A small elevator speech I shared on the OSLIST yesterday:
Self organization works by a combination of attractors and boundaries. Attractors are things that draw components of a system towards themselves (gravity wells, a pile of money left on the ground, an invitation). Boundaries (or constraints) are barriers that constrain the elements in a system (an atmosphere, the edges of an island, the number of syllables in a haiku)
Working together, attractors and boundaries define order where otherwise there is chaos. We can be intentional about some of these, but not all of them. Within complex systems, attractors and constraints create the conditions to enable emergence. What emerges isn’t always desirable and is never predictable, but it has the property of being new and different from any of the individual elements within the system.
Self-organization is where we get new, previously unknown things from.