I. Prigogine and P.M. Allen

I Prigogine and P.M. Allen, "The Challenge of Complexity", Self-Organization and Dissipative Structures, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1982.

It is precisely in nonlinear systems operating far from thermodynamic equilibrium that coherent self-organization phenomena can occur, characterized by some macroscopic organization or pattern, on a scale much larger than that of the individual elements in interaction. It is a structure whose characteristics are a property of the collectivity and cannot be inferred from study of the individual elements in isolation. We may say that reductionism, long a strongly criticized attitude in the social sciences, is found to be inadequate even in the physical sciences. The whole is more than the sum of the parts for such systems. [7]

Our point of view is that evolution results from the individual trial and error of different strategies by the entities composing the system, rather than from some 'global optimization' where in some way the good of the species exerts a direct influence. [32]

Evolution is the result of this very complex interplay between stochastic factors (mutation pressure, environment, small numbers) and deterministic factors (selection pressure, steady environment), and both aspects are in fact crucial. In view of all these interactions, the very existence of such complex systems as a tropical forest or a modern society poses an interesting problem from the start. Is there a limit to complexity? The more elements that enter into interaction, the higher the degree of the secular equation determining the characteristic frequencies of the system and greater the chance, therefore of having at least one positive root and hence instability. [35]

The question 'is there a limit to complexity?' may have a less clear-cut answer than those that have been considered up to the present. According to our results, an important aspect of the answer would be that complexity is limited by stability, which, in turn, is limited by the strength of the system-environment coupling. [36]

A complex system, such as the social system, is characterized by equations expressing the interdependence of the various actors of the system and that these intrinsic nonlinearities, in dialogue with fluctuations, result in the self-organization of the system, so that its structures, articulations, and hierarchies are the result, not of the operation of some 'global optimiser,' some 'collective utility function,' but of successive instabilities near bifurcation points. Such a view takes into account the collective dimension of individual actions and emphasizes the possibility that individuals acting according to their own particular criteria may find that the resulting collective vector may sweep them in an entirely unexpected direction, perhaps involving qualitative changes in the state of the system. It is not surprising then that many attempts at modeling such complex systems have been largely unsuccessful, particularly in the medium and long term. [37]

Elliott W. Montroll

Elliott W. Montroll, "Dynamics of Technological Evolutions", Self-Organization and Dissipative Structures, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1982.

As long as investors are patient and bankers are lenient in calling their loans, this state of supersaturation may persist for some times, but with a business slump or money panic the weaker firms will not be able to pay their notes or bills and will be forced into bankruptcy (or may be absorbed by stronger firms). Thus, a phase transition occurs and a state in which there are many small firms is transformed into one with a small number of larger firms.
This 'condensation' effect is exhibited where the number of operating railroads in the United States is plotted as a function of time. [86]

Robert L. Carneiro

Robert L. Carneiro, "Successive Reequilibrations as the Mechanism of Cultural Evolution", Self-Organization and Dissipative Structures, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1982.

The most salient feature of human history, then is not stasis, but evolution. To account for evolution we must leave equilibrium theory behind and enter the realm of disequilibrium theory. We must learn by equilibria are overthrown, how they are reestablished, and what effect this has on the structure of societies. [111]

Every social system has a margin of elasticity. It can be subjected to certain forces - wars, floods, famines, riots, plagues, strikes, inflation, unemployment - and, as long as the magnitude of these forces is not excessive, the system will essentially return to its original conditions once the impinging forces abate. If it is not pressed beyond this margin, the society will be able to reestablish its old equilibrium. Thus, a functionalist studying a society within this range of perturbing forces is justified in applying a homeostatic model to it and in considering it to be a system in stable equilibrium. But if the society is subjected to forces that exceed this margin of elasticity, its existing institutions will not be able to cope with these forces. Under heavy stress, the society will be permanently deformed, that is, it will be forced to change its structure. [112]

Indeed, much New Deal legislation can be seen as an attempt by a badly disequilibrated society to reequalibrate itself by undergoing certain structural transformations. [114]

How does the process of serious perturbation followed by reequilibration, so often manifested by societies, relate to cultural evolution? Evolution is this process writ large. As we have seen, the successful reequilibration of a society often requires the elaboration of its parts. Successive reequilibrations would thus serve to increase a society's structural complexity. If we follow Herbert Spencer in regarding increased complexity as the hallmark of evolution in general, we can say that sociocultural evolution is the natural outcome of societies undergoing successive reequilibrations as they seek to adapt to the changing conditions of existence. [114]

Richard Newbold Adams

Richard Newbold Adams, "The Emergence of Hierarchical Social Structures: The Case of Late Victorian England", Self-Organization and Dissipative Structures, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1982.

Human organisms clearly display a long adulthood which is a steady state. The human species, in contrast, has never, so far as we know, manifested a steady state but rather has been in a state of constant expansion. Between the two are societies which may or may not manifest a steady state. Human societies particularly manifest cases of control by internal mechanisms that give evidence of having developed in response to the consequences of outside constrictions. While individual human societies vary in this, they have shown progressively less inclination to exercise such controls as they have become more complex.
Recently a good deal of evidence has been adduced to show that not only have many human societies achieved a steady state but also human history has consisted of an irregular oscillation from a condition of ecological equilibrium to one of intensification of exploitation and depletion of resources. [122]

One way to identify when a new structure has come into being is to observe when the existing components - in this case we can look at Britain - give evidence of subordinating themselves to the larger whole. In doing this, they are giving up decision making to decisions made beyond their area of control. These new decisions are being made in the larger structure, and in that way we can see that a new level of self-organization and self-maintenance is coming into being.
At first these outside decisions will be uncoordinated among themselves; that is, they will be responding separately to different set of actors. As the various participating structures expand, as the amount of energy being used by the systems increases, as interactions among them intensifies, they will tend to centralize in a few places that will be more highly coordinated among themselves. The gradual centralization of this new level of decision making is what allows us to differentiate the emergence of a new structure.
What Britain was building was a worldwide social structure that, on the one hand, necessarily led to her own slowdown but, on the other, was unquestionably essential for her own survival. She was building survival devices or mechanisms, which, if we see them as parts of an emerging whole, we can regard as a kind of survival vehicle; an extensive social, political, and economic complex that would both sustain and supply her. At the same time it required that she make important internal readjustments - among which were those resulting in a deceleration in the growth energy consumption per capita. [126]

A survival vehicle is, then, in the first instance a social assemblage that is brought into being by individuals to better the conditions of their own survival. It is a larger dissipative structure, within which the individuals may hope to be buffered against harsher elements of the environment and to receive specific things that they need.
Vehicles will, however, follow their own evolution. Some expire rapidly; others may become of special interest to a few of the members. The leaders all have a particular interest in the survival of the vehicles. Thus the survival vehicles often incorporate mechanisms leading to their own perpetuation. [127]

This development, of course, means that the very survival vehicles that individuals have helped to construct may be taken from their control (if they were ever in their control) and may follow a path that is in fact against the best interests of individual members. Thus survival vehicles, once in being, become autonomous and independent of the interests of the individual members. [127]

Not only can the amount and kinds of energy that are expended and channeled by survival vehicles be calculated, but we should also initially assume that the laws of thermodynamics are as applicable to these processes as to those observed in nonhuman biological activities. Thus we should expect, following Fred Cottrell, that where vehicles are using increasing amounts of energy, the amount required for the maintenance of a survival vehicle will increase more rapidly than the increase in the total energy flow of the vehicle. We should also expect, following Ramon Margalaf, that as vehicles of greater scope come into being they will do so by the systematic exploitation of lesser vehicles, including especially those that compose them. They will take more energy away from the lesser vehicles, especially in the form of controls. They will compete with other units, other vehicles - often of quite different kinds - for resources. [128]

Expanding social systems are entirely a part of nature and their ultimate elements are no different from those composing the more easily visible physical world. Their inevitable expansion carries the emergence of higher levels of hierarchy, and these must be recognized as real dissipative structures that will take on their own behavior. In the present case, the lesser components lose their autonomy of action; they lose their ability to respond individualistically to an unstructured environment because they now confront one that is structured. In the nature of social structure, they become subordinated to the larger expanding dissipative structure that encompasses them. [129]

The emergence ofteh larger industrial, capitalist world structure, to which Britain made such an important contribution in the late nineteenth century, is still an uncentralized, coordinated arrangement. As such, it would have to be regarded as essentially amoral, incapable for the moment of making decisions as to what was best for itself. However, the direction was towards higher-level centralization within that structure that would result in its own morality, displacing that of the separate nations and firms operating within it. [130]

The application of dissipative structure analysis to social organizations requires the development of a sociology appropriate to it. [130]

Erich Jantsch

Erich Jantsch, "From Self-Reference to Self-Transcendence: The Evolution of Self-Organization Dynamics," Self-Organization and Dissipative Structures, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1982.

Symbiosis is usually defined in structural terms, that is to say, by the relations between two or more entities such as organisms. If, however, we look at a symbiosis of processes instead, we arrive at the notion of coevolution. In a predator-prey relation, the entities of the prey species are destroyed, but not its evolutionary process. On the contrary, both predator and prey species benefit in a dynamic view and expand their niches.
Coevolution also means that even cooperating entities never totally adapt to each other. Evolution always involves destabilization, the reaching out, the self-presentation which offers new symbiotic relations, the risk accompanying all innovation. Evolution at all levels involves the freedom of action as well as the recognition of a ubiquitous systemic interconnectedness - in short, the joy as well as the meaning of life. Total adaptation implies equilibrium, the principle of death. The basic principle of life, nonequilibrium, which the theory of dissipative structures recognizes as an intrasystemic condition for self-organization and evolution, reappears as an intersystemic condition for symbiosis and coevolution. [347]

If the output of a system's self-organization dynamics enters again a self-organization configuration (basically, hypercycle), higher-level self-organization structures may result. The level of the original dynamic system is thereby transcended. In this way, dissipative processes at different levels may be linked together and form a hierarchy involving several levels. [348]

It seems that we frequently confuse indeterminacy and chance. Indeterminacy is the freedom available at each level which, however, cannot jump over the shadow of its own history. Evolution is the open history of an unfolding complexity, not the history of random processes. What emerges are the contours of a world in which life (if anything) is purely random, but much is indetermined and shaped by a creativity that transcends the systems which are its vehicles. [352]