels. Different species depend on eating other species in order to survive. There is a balance that is constantly shifting, but is normally being kept at a sustainable and manageable level.
“If a population outstrips its food source, many starve. As an example, this happens with lemmings and stoats — lemmings are the main or only food source for stoats in several northern areas. When the lemming population increases, so does the stoat population. However, stoats are also very prolific breeders, and it comes to a point (every four years, in fact) that over-predation strips down the lemming population — and a lot of stoats starve. Then, in the absence of stoat predation the lemming population begins to build up again and the cycle starts over.” – Answer Bag
Competition between species for food are one of many examples of self-organisation across multiple species, rather than within a species as we have seen so far. Others include disease and/or parasitism; dense, crowded populations tend to pass on infectious diseases and parasites a lot more easily than sparse, widely separated populations, for what ought to be obvious reasons. Stress can also be a factor that limits a species rate of breeding.
“In the 1950s, Edward T. Hall did a survey of animal literature, and ran a number of rat experiments of his own, and demonstrated that overcrowded animals tended to have more hostile and stressful interactions, and that the stress of the environment produced hyperactive adrenal glands — with a knock-on effect of atrophied gonads and lower fertility. Wolves and some other top social predators actually exploit this effect — only the top one or two pairs in a pack breed each year, because the stress of continuously getting picked on and knocked around keeps the sex hormones in lower-ranking animals suppressed, and they never become fertile.” – Answer Bag
These factors could be thought of as being entirely external from chaos and self organisation by some. On the other hand, perhaps they are the very essence of it. Everything is organising itself around us and we are merely participating witnesses.