When is self-organization used in biological systems?

Biol Bull. 2002 Jun;202(3):314-8. doi: 10.2307/1543484.


Self-organization, or decentralized control, is widespread in biological systems, including cells, organisms, and groups. It is not, however, the universal means of organization. I argue that a biological system will be self-organized when it possesses a large number of subunits, and these subunits lack either the communicational abilities or the computational abilities, or both, that are needed to implement centralized control. Such control requires a well informed and highly intelligent supervisor. I stress that the subunits in a self-organized system do not necessarily have low cognitive abilities. A lack of preadaptations for evolving a system-wide communication network can prevent the evolution of centralized control. Hence, sometimes even systems whose subunits possess high cognitive abilities will be self-organized.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Communication*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Social Behavior*