Edge of chaos

In hmolscience, edge of chaos is a cellular automaton themed term, coined by Chris Langton (1990), but popularized by Stuart Kauffman (1995), referring to organizations, theoretical or not, that sustain themselves on the border or in region between stability (or equilibrium) and instability (chaos), a “bounded instability” as some call it. [1]

In the 1970s and 1980s, phase transition computer simulations like models of life or cellular automata began to be formulated in the minds of Chris Langton, studying under Steven Wolfram, and independently Stuart Kauffman, who joined Santa Fe Institute in 1991, all of whom attempted to build on the earlier 1950s cellular automaton theories of John Neumann, to extend Boolean network models plus chaos theory to make so-called “edge of chaos” computer simulations to explain biology and evolution.

In 1992, Roger Lewin, in his Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos, outlined the following view: [2]

“Scientists from many disciplines have come together and begin to discover the underlying similarities in their fields. Briefly, complexity theory - which encompasses chaos - holds that at the root of all complex systems lies a few simple rules. It takes the notion of chaos (which states that within seemingly chaotic systems are elements of order) a step further by actually identifying these rules. For example - the rules which govern the behaviour of molecules will parallel those which guide human behaviour. The goal of complexity theory is a grand unification of the life sciences.”

In 2009, Len Fisher, in his The Perfect Swarm, stated the following: [3]

“Atoms and molecules experience forces of attraction and repulsion with nearby atoms and molecules, and these forces are sufficient in themselves to produce long-range order that can extend for billions of atomic diameters in all directions. Our society is made up of billions of individuals also, and the forces of attraction and repulsion between us can act to create social structures among us as well. These structures, however, are not nearly as regular as atoms (e.g. in a crystal) – to use the complexity scientist’s picturesque but slightly misleading phrase, they are on the edge of chaos. Systems on the edge of chaos, including animal groups and human societies, have dynamic order, [which] lasts longer than the vortices in a cup of coffee.”

In 2014, Randall Schweller, in his Maxwell’s Demon and the Golden Apple, cites Christopher Langton (Ѻ), noted for his 1984 self-reproducing loop computer iteration simulation (Ѻ), to conclude, similar to Fisher (2009), that the entire international political system is always at the edge of chaos:

“Principles developed in the natural sciences should apply to the international social and political system. We should recognize that the international system, like all complex systems composed of a large number of interacting parts—whether they be physical, biological, economic, political, or social systems—operates somewhere between order and randomness; it exists on ‘the edge of chaos’ in the phrase of computer scientist Christopher Langton.”

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1. (a) Cheung-Judge, Mee-Yan and Holbeche, Linda. (2015). Organization Development (pg. 39). Kogan Page.
(b) Kennedy, Carol. (2012). The Next Big Idea (pg. #). Random House.
2. Lewin, Roger. (1992). Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos (§3: Edge of Chaos Discovered, pgs. 44-). MacMillan Publishing Co.
3. Fisher, Len. (2009). The Perfect Swarm: the Science of Complexity in Everyday Life (edge of chaos, pgs. 2-3; Roy Henderson, pg. 24). Basic Books.

External links
Edge of chaos – Wikipedia.

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