Self-organizing systems

Richard Holloway learnshops at
Fri Aug 20 21:37:12 PDT 1999

Hello, Michelle...

although I don't know a great deal about systems, living systems (which are
by definition self-organizing) are a topic which has engaged my attention
for the past few years.

there are some wonderful texts which have been valuable to my understanding.
I'll share them here, but I understand that primary reference sources are
not always useful to everyone.

Fritjof Capra's "The Web of Life"
Humberto Maturana & Francisco Varela's "The Tree of Knowledge"
Stuart Kauffman (oops...title escaped me...his work on Complex Adaptive

of course, family systems thinkers like Bateson, Satir and Friedman (among
others) were early and influential contributors to this body of knowledge
and are still well-worth reading.

Living systems (according to Capra's interpretation) seem to rely on 3

They are self-organizing systems (Maturana calls it autopoeisis, which is
essentially self-creating).

Because human beings are autonomous entities, within our communities we form
what Maturana refers to as meta-systems.

One of the most remarkable "meta-system" is the Open Space experience, where
we can witness the development of a self-organizing process within the
pattern (laws/principles) and structure (space) of open space.  It's
remarkable because autonomous beings come together into this system
experience and generate something totally new for a short while and then
move away never to be regenerated.

Because we are each whole...and connected to our collective
is impossible to differentiate between our intellect, emotions, spirit and
body.  These are interconnected in ways we will not fathom except by "being"

The Open Space "system" is similar in that there are connections being made
between and among the collective intellects, emotions, spirits and bodies
until we may not differentiate between the ways in which we have connected
except by accepting the "wholeness" of the experience.

I suspect that terms like "self-organizing systems" sound too pat or simple
or scientific to some.  For many others it reflects a deeper understanding
of the way in which all life is connected (the Gaia consciousness is an


Richard (Doc) Holloway

----- Original Message -----
From: Michelle Cooper <coopgrp at INTERLYNX.NET>
Sent: Friday, August 20, 1999 8:10 AM
Subject: Self-organizing systems

I noticed that my previous message got cut off.  Spirit at work maybe?
Anyway I have attached the rest of the message.

>>I need to think more on the notion of self-organizing systems and how I
would define them before I can contribute significantly.  What my experience
tells me is that people at this point in evolution do need a framework
around which to organize.  It starts with purpose, leadership and vision and
is bounded by the  givens or rules within which people organize.  Open space
gives people the appropriate structure and minimal rules that enable them to
achieve amazing things with minimal intervention by others.  Leadership is
present in everyone in the meeting, but leadership gets the ball rolling
too.  Is this a self-organizing system?  Would people self-organize without
the givens, purpose etc. I have seen miserable failures where people have
been expected to "self-organize"  but have either not enough information to
move ahead or there is too much control exerted.  Are there degrees of
self-organizing systems? How is this different from self-directed?  The
synonyms for self as a modifier are: of one's self, by one's self, by one's
own effort, alone or individual.  Perhaps self is not the right word,
because it is inherently the whole that works together. Is the self the
system? I will read other responses with interest.

Kind regards;

Michelle Cooper, RN, MScN
The Cooper Group Consultants
200 Crestview  Avenue
Ancaster, Ontario
Canada L9G1E2
Telephone -     (905) 648- 4633
Fax -           (905) 648-1763
E-mail          coopgrp at

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