How Life Self-Organizes, by Joanna Macy

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 8.09.09 PM“The greatest revolution of our time is in the way we see the world. The mechanistic paradigm underlying the Industrial Growth Society gives way to the realization that we belong to a living, self-organizing cosmos.

General systems theory, emerging from the life sciences, brings fresh evidence to confirm ancient, indigenous teachings: the Earth is alive, mind is pervasive, all beings are our relations. This realization changes everything. It changes our perceptions of who we are and what we need, and how we can trustfully act together for a decent, noble future.

Each system, from atom to galaxy, is a whole. That means that it is not reducible to its components. Its distinctive nature and capacities derive from the interactive relationships between its parts. This interplay is synergistic, generating “emergent properties” and new possibilities, which are not predictable from the character of the separate parts–just as the wetness of water could not be predicted from oxygen and hydrogen before they combined, or just as the tensile strength of steel far exceeds the combined strengths of iron and nickel.

Despite continual flow-through of matter-energy and information, and indeed thanks to that flow-through, open systems are able to maintain their balance; they self-stabilize. By virtue of this capacity, which von Bertalanffy called fliessgleichgewicht (flux-equilibrium), systems can self-regulate to compensate for changing conditions in their environment. This is how we maintain our body temperature, heal from a cut, or ride a bicycle.

Open systems not only maintain their balance amidst the flux, but also evolve in complexity. When challenges from their environment persist, they can fall apart or adapt by reorganizing themselves around new, more responsive norms. This is a function of feedback- positive or deviation-amplifying feedback (also called “cybernetics two”).

It is how we learn and how we evolved from the amoeba. But if our changing behaviors are not compatible with the challenges we face, and do not achieve a new balance with them, the positive feedback loop gets out of control and goes into “runaway,” leading eventually to systems breakdown.

Every system is a “holon”– that is, it is both a whole in its own right, comprised of subsystems, and simultaneously an integral part of a larger system. Thus holons form “nested hierarchies,” systems within systems, circuits within circuits, fields within fields. Each new holonic level– say from atom to molecule, cell to organ, person to family– generates emergent properties that are nonreducible to the capacities of the separate components.

Far different than the hierarchies of control familiar to societies where rule is imposed from above, in nested hierarchies (sometimes called holonarchies) order tends to arise from the bottom up; the system self-generates from spontaneously adaptive cooperation between the parts, in mutual benefit. Order and differentiation go hand and hand, components diversifying as they coordinate roles and invent new responses.”

~ Joanna Macy ~



How Wisdom Grows – Educating Hearts & Minds  * Yūgen (幽玄) – Deep Awareness of the Universe * Systems Thinking – Rediscovering Nature’s Paradigm * The Universe is One Harmonious Whole  *  How We Participate in the Creative Life of the Universe  * Life in the Age of Shifting Paradigms *  *


About Christopher Chase

Co-creator and Admin of the Facebook pages "Tao & Zen" "Art of Learning" & "Creative Systems Thinking." Majored in Studio Art at SUNY, Oneonta. Graduated in 1993 from the Child & Adolescent Development program at Stanford University's School of Education. Since 1994, have been teaching at Seinan Gakuin University, in Fukuoka, Japan.
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7 Responses to How Life Self-Organizes, by Joanna Macy

  1. howardat58 says:

    And don’t overlook Gregory Bateson “Towards a Philosophy of Mind”, with some concrete stuff.

  2. John Willemsens says:

    Reblogged this on Advayavada Buddhism.

  3. Reblogged this on Creative Delaware and commented:
    This is how everything works. Why doesn’t DDOE get that?

  4. Pingback: Paradigms are Made for Shifting | Creative by Nature

  5. Pingback: A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels | Talesfromthelou

  6. Pingback: A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels | Zen Flash

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