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 are, or at least appear to be, self-organizing. Communities of living things, such as bees, also qualify as self-organizing, as do crystals, convection cells and a variety other non-living things.
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 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.
In order to further clarify the concept, 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 new shoots are sent up. If one cuts off a stem, then, under the right conditions, roots and leaves are produced. 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.
Now a group of persons engaged in debate regarding what ought to be done for a particular set of circumstances potentially meets the general conditions required to judge something as self-organizing. Here the parts are reasons and the whole is something akin to “the good” for a given set of circumstances. In such situations, each person’s thinking influences the thinking of all the other person’s and, at the same time, a kind of whole is generated, which we might refer to as rationality in an objective sense. This whole is both an idealized state and the apparent aim of the system. In other words, I am arguing that an objective rational 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 in which acts of coercion are hindered.
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 reasonableness (i.e., of justice) requires that coercive influences be held at bay, it is the duty of such persons to enforce use their power enforce this condition. It is also their duty to help the parties involved to argue well. Finally, it is a mediator’s job to help the parties write up the terms of their agreement.
Addendum: The Problem with Coercion At the Table
The problem with coercive influence, from a self-organizing systems perspective, is that they permit the system to dissipate energy that is required for work and, in particular, for transformation. In accordance with the second law of thermodynamics, all systems “seek” to get rid of heat at the fastest rate possible (given the existing constraints). In antagonistic human dynamics this “heat” manifests (analogically speaking) as discomfort.
If a party in a dispute has the capacity, by whatever means, to force their desired outcome then the potential of the system (i.e. of the group) to do work, and hence to transform, is dissipated. In the case of such dissipation, the person who wields power is able to settle (albeit against their conscience) and the other persons are left unsettled.
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