Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).

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The Power of Self-Organization

Unveiling Nature's Hidden Order

Frank Visser / ChatGPT

Me to ChatGPT:

  • Could you discuss relevance of the work of Stuart Kauffman and its reception in science in an essay of 2000 words please.

Follow-up questions:

  • Kauffman is known for championing self-organization next to natural selection in producing complexity. Please give examples of both.
  • Are these two mechanisms equivalent or do they work at different levels of complexity?
  • Kauffman is known for his project of "Reinventing the Sacred." How does this compare to traditional forms of spirituality?
  • How can self-organization in various areas best be explained? Please give some examples. Is there a common principle at work?
  • Can a case be made that self-organization is a spiritual phenomenon, because it exhibits unexpected creativity? Or can it fully be explained in naturalistic terms?
  • What other principles besides natural selection and self-organisation are at work in the production of biological complexity?
  • How does self-organization fit onto the many schools of the Extended Synthesis in evolutionary biology?
  • What role and in what areas do energy flows play a major role in self-organization. Please again give a few examples.
  • I once suggested that self-organization, endosymbiosis, evo-devo and natural selection each refer to different taxonomic levels (cells, kingdoms, organs, species).[1] Please comment.


Stuart Kauffman
Stuart Kauffman (b. 1939):
“God is the creativity of the universe.“

Stuart Kauffman is a renowned theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher whose work has significantly influenced various fields of science. This essay explores the relevance of Kauffman's work and its reception in the scientific community. It begins by providing an overview of Kauffman's background and key contributions. Subsequently, it delves into the impact of his research in different areas, including the origins of life, complexity theory, and evolutionary dynamics. Furthermore, it examines the reception of Kauffman's ideas within the scientific community, highlighting both praise and criticism. Ultimately, this essay underscores the lasting relevance of Kauffman's work and its transformative influence on scientific thinking.


Stuart Kauffman, a prominent figure in the field of theoretical biology and complex systems research, has made significant contributions to our understanding of the complexity and dynamics of living systems. His interdisciplinary approach has allowed him to tackle fundamental questions about the origins of life, the nature of complexity, and the dynamics of evolutionary processes. Kauffman's work has had a profound impact on various scientific disciplines, pushing the boundaries of traditional scientific thinking and sparking new avenues of inquiry. This essay aims to explore the relevance of Kauffman's work and its reception within the scientific community.

I. Background and Key Contributions of Stuart Kauffman

Stuart Kauffman's intellectual journey began in the field of medicine, where he trained as a physician. However, his curiosity and passion for understanding the underlying principles of life led him to pursue a career in theoretical biology. Kauffman's early research focused on gene regulatory networks, where he developed the concept of the "order for free" principle. This principle challenged the prevailing view that complexity could only arise through natural selection, proposing instead that complex ordered patterns could spontaneously emerge in a system governed by simple rules.

Kauffman's groundbreaking work extended beyond gene regulatory networks. He explored the origins of life through his theory of autocatalytic sets, which posits that the early emergence of life may have been driven by self-sustaining chemical reactions. He also delved into complexity theory, developing the concept of "order parameters" to explain how systems transition between ordered and chaotic states. Additionally, his investigations into the dynamics of evolutionary processes led to the development of the "NK model," which explores the interplay between genetic robustness and innovation.

II. Relevance of Kauffman's Work:
A. Origins of Life:

Kauffman's work on the origins of life has provided alternative perspectives to the long-standing debate surrounding the emergence of complex biological systems. His theory of autocatalytic sets challenges the notion that life necessitates the presence of fully formed replicators, suggesting that self-sustaining networks of chemical reactions may have facilitated the emergence of life's earliest forms. This theory has implications for the search for life beyond Earth and has stimulated further research into prebiotic chemistry and the origins of genetic and metabolic networks.

B. Complexity Theory:

Kauffman's contributions to complexity theory have had far-reaching implications for understanding the behavior of complex systems. His concept of "order parameters" elucidates how systems exhibit phase transitions between ordered and chaotic states, offering a framework to study critical phenomena in diverse fields such as physics, economics, and social sciences. Kauffman's work has provided new avenues for modeling complex systems, uncovering universal patterns and principles that underlie their behavior.

C. Evolutionary Dynamics:

This model emphasizes the balance between genetic robustness and innovation, highlighting the importance of exploring the vast space of potential genetic configurations. It has enhanced our understanding of the mechanisms that shape the evolution of biological systems, shedding light on topics such as the evolution of complex traits, the role of epistasis, and the exploration of adaptive landscapes. Kauffman's work has provided a framework for studying the dynamics of evolutionary processes and has influenced fields like evolutionary biology, population genetics, and artificial life.

III. Reception of Kauffman's Ideas in Science

Kauffman's ideas have sparked significant interest and debate within the scientific community. His work has been celebrated for its interdisciplinary nature, challenging established paradigms and opening up new avenues for research. Many scientists have lauded Kauffman's contributions for their intellectual depth and conceptual richness. His ability to connect disparate fields and bring together ideas from biology, physics, complexity theory, and philosophy has earned him recognition as a visionary thinker.

Moreover, Kauffman's work has inspired a generation of researchers who seek to explore the emergent properties of complex systems. His ideas have stimulated fruitful collaborations between scientists from different disciplines and have fostered a more holistic approach to scientific inquiry.

However, Kauffman's ideas have not been without criticism. Some argue that his theories are too speculative and lack empirical evidence, leading to concerns about their scientific rigor. Others question the testability and falsifiability of certain aspects of his work. These criticisms reflect the inherent challenges faced when studying complex systems, where definitive experimental validation can be difficult to achieve.

Nevertheless, Kauffman's ideas have had a lasting impact on scientific thinking, irrespective of the ongoing debates. His contributions have enriched our understanding of the complexity and dynamics of living systems and have provided novel frameworks for investigating complex phenomena in diverse fields.


Stuart Kauffman's work has been highly relevant and influential within the scientific community. His interdisciplinary approach and innovative concepts have pushed the boundaries of scientific inquiry, particularly in the areas of the origins of life, complexity theory, and evolutionary dynamics. While his ideas have garnered both praise and criticism, they have undeniably shaped the scientific landscape and inspired new avenues of research. The lasting relevance of Kauffman's work lies in its transformative power to challenge conventional thinking and stimulate interdisciplinary collaborations, paving the way for future discoveries and advancements in scientific understanding.

Kauffman is known for championing self-organization next to natural selection in producing complexity. Please give examples of both.

Certainly! Stuart Kauffman is indeed known for emphasizing the role of self-organization alongside natural selection in generating complexity in various systems. Here are examples of both self-organization and natural selection at work:


Self-organization refers to the spontaneous emergence of complex patterns or structures from the interactions of simpler components without external control or direction. It highlights the inherent capacity of systems to organize themselves into ordered states. Examples of self-organization include:

a) Bacterial Biofilms:

Bacterial biofilms are complex communities of bacteria that adhere to surfaces and form organized structures. The formation of biofilms is a result of self-organization, as individual bacteria interact and communicate through signaling molecules, leading to the emergence of intricate three-dimensional architectures.

b) Neural Networks:

In neuroscience, self-organization plays a vital role in the development of the brain. During early brain development, individual neurons connect and interact with each other, leading to the spontaneous formation of neural networks. These networks exhibit emergent properties that enable higher-order functions such as perception, learning, and memory.

c) Social Insect Colonies:

Social insect colonies, such as ant colonies or bee hives, demonstrate remarkable self-organization. Individual insects follow simple rules for interaction, such as pheromone trails or communication through dances, leading to the emergence of complex social structures and division of labor within the colony.

Natural Selection:

Natural selection, as proposed by Charles Darwin, is a fundamental mechanism of evolution that acts on heritable variation within a population, favoring traits that confer reproductive advantage. It is a process of differential survival and reproduction, leading to the accumulation of beneficial traits over generations. Examples of natural selection include:

a) Peppered Moths:

The case of peppered moths in England during the Industrial Revolution is a classic example of natural selection. Initially, most moths had light-colored wings, which provided camouflage against tree trunks covered in light-colored lichen. However, with the increase in industrial pollution, the tree trunks became darkened, making the light-colored moths more conspicuous to predators. As a result, the dark-colored variant of the moth became more prevalent, as it had a survival advantage in the altered environment.

b) Antibiotic Resistance:

In the field of medicine, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a consequence of natural selection. When antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, the drugs exert selective pressure on the bacterial population, favoring those bacteria that possess genetic mutations or mechanisms to resist the effects of the antibiotic. Over time, the resistant bacteria proliferate, leading to the reduced effectiveness of antibiotics.

c) Darwin's Finches:

The finches in the Galapagos Islands, famously studied by Charles Darwin, illustrate the role of natural selection in adaptive radiation. Each island in the Galapagos has different environmental conditions and food sources, leading to variations in beak shape and size among the finch populations. Natural selection acts on these variations, favoring beak shapes that are better suited for specific food sources on each island, leading to the diversification of the finch species.

These examples demonstrate the interplay between self-organization and natural selection in generating complexity and driving evolutionary processes in different systems. While natural selection acts on existing variations and promotes adaptation, self-organization provides mechanisms for the spontaneous emergence of novel patterns and structures, contributing to the overall complexity of biological and physical systems.

Are these two mechanisms equivalent or do they work at different levels of complexity?

Self-organization and natural selection are distinct mechanisms that operate at different levels of complexity, although they can interact and influence each other in certain contexts. Let's explore their differences and how they function:


Self-organization refers to the spontaneous emergence of order or complex patterns from the interactions of simpler components. It occurs in systems with many interconnected elements that follow local rules or interactions, leading to global patterns or behaviors. Self-organization does not require external control or direction but rather arises from the inherent dynamics of the system.

Self-organization typically operates at a lower level of complexity, where individual components or agents interact to give rise to emergent properties or collective behaviors. It can be observed in systems ranging from physical and chemical systems to biological and social systems. Examples include the formation of snowflakes, flocking behavior in birds, or the emergence of patterns in cellular automata.

Natural Selection:

Natural selection, on the other hand, is a mechanism of evolution that acts on heritable variation within a population, favoring traits that enhance an organism's reproductive success. It is driven by the differential survival and reproduction of individuals based on their inherited traits, leading to the accumulation of beneficial traits over generations.

Natural selection operates at a higher level of complexity, primarily within biological systems. It acts on genetic variations within populations and drives the adaptation and diversification of species over time. Natural selection operates through the interaction between genetic variation, heritability of traits, and differential reproductive success, resulting in the propagation of traits that increase an organism's fitness in a given environment.

While self-organization and natural selection are distinct mechanisms, they are not mutually exclusive and can interact in certain situations. Self-organizing processes can create the conditions for natural selection to act upon, as the emergence of new structures or behaviors can provide opportunities for adaptation and evolutionary change. Conversely, natural selection can shape the underlying variations that drive self-organizing processes, favoring traits that enhance self-organization or the emergence of complex patterns.

In summary, self-organization operates at a lower level of complexity, explaining the spontaneous emergence of patterns and behaviors, while natural selection acts at a higher level, driving evolutionary change through the differential survival and reproduction of individuals. Both mechanisms play important roles in generating complexity, but they operate at different scales and can interact in intricate ways within complex systems.

Kauffman is known for his project of "Reinventing the Sacred." How does this compare to traditional forms of spirituality?

Stuart Kauffman's project of "Reinventing the Sacred" represents a departure from traditional forms of spirituality while aiming to provide a new perspective on the concept of the sacred. It involves reimagining and redefining the sacred in a way that is compatible with a scientific worldview and grounded in the natural world. Here's a comparison between Kauffman's approach and traditional forms of spirituality:

Concept of the Sacred:

Traditional forms of spirituality often attribute the concept of the sacred to supernatural or transcendent entities, such as deities, spirits, or divine beings. The sacred is often associated with the realm beyond the physical world and is believed to have a separate existence from the natural world.

In contrast, Kauffman's project of "Reinventing the Sacred" seeks to redefine the sacred within a naturalistic framework. It proposes that the sacred can be found within the complexities and wonders of the natural world itself, without the need for supernatural or transcendental explanations. Kauffman suggests that a deep reverence and appreciation for the complexity, creativity, and interconnectedness of natural processes can be a source of a secular form of sacredness.

Approach to Understanding:

Traditional spirituality often relies on religious texts, revelation, or faith-based beliefs as sources of knowledge and understanding. The emphasis is on seeking meaning, purpose, and guidance from supernatural or divine sources. Practices such as prayer, meditation, and rituals are common in traditional spiritual traditions.

In contrast, Kauffman's approach is rooted in scientific inquiry and a deep exploration of complex systems. His work involves rigorous scientific investigation, modeling, and theoretical exploration to understand the fundamental principles that govern the natural world. The focus is on uncovering the inherent creativity, emergence, and complexity of natural processes through scientific methods.

Connection with Ethics and Morality:

Traditional spirituality often intertwines ethics and morality with its beliefs and teachings. Moral guidelines and principles are derived from religious doctrines and divine commandments. The sacred is often seen as the source of moral authority and guidance for ethical behavior.

Kauffman's project of "Reinventing the Sacred" does not propose specific moral guidelines or codes derived from the sacred. Instead, it emphasizes the ethical implications of understanding and appreciating the interconnectedness and complexity of natural systems. It suggests that recognizing and respecting the inherent value and interdependence of all living beings and ecosystems can guide ethical behavior.

Community and Rituals:

Traditional forms of spirituality often involve communal practices, gatherings, and rituals that strengthen the sense of belonging and shared beliefs within a religious community. These rituals and ceremonies are designed to connect individuals to the sacred and foster a sense of transcendence.

In Kauffman's project, the emphasis is more on individual exploration, scientific collaboration, and intellectual engagement. While there might be communities and discussions centered around his ideas, they do not involve traditional religious rituals or ceremonies. The focus is on fostering a scientific understanding and appreciation of the natural world, and the sense of the sacred arises from the intellectual engagement with the wonders of the natural world.

In summary, Kauffman's project of "Reinventing the Sacred" offers a departure from traditional forms of spirituality by seeking to find a secular form of sacredness within the natural world. It emphasizes scientific exploration, complexity theory, and a deep appreciation for the complexity and interconnectedness of natural processes as a source of awe and reverence. This approach contrasts with traditional spirituality, which often relies on supernatural explanations, religious texts, and practices aimed at connecting with a transcendent or divine realm.

How can self-organization in various areas best be explained? Please give some examples. Is there a common principle at work?

Self-organization can be best explained as the spontaneous emergence of complex patterns or structures from the interactions of simpler components, without the need for external control or direction. While self-organization manifests in diverse areas, there are common principles at work that underlie these phenomena. These principles include:

Local Interactions:

Self-organization often occurs through local interactions between components or agents within a system. Each component follows simple rules or behaviors, and the collective behavior that emerges from their interactions gives rise to complex patterns or structures. The overall organization emerges from the bottom-up, with no centralized control or global blueprint.

Flocking Behavior:

Birds in a flock exhibit self-organization through local interactions. Each bird follows a few basic rules, such as aligning with nearby birds, avoiding collisions, and moving towards the average direction of the group. These simple rules lead to the emergence of intricate flocking patterns.

Traffic Flow:

Traffic flow can exhibit self-organization. Individual drivers follow local rules, such as maintaining a safe distance from neighboring vehicles and adjusting their speed based on the density of traffic. These local interactions can lead to the emergence of complex traffic patterns, such as the formation of traffic jams or the self-regulation of flow.

Feedback Loops:

Feedback loops are crucial for self-organization. Positive feedback amplifies and reinforces a particular behavior or pattern, leading to its further development. Negative feedback, on the other hand, dampens or suppresses certain behaviors, promoting stability or equilibrium within the system. The interplay between positive and negative feedback loops enables the system to self-organize and reach a dynamic equilibrium.

Ecological Succession:

Ecological communities can undergo self-organization through feedback loops. As a pioneer species colonizes a barren area, it alters the environment, making it more favorable for other species to establish. This positive feedback loop continues, with each new species modifying the environment and creating conditions for subsequent species to thrive, leading to a dynamic and complex ecosystem.

Financial Markets:

Financial markets exhibit self-organization through feedback loops. Positive feedback can lead to market booms, where rising prices attract more buyers, further driving up prices. Negative feedback, such as selling pressure or economic factors, can lead to market downturns. These feedback loops can result in self-organized patterns, such as market bubbles or crashes.

Nonlinear Dynamics:

Self-organizing systems often exhibit nonlinear dynamics, where small changes or perturbations can have disproportionate effects on the system's behavior. Nonlinear dynamics can lead to phase transitions, bifurcations, or the emergence of multiple stable states, contributing to the complexity and richness of self-organizing phenomena.

Phase Transitions:

The behavior of matter during phase transitions, such as the transition from solid to liquid or from liquid to gas, can exhibit self-organization. Small changes in temperature or pressure can trigger large-scale shifts in the system's structure and behavior, resulting in the emergence of distinct phases.

Neural Networks:

Self-organization is observed in the development and functioning of neural networks. The connectivity between neurons is influenced by activity-dependent mechanisms, where repeated patterns of neural firing strengthen connections. This process, known as Hebbian plasticity, leads to the self-organization of neural circuits that underlie information processing in the brain.

While self-organization is observed in various domains, these examples illustrate some common principles at work. Local interactions, feedback loops, and nonlinear dynamics are key factors that contribute to the emergence of complex patterns or structures. Understanding these principles allows us to uncover the fundamental mechanisms behind self-organization in diverse systems, ranging from physical and biological systems to social and economic systems.

Can a case be made that self-organization is a spiritual phenomenon, because it exhibits unexpected creativity? Or can it fully be explained in naturalistic terms?

The question of whether self-organization can be considered a spiritual phenomenon or explained solely in naturalistic terms involves philosophical and subjective perspectives. Here are two contrasting viewpoints:

Spiritual Phenomenon:

Some individuals may interpret self-organization as a spiritual phenomenon due to its characteristics of unexpected creativity and the emergence of complex patterns. They may see the inherent complexity and order that arises from simple interactions as evidence of a deeper, transcendent intelligence or organizing principle at work. From this perspective, self-organization may be seen as a manifestation of a higher power or cosmic creativity.

Advocates of this viewpoint might argue that self-organization goes beyond mechanistic explanations and highlights the mysterious and awe-inspiring aspects of the natural world. They may find spiritual significance in the self-organizing processes, perceiving them as evidence of a deeper interconnectedness and purpose in the universe.

Naturalistic Explanation:

On the other hand, a naturalistic perspective seeks to explain self-organization solely in terms of natural processes, without invoking supernatural or transcendent explanations. It views self-organization as an emergent property arising from the interactions of simpler components, governed by fundamental laws of physics, chemistry, and biology.

Naturalistic explanations emphasize the scientific study of self-organization through rigorous observation, modeling, and experimentation. They aim to uncover the underlying principles and mechanisms that give rise to self-organizing phenomena, such as local interactions, feedback loops, and nonlinear dynamics. From this perspective, self-organization is seen as a result of the inherent complexity and dynamical properties of the natural world.

Advocates of this viewpoint argue that spiritual explanations are not necessary to understand self-organization. They emphasize that scientific exploration can provide explanations that are grounded in empirical evidence and offer predictive power. They may contend that attributing self-organization to spiritual or supernatural forces introduces unnecessary complexity and unverifiable assumptions.

It's important to note that the perception of self-organization as a spiritual phenomenon or a fully naturalistic phenomenon can vary among individuals based on their philosophical, religious, or metaphysical beliefs. The interpretation of self-organization can be influenced by personal perspectives and cultural contexts.

In summary, whether self-organization is considered a spiritual phenomenon or explained solely in naturalistic terms depends on individual viewpoints and philosophical frameworks. While some may find spiritual or transcendent meaning in self-organizing processes, others approach it from a purely naturalistic perspective, seeking to understand it through scientific investigation and empirical evidence. The interpretation of self-organization ultimately reflects the diverse range of human perspectives and belief systems.

What other principles besides natural selection and self-organisation are at work in the production of biological complexity?

In addition to natural selection and self-organization, several other principles contribute to the production of biological complexity. These principles include:

Genetic Variation:

Genetic variation, resulting from mutation, recombination, and genetic drift, is a fundamental principle that drives biological complexity. It provides the raw material for evolutionary processes, allowing for the generation of diverse traits and adaptations. Genetic variation enables populations to respond to changing environments and facilitates the exploration of new evolutionary pathways.

Genetic Regulation and Gene Expression:

The regulation of gene activity and gene expression plays a crucial role in biological complexity. Gene regulatory networks control when and where genes are activated, allowing for the precise orchestration of development, differentiation, and response to environmental cues. Differential gene expression leads to the formation of specialized cell types and the development of complex tissues and organs.

Developmental Processes:

Biological complexity arises through intricate developmental processes. Development involves a series of precise and coordinated events, including cell proliferation, differentiation, migration, and pattern formation. Developmental processes establish body plans, shape structures, and generate complex phenotypes.

Symbiosis and Cooperation:

Symbiotic relationships and cooperation between organisms are key drivers of biological complexity. Mutualistic interactions, such as those between pollinators and flowering plants or between gut microbes and their hosts, can lead to the evolution of complex adaptations and specialized ecological niches. Cooperative behaviors, such as social interactions in social insect colonies or collaborative hunting in pack animals, contribute to the emergence of complex group dynamics and division of labor.

Genetic Recombination and Horizontal Gene Transfer:

Genetic recombination, occurring through sexual reproduction, and horizontal gene transfer, the transfer of genetic material between different organisms, contribute to biological complexity. These processes facilitate the exchange of genetic information and can lead to the acquisition of novel traits and the formation of new combinations of genetic material.


Epigenetic mechanisms play a role in the production of biological complexity by influencing gene expression and phenotypic outcomes. Epigenetic modifications, such as DNA methylation and histone modifications, can regulate gene activity without altering the underlying DNA sequence. They contribute to the regulation of developmental processes, phenotypic plasticity, and the interplay between genes and the environment.

Ecological Interactions:

Ecological interactions, including competition, predation, and mutualism, shape the complexity of biological systems. These interactions drive coevolutionary dynamics, where species influence each other's evolutionary trajectories. Ecological interactions can lead to the diversification of species, the development of complex food webs, and the emergence of intricate ecological networks.

These principles interact and influence each other, contributing to the multifaceted nature of biological complexity. Understanding their roles and dynamics enhances our comprehension of the rich tapestry of life and the processes that have shaped the diversity and complexity of organisms on Earth.

How does self-organization fit onto the many schools of the Extended Synthesis in evolutionary biology?

The concept of self-organization has gained recognition and relevance within the framework of the Extended Synthesis in evolutionary biology. The Extended Synthesis represents an expansion of the classical Neo-Darwinian synthesis by incorporating additional mechanisms and processes that contribute to evolutionary dynamics. While the Extended Synthesis encompasses multiple schools of thought, including various theoretical perspectives, it provides a broader perspective on the mechanisms of evolution. Self-organization can be seen as fitting into the Extended Synthesis in several ways:

Integration of Non-Genetic Factors:

One aspect of the Extended Synthesis is the incorporation of non-genetic factors that can influence evolutionary processes. Self-organization, with its emphasis on emergent properties and complex patterns arising from the interactions of simpler components, aligns with this integration. It recognizes that evolutionary change can result from the dynamics of self-organizing systems rather than solely from genetic variation and natural selection.

Niche Construction:

The concept of niche construction is an integral part of the Extended Synthesis, emphasizing the role of organisms in actively modifying and creating their environments. Self-organization is relevant in the context of niche construction as it highlights how organisms, through their behaviors and interactions, can shape and influence the conditions in which they live. Self-organizing processes can generate feedback loops between organisms and their environments, leading to co-evolutionary dynamics and the emergence of complex ecological niches.

Developmental Perspectives:

The Extended Synthesis emphasizes the importance of developmental processes in understanding evolutionary change. Self-organization plays a role in this context by illuminating how complex phenotypes and developmental patterns can emerge from the interactions between genes, gene regulatory networks, and environmental influences. It highlights the significance of self-organizing dynamics in shaping the developmental trajectories and phenotypic outcomes of organisms.

Hierarchical Organization:

Self-organization also aligns with the recognition of hierarchical organization and multiple levels of selection within the Extended Synthesis. Self-organizing processes can occur at various levels, from molecular interactions within cells to the collective behavior of social groups. The emergence of complexity through self-organization is relevant to understanding how higher-level structures and patterns can arise from the interactions and dynamics at lower levels.

Evo-Devo and Phenotypic Plasticity:

The field of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) and the study of phenotypic plasticity are key components of the Extended Synthesis. Self-organization contributes to these perspectives by providing insights into the mechanisms underlying the generation of diverse phenotypes and the capacity of organisms to respond to environmental changes through plasticity. Self-organizing processes can influence the expression of genes, the formation of developmental patterns, and the emergence of phenotypic variation.

Overall, self-organization complements and enriches the Extended Synthesis by providing a framework to understand the spontaneous emergence of complexity and the generation of patterns and structures in evolving systems. It offers a perspective that goes beyond genetic variation and natural selection, incorporating the dynamics of self-organizing processes and their contributions to evolutionary dynamics, ecological interactions, and the development of complex phenotypes.

What role and in what areas do energy flows play a major role in self-organization. Please again give a few examples.

Energy flows play a crucial role in self-organization across various domains, contributing to the emergence and maintenance of complex patterns and structures. Here are a few examples of areas where energy flows are significant in self-organization:

Physical Systems:

In physical systems, energy flows can drive self-organizing processes and the formation of intricate patterns. One notable example is the phenomenon of convection, where energy flows in a fluid lead to the spontaneous formation of convective cells. When a fluid is heated from below, the warmer fluid rises while the cooler fluid descends, creating a circulating pattern. This self-organizing process is driven by the energy transfer through heat conduction and convection, resulting in the emergence of convection cells and complex flow patterns.

Chemical Systems:

Energy flows are crucial in chemical systems for self-organization to occur. The famous Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction is an example of a self-oscillating chemical reaction. In this system, the continuous supply of energy in the form of chemical reactants drives the emergence of periodic patterns of color changes. The energy input sustains a dynamic state, allowing for the formation and dissolution of reaction products in a cyclic manner, leading to self-organization and the appearance of complex temporal patterns.

Ecological Systems:

Energy flows in ecological systems are fundamental to self-organization. Ecosystems exhibit complex organization and dynamics driven by energy transfer and nutrient cycling. Energy flows through the food web, where producers (such as plants) capture sunlight through photosynthesis and convert it into chemical energy. This energy is then transferred through trophic levels as organisms consume each other. The flow of energy and the interplay of predator-prey relationships contribute to the self-organization of species interactions, population dynamics, and the structure of ecological communities.

Biological Systems:

Energy flows are vital for self-organization in biological systems at various levels. At the cellular level, metabolic processes involving the transformation and utilization of energy-rich molecules, such as ATP, enable the organization and functioning of complex biochemical pathways. The flow of energy in cells supports the self-organization of cellular structures, the coordination of molecular interactions, and the regulation of biological processes.

In neural systems, energy flows in the form of electrical signals facilitate the self-organization of neural networks and information processing. Neurons transmit electrical impulses, enabling the flow of information and the emergence of complex patterns of neural activity. Energy flows in the form of action potentials and synaptic transmissions underlie the self-organization of brain function and the generation of cognitive processes.

Social Systems:

Energy flows play a role in self-organization within social systems as well. In human societies, energy flows in the form of economic resources and information are essential for the emergence of complex social structures, cooperation, and cultural dynamics. Energy inputs, such as food production and distribution systems, fuel the organization and interactions within societies, enabling the formation of social hierarchies, division of labor, and the development of cultural norms and institutions.

In summary, energy flows are integral to self-organization in various domains, including physical systems, chemical systems, ecological systems, biological systems, and social systems. Energy inputs drive the dynamics and interactions of components within these systems, contributing to the emergence of complex patterns, structures, and behaviors. Understanding the role of energy flows enhances our comprehension of the mechanisms underlying self-organization and the formation of complexity in diverse contexts.

I once suggested that self-organization, endosymbiosis, evo-devo and natural selection each refer to different taxonomic levels (cells, kingdoms, organs, species). Please comment.

The suggestion that self-organization, endosymbiosis, evo-devo, and natural selection each refer to different taxonomic levels (cells, kingdoms, organs, species) is an interesting perspective to consider. While it is not accurate to assign these concepts exclusively to specific taxonomic levels, they do operate at different organizational scales and can be applied to various levels of biological organization. Let's discuss each concept in relation to its scope and potential applicability across taxonomic levels:


Self-organization refers to the spontaneous emergence of complex patterns or structures from simple interactions among components. This concept is applicable across different levels of organization, from molecular interactions within cells to the collective behavior of social groups. Self-organization can be observed in various biological contexts, such as the formation of patterns during embryonic development, the emergence of swarming behavior in animal groups, or the self-assembly of cellular structures.


Endosymbiosis describes the mutually beneficial relationship between different organisms living within the same body or cell. While endosymbiosis has been extensively studied in the context of the evolution of eukaryotic cells, particularly the origin of mitochondria and chloroplasts, it is not limited to a specific taxonomic level. Endosymbiotic relationships can occur between organisms of different taxonomic ranks, such as bacteria living inside animal cells or specialized organelles within protists.

Evo-devo (Evolutionary Developmental Biology):

Evo-devo investigates the interplay between evolutionary processes and developmental mechanisms to understand how phenotypic diversity arises. This field examines the genetic and developmental changes that drive morphological evolution. Evo-devo can be applied across various taxonomic levels, as it aims to uncover the shared developmental principles underlying the diversity of form among organisms, from changes in body plans across animal phyla to the evolution of specific organ structures within species.

Natural Selection:

Natural selection is a fundamental mechanism of evolutionary change that acts upon heritable variation in populations, favoring traits that enhance survival and reproduction. While natural selection primarily operates at the level of populations and species, its effects can be observed at various taxonomic levels. Natural selection influences the evolution of traits within species, the divergence of populations into separate species, and the adaptation of organisms to specific ecological niches.

In summary, while self-organization, endosymbiosis, evo-devo, and natural selection are not exclusively tied to specific taxonomic levels, they can be applied across different levels of biological organization. These concepts provide valuable insights into the emergence of complexity, the interactions between organisms, the role of development in evolution, and the mechanisms that drive adaptive change. Their applicability extends beyond a single taxonomic level, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of biological phenomena across diverse scales of life.


[1] Frank Visser, Ken Wilber's Problematic Relationship to Science, Integral Review, vol. 16, nr. 2, August 2020. Reposted on

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