The behavior of respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD may involve complicated interactions among multiple factors. Theoretical and experimental data suggest that interdependence among the airways of the bronchial tree leads to the emergence of self-organized patterns of airway narrowing, ventilation defects, and other phenomena when a tipping point is passed. Additionally, evidence from several studies shows that the behavior of an isolated airway is different from an identical airway embedded in the bronchial tree so that experimental results of isolated elements such as airways, airway smooth muscle, or inflammatory pathways may not explain the whole organ behavior. However, there may be factors in the isolated elements that can dramatically change the complex system's behavior. More effective strategies for prevention or recovery from a disease, such as asthma, will depend on our progress in identifying and understanding the essential parts of the self-organized behavior that is involved.