Category Archives: Self-organization



A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor discusses a Gallup poll that showed only 28% of Americans accept the theory of evolution. I’m not going to touch the long-term societal implications of that here (thank goodness I’m Canadian), but thinking about it turned my mind to one of my favourite evolutionary biologists/complexity theorists, Stuart Kauffman, who I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while.

In Investigations and Origins of Order, Kauffman argues that current evolutionary theory doesn’t go far enough, because genetic mutation and recombination don’t explain the spontaneous self-organization from which life emerges in the first place. Though I’m not a biologist, I was still fascinated by his dizzying trip through theories of autonomous (chemical) agents, autocatalytic networks, molecular diversity, search procedures, natural games, algorithmic chemistry (or Alchemy, for short), the cell as a parallel-processing (subcritical) dynamical system, and the self-consistent coconstruction of biospheres. Finally, just for fun, he applies all this to “technology graphs” and “economic webs” to explain some things about innovation and economic growth.

I can’t possibly do justice to his work and writings in a few sentences. It’s epic stuff. Read him yourself if you have the time (Origins of Order has a lot more math in it than Investigations; the latter is written for a general audience but assumes some basic literacy in chemistry, physics, biology, and algebra.)

P.S. Apologies to my Canadian readers for the links above. I’m working on some rational solution to satisfy readers from around the world, but Amazon isn’t making it easy.