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a process during which the organization of a complex dynamic system is created, reproduced, or improved. Self-organization processes can occur only in systems that have a high level of complexity and a large number of elements; the relations between the elements must be of a probabilistic rather than a rigid nature. The properties of self-organization are exhibited by such diverse systems as a living cell, an organism, a biological population, a biocenosis, and a human community. The processes of self-organization involve the reorganization of existing relations between elements of the system and the formation of new relations. It is characteristic of self-organization processes that such processes are goal-oriented but, at the same time, natural and spontaneous. These processes may occur when the system interacts with the environment, but they are to some degree autonomous and are relatively independent of the environment.
Three types of processes of self-organization are distinguished. The first type is the self-generation of organization, that is, the emergence of a new, integral system with its own specific regularities from some aggregation of integral objects of a given level. An example is the genesis of multicellular organisms from unicellular ones. The second type comprises processes by which a system maintains a certain level of organization when changes occur in the external and internal conditions under which the system functions. The chief object of study here is homeostatic mechanisms (see HOMEOSTASIS), in particular, mechanisms whose operation is based on the negative-feedback principle. The third type involves the improvement and self-development of systems that are able to accumulate and make use of experience.
The problems of self-organization were first subjected to special investigation in cybernetics. The term “self-organizing system” was introduced by the English cyberneticist W. R. Ashby in 1947. Extensive study of self-organization began in the late 1950’s for the purpose of discovering new principles permitting the construction of equipment with a high level of reliability and the designing of computers capable of modeling various aspects of human mental activity. The investigation of the problems of self-organization has become one of the chief ways in which the ideas and methods of cybernetics, information theory, and systems theory enter biological and social knowledge.
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B. G. IUDIN