Self-organization: the quest for the origin and evolution of structure

Self-organization is a growing interdisciplinary field of research about a phenomenon that can be observed in the Universe, in nature and in social contexts. Researchers seek explanations by using both experimental, often computer-based approaches and empirical, observational approaches. Mechanisms of self-organization are beginning to be identified and the theoretical foundation is under development. Research on self-organization tries to describe and explain forms, complex patterns and behaviours that arise without an outside organizer. They arise under complex conditions away from equilibrium, on the edge of chaos. One common characteristic of the mechanisms that trigger and create self-organization are the use of simple rules for the emergence of complex processes.

A large part of the discussion during the symposium dealt with theories and methods in research on self-organization. Both experiments and empirical research are needed, but perhaps above all the development of a platform of knowledge from which it is possible to deal with the complexity that is also the precondition for self-organization. Reductionist approaches were deemed insufficient and a closer association between physics and biology was identified as a future strategy, since both these disciplines study relationships and characteristics in dynamic systems.

This is a summary of the June issue of Philosophical Transactions A. The 18 papers in this issue can be found on FirstCite, the Society’’s rapid online publication service at
http://www.catchword.com/rsl/1364503X/previews/contp1-1.htm

The symposium was organized around 17 specially invited lecturers, all world leaders in their fields, spanning from physics and cosmology to biochemistry, biology, physiology, mathematics and computer science. Also participating in the discussions were some 80 invited participants from many countries.

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This area deals with the fundamental laws and building blocks of nature and how they interact, the properties and the behavior of matter, and research into space and time and their structures.

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