Self-Organizing System’s Theory and a Few of its Implications
Many of the services that I offer are informed by my research. Of particular influence is my work on self-organizing systems. For those who are interested, I have provided here a brief background on this topic and its relationship to my practice.
A self-organizing system, as the name implies, is a system that has the capacity to organize itself. All living things appear to qualify as self-organizing systems, as do groups of living things, including swarms of insects, such as bees and ants. Crystals, convection cells and certain other non-living things also qualify as self-organizing systems.
The concept of a self-organizing system was first explored in depth in the late eighteenth century by philosopher Immanuel Kant. The idea drew relatively little attention for over a century and a half, until some ground breaking work in the early 1970’s led to further its development. Since that time, work on self-organization has grown exponentially.
In order to clarify the concept of a self-organizing system, consider a tree. The various parts of a tree exist interdependently. The leaves, stems, and roots mutually generate each other. If one cuts down a tree, leaving only a bit of the trunk, then the roots send up new shoots. If one cuts off a stem, then, under the right conditions, it produces roots and leaves. Hence, the parts of the tree appear to produce each other and, in so doing, they produce a whole (i.e., a particular tree), for the sake of which the activities of the parts then appear to exist.
In general, in order for something to be judged as self-organizing, two conditions must be met. First, each part of the thing must exist in a reciprocal causal relationship with all the other parts, such that the “form” that each part takes is constrained by all the other parts. Second, the totality of this reciprocal constraint must generate a whole, as an effect, which also appears to us as “the point” (or purpose) of the parts and all their activities.
It is my contention that such conditions can be met whenever a group of persons is engaged in debate regarding what ought to be done for a particular set of circumstances. In such situations, what counts as reasonable appears both to be a product of each person’s influence on all the other persons and, at the same time, a whole which governs all of the persons who comprise the group. This whole is an idealized state, which we might call the state of justice as it pertains to the current situation, and it is apparently the aim of the system to produce it, in much the same way as the actualization of a particular tree is the aim of the activities of its stems, roots, and leaves. In other words, I am arguing that an objective moral constraint on end-setting (i.e., on what is permissible and what is obligatory) is an emergent property of a system of persons engaged in free debate; where a free debate is one that keeps coercive influences out of the discussion. I am arguing that, as long as certain conditions obtain, the process of debate is governed, in Adam Smith style, “as if” by an invisible hand.
The central role of a mediator (teacher, administrator or other leader) faced with conflicting parties follows in a straightforward manner from this theory. Since the actualization of a state of justice requires that coercive influences be held at bay, it is the duty of those persons in a position of authority over the proceedings to enforce this condition. It is also their duty facilitate the process by clarifying arguments and pointing out unanticipated implications of them. Finally, it is their duty to help the parties involved to clearly formulate the principles (or rules) under which they find that are able to freely agree to govern themselves.
Addendum: The Problem with Coercion At the Table
The problem with coercive influences, from a self-organizing system’s perspective, is that they permit the system to dissipate the energy that is required for it to do work. All systems seek to get rid of “heat” (i.e., discomfort) at the fastest rate possible given the constraints. As a result, if one party in a dispute has the capacity, by whatever means, to force their desired outcome then the potential of the system to do work is dissipated. The powerful person can settle and the others will have to put up with it. Of course, in practice, the key problem to be tackled is that the very persons who are likely to benefit most from abuses of power, are also those who have the greatest capacity to eliminate the possibility of such abuses; and so we can see the significance of the Roman saying “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (Who guards the guardians?).
© 2016 Michael D. Kurak