from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In systems theory, self-organization is a form of system development in which shaping or shaping influences emanate from the elements of the system itself. In processes of self-organization, higher structural orders are achieved without external controlling elements.

In political usage, self-organization describes the design of living conditions according to flexible, self-determined agreements and is similar to the concept of autonomy .

The term is used specifically for self-organizing cards , a variant of the artificial neural networks .


In the case of self-organization, a distinction can be made between autogenic (based on one's own strength) and autonomous (self-determined) self-organization:

Autogenic self-organization

  1. Self-reference : Self-organizing systems are self-referential and show an operational cohesion. In other words, "every behavior of the system has an impact on itself and becomes the starting point for further behavior", so it has a circular effect. Operationally closed systems do not act on the basis of external environmental influences, but independently and autonomously on their own. The result of the process changes the starting conditions for continuing the further process. However, self-reference does not contradict the openness of systems.
  2. Path dependency : A development path that has been taken cannot be left so easily.
  3. Indeterminacy : The course of development is ultimately unpredictable. Indeterminacy depends on coincidences; a small change in the initial conditions can lead to completely different paths.

Autonomous self-organization

  1. Autonomy : Self-organizing systems are autonomous when the relationships and interactions that define the system as a unit are only determined by the system itself. Autonomy only relates to certain criteria, as a material and energetic exchange relationship with the environment continues to exist. In vertical autonomy, the freedom of decision-making of subordinate units is sharply separated. With horizontal autonomy, areas on one level are independent of one another.
  2. Centralization & decentralization: The delegation of decision-making powers at the lower level is called decentralization, whereas the decision-making powers at the upper level are delegated by centralization.
  3. Redundancy : In self-organizing systems there is no fundamental separation between organizing, designing or controlling parts. All parts of the system represent potential designers. Several areas can do the same thing, which creates a kind of excess (= redundancy). Redundancy can increase autonomy as there is no strict division of labor.


The term self-organization was coined in the 1950s by Wesley A. Clark and Belmont G. Farley :

"They recognized that operators who are in a closed relationship somehow stabilize themselves and - without knowing a theory of recursive functions or eigenvalue - observed the phenomenon that certain closed systems develop stable forms of behavior after a certain time"

- Heinz von Foerster , Bernhard Pörksen : Truth is the invention of a liar . 1998, p. 92.

In social systems it can be observed how order - independently of the actions of an organizer - emerges from the system itself. This phenomenon is called self-organization. Self-organization is a term that is popular not only in systems theory . It is important both in social and in natural, physical, biological, chemical or economic systems. The concept of council democracy and its socio-political approaches also assumes that the room for maneuver required for self-organization must be fought for against existing forms of outside determination . According to this approach, people can only take their lives into their own hands if they also control the means of production and are not subject to hierarchical organizations.

The prehistory or prehistory of self-organization spans the period from Greco-Roman antiquity to around the middle of the twentieth century. Even in ancient Greece, philosophers speculated about chaos and turbulence as the cause of order. In Aristotle's philosophy, self-organization could also be called entelechy . The Platonically oriented natural philosophy of Isaac Newton ( Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica , 1687) already assumes in the First Law of Motion that matter is absolutely passive. It is therefore not capable of any self-movement or self-organization. Active causes of material changes are the immaterial “forces of nature”. In the natural sciences of the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, on the other hand, materialistic-mechanistic modes of thinking dominated, which are also reflected in Darwin's theory of evolution . The actual history of the development of self-organization does not begin until the second half of the 20th century. The relatively late point in time has several causes: initially the prevailing mechanistic paradigm prevented the necessary rethinking, and phenomena associated with self-organization were ignored. At present it is not yet possible to speak of a theory of self-organizing social systems or of empirically tested hypotheses .

The term self-organization owes its broad resonance to its universal applicability.

Self-organization in philosophy

Immanuel Kant introduced the concept of self-organization in his Critique of Judgment of 1790 in order to characterize the living sphere: “ If one calls this an analogue of art , one says far too little about nature and its capacity in organized products ; because then one imagines the artist (a reasonable being) outside of her. Rather, it organizes itself, and in every species of its organized products, according to the same specimen as a whole, but also with appropriate deviations that self-preservation requires according to the circumstances. ”This led him to the realization that mechanistic physics has explanatory limits . The founder of the "dynamistic natural philosophy" and one of the exponents of German idealism Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling took up Kant's considerations and expanded his concept of self-organization to a general natural philosophy that also encompasses the inorganic sphere. In doing so, he realized that it is not enough to just focus on the self-preservation of systems. Rather, these should be recognized in their “first origin”. A theory of original self-organization, which for him was particularly connected with the first origin of life and with the original emergence of species and genera, must not presuppose the circularity of processes as in the case of mere self-reproduction. The “dynamic balance” is also a mere product of a more in-depth process of natura naturans . Schelling's natural philosophy, which is linked to the cosmogony of Plato's Timaeus , is therefore essentially a theory of emergence. Heuser-Keßler showed that Kant's concept of self-organization has similarities with that of autopoiesis , while Schelling's teaching shows points of contact with the physical self-organization theories of modernity. It also showed that Schelling's concept of self-organization is more deeply founded in philosophical terms and is therefore not only historically but also currently of systematic relevance. It was therefore used by scientific representatives of self-organization theories such as B. Manfred Eigen, Hermann Haken or Ilya Prigogine were invited many times to explain this. Her work also influenced Schelling research in the USA, Canada and Australia. In order to expand on her theses, she researched the history of mathematics in the 19th century and recognized that Schelling's theory of the self-organizing principle had an impact on the development of modern mathematics in Germany.

Self-organization in systems theory

Self-organization is the spontaneous appearance of new, stable, seemingly efficient structures and behaviors ( pattern formation ) in open systems . These are systems that are far from thermodynamic equilibrium, that is, they exchange energy, substances or information with the outside world. However, self-organization is omnipresent even in exothermic processes and processes in thermal equilibrium , in the world of elementary particles , physics and chemistry, in space during the formation of stars and planets , in evolution , in biology up to the social ones mentioned above Systems . Emergent systems arise naturally from their elements through the interactions between them. In physics and chemistry these are directly the forces of the laws of nature. In addition to their complex structures, the systems also have new properties and capabilities that the elements do not have. A self-organized system changes its basic structure depending on its development process and its environment . The interacting participants (elements, system components, agents) act according to simple rules and create order out of chaos without having to have a vision of the entire development.

A simple case of ( physical ) self-organization is e.g. B. the appearance of convection cells when liquids are heated ( Bénard experiment ).

The concept of self-organization can be found in various fields of science such as B. Chemistry , biology ( directed folding and association of proteins , helix formation of DNA , ...), sociology etc.


To be able to speak of self-organization, the following (interdependent) criteria must be met:

  1. The evolution of a system into a spatially / temporally organized structure without external intervention
  2. The autonomous movement in ever smaller regions of the phase space (so-called attractors )
  3. The development of correlations or spatiotemporal patterns between previously independent variables, the development of which is only influenced by local rules

Self-organization in business administration

Self-organization in entrepreneurial activity shifts part of the hierarchical functions into work systems of functionally subordinate organizational units. Such an approach requires a paradigm shift that challenges everyone involved.

Self-organization in schools and lessons

In the course of the student orientation, teaching concepts have been developed since the 1970s that encourage self-organization in the learner group. The concept of cooperative learning should be mentioned here. Furthermore, in the method of learning through teaching, the class is treated as a “ neural network ”. In analogy to neural ensembles, intensive and long-term interactions between the learners should create stable connections, so the group learns. In addition, these “neural networks” should collectively construct knowledge .

Self-organization in child and youth work

Processes of young people's self-organization, as they can be seen, for example, in self-managed youth houses and youth rooms, represent a central form of open child and youth work in which educational specialists either play no role or only the function of companions, advisors or moderators (e.g. in conflicts between young people and their environment, such as the neighbors of the self-organized youth room).

Self-organization in science and technology

The emergent behavior of a self-organizing system often shows very good properties in terms of scalability and robustness against disruptive influences or parameter changes, which is why self-organizing systems are well suited as a paradigm for future complex technical systems. However, there is no simple algorithm to generate the necessary local rules for a desired global behavior. Previous approaches are based on manual trial and error, for example, and expect a fundamental understanding of the system from the engineer. As another alternative, existing systems in nature are often copied, but this presupposes the existence of a suitable example. A nature-inspired example is the use of an effect that occurs in nature with so-called ripple marks in dunes . This effect is used in layer growth . Quantum dots grow like this.

Current research aims to apply evolutionary algorithms to design a self-organizing system.

In recent years, the term self-organization has also increasingly been used for technologies for the production and modification of MEMS and NEMS , better known as bottom-up processes. Here self-organization takes place on a molecular or nanocrystalline level and can take place biologically, chemically or physically.


  • Aristotle : About the soul.
  • Per Bak : How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality. Copernicus Books, 1996, ISBN 0-387-94791-4 .
  • Martin Carrier : Self-organization , in: Jürgen Mittelstraß (Hrsg.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science. 2nd Edition. Volume 7: Re - Te. Stuttgart, Metzler 2018, ISBN 978-3-476-02106-9 , pp. 326 - 329 (detailed bibliography).
  • Elisabeth Göbel: Theory and design of self-organization . Duncker and Humblot, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-428-09434-4 .
  • Wolfgang Deppert : "The Wewersche fly experiment as an example of system times", in: W. Deppert, K. Köther, B. Kralemann, C. Lattmann, N. Martens, J. Schaefer (eds.): Self-organized system times. An interdisciplinary discourse on the modeling of living systems on the basis of internal rhythms , Volume I of the series: Fundamental Problems of Our Time, Leipziger Universitätsverlag, Leipzig 2002, pp. 269-271.
  • Andreas Dietrich: Self-organization: Management from a holistic perspective . German Univ. - Verl., Gabler, Wiesbaden 2001, ISBN 3-8244-7406-9 .
  • Rüdiger H. Jung : Self-organization In: Helmut K. Anheier, Stefan Toepler, Regina List (ed.): International Encyclopedia of Civil Society. Springer Science + Business Media LLC, New York 2010, ISBN 978-0-387-93996-4 , pp. 1364-1370.
  • Wolfgang Krohn , Günter Küppers : Self-organization: Aspects of a scientific revolution . Vieweg, Wiesbaden 1990, ISBN 3-528-06371-8 .
  • Niklas Luhmann : Social Systems: Outline of a General Theory . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1987, ISBN 3-518-28266-2 .
  • C. Prehofer, C. Bettstetter: Self-organization in communication networks: principles and design paradigms . In: IEEE Communications Magazine . tape 43 , no. 7 , July 2005, p. 78-85 , doi : 10.1109 / MCOM.2005.1470824 .
  • BG Farley, WA Clark : Simulation of self-organizing systems by digital computer . In: Transactions of the IRE Professional Group on Information Theory . tape 4 , no. 4 , September 1954, p. 76-84 , doi : 10.1109 / TIT.1954.1057468 .
  • A. Korotayev , A. Malkov, D. Khaltourina: Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Compact Macromodels of the World System Growth. URSS, Moscow 2006, ISBN 5-484-00414-4 ( introduction and brief description ).
  • Peter-Ulrich Wendt: Self-organization of young people and the promotion of self-organization through local youth work . Dr. Kovac, Hamburg 2006, ISBN 3-8300-2064-3 .
  • Falko Dressler: Self-Organization in Sensor and Actor Networks . Wiley & Sons 2007, ISBN 978-0-470-02820-9 .
  • Rainer Paslack : Prehistory of self-organization: to the archeology of a scientific paradigm . Vieweg, Braunschweig 1991.
  • Karl Schattenhofer: Self-organization and group: development and control processes in groups VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 1992, ISBN 3-531-12349-1 .
  • Reinhard Schmitt, Mathias Zagel: Product development as a self-organizing business process . In: CAD-CAM-Report. No. 10, 2009, ISSN  0930-7117 , p. 36 ff.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Georg Schreyögg, Axel v. Werder: Concise dictionary of corporate management and organization Schäfer-Poeschel Verlag, Stuttgart 2004.
  2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, Riga 1790, B 293.
  3. ^ Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, First Draft of a System of Natural Philosophy (1799), in: Werke, Bd. 7, Stuttgart 2001, 63-271, here 78.
  4. ^ Marie-Luise Heuser: The productivity of nature. Schelling's natural philosophy and the new paradigm of self-organization in the natural sciences. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-428-06079-2 ; together with the physicists of self-organization: Marie-Luise Heuser: Schelling's Concept of Selforganization. In: R. Friedrich / A. Wunderlin (ed.): Evolution of dynamical structures in complex systems. Springer Proceedings in Physics, Springer, Berlin / Heidelberg / New York 1992, pp. 395-415; together with the President of the International Schelling Society: Marie-Luise Heuser-Keßler / Wilhelm G. Jacobs: Schelling and self-organization. New research perspectives. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-428-08066-1 ; recently u. a .: Marie-Luise Heuser: Concepts of self-organization - autopoiesis and synergetics. In: Tatjana Petzer / Stephan Steiner (ed.): Synergie. History of culture and knowledge of a figure of thought. Wilhelm Fink, Paderborn 2015.
  5. See for example Marie-Luise Heuser: The Significance of "Naturphilosophie" for Justus and Hermann Graßmann. In: Hans-Joachim Petsche (Ed.): From Past to Future: Graßmann's Work in Context. Birkhäuser, Basel / Boston / Berlin 2011, pp. 49–60.
  6. Günter Dedie: The power of nature laws. Emergence and collective abilities from elementary particles to human society. tredition 2014, ISBN 978-3-8495-7685-1 .
  7. ^ Robert B. Laughlin: Farewell to the universal formula. Piper 2009, ISBN 978-3-492-25327-7 , pp. 215-231.
  8. DEMESOS - Design Methods for Self-Organizing Systems. Research project: