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When Can we Call a System Self-organizing?
Carlos Gershenson
Centrum Leo Apostel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel


We do not attempt to provide yet another definition of self-organizing systems, nor review previous definitions. We explore the conditions necessary to describe self-organizing systems, inspired on decades of their study, in order to understand them better. These involve the dynamics of the system, and the purpose, boundaries, and description level chosen by an observer. We show how, changing the level or 'graining' of description, the same system can be self-organizing or not. We also discuss common problems we face when studying self-organizing systems. We analyse when building, designing, and controlling artificial self-organizing systems is useful. We state that self-organization is a way of observing systems, not a class of systems.


self-organization, entropy, observer


  1. Gershenson, C. and F. Heylighen. (2003) When Can we Call a System Self-organizing?. In Banzhaf, W, T. Christaller, P. Dittrich, J. T. Kim, and J. Ziegler (ed.) Advances in Artificial Life. Springer. pp. 606-614.