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Edge of Chaos:

A term made popular by researchers at the Santa Fe Institute to indicate a particularly "pregnant" phase in the evolution of a dynamical, complex system where creative emergence of new structures is at a maximum. In the study of the behavior of cellular automata and similar electronic arrays, the edge of chaos seems particularly favorable for the emergence of innovative, more adaptive structures and modes of functioning. The edge of chaos is conceived as that zone between too much rigidity and too much laxity. There is controversy whether natural systems have a tendency to evolve into edge of chaos conditions. The edge of chaos can also be considered as roughly analogous to far-from- equilibrium conditions in that they both represent critical thresholds where self-organization and emergence are heightened. Organizational applications have to do with processes that encourage organizational innovation by facilitating edge of chaos like conditions.

See: Cellular Automata; Far-from-equilibrium

Bibliography: Kauffman (1995); Lewin (1992); Waldrop (1992)

List of Terms

Emergence:

The arising of new, unexpected structures, patterns, or processes in a self-organizing system. These emergents can be understood as existing on a higher level than the lower level components from which the emergents emerged. Emergents seem to have a life of their own with their own rules, laws, and possibilities unlike the lower level components. The term was first used by the nineteenth century philosopher G.H.Lewes and came into greater currency in the scientific and philosophical movement known as Emergent Evolutionism in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In an important respect the work connected with the Santa Fe Institute and similar facilities represents a more powerful way of investigating emergent phenomena. In organizations, emergent phenomena are happening ubiquitously yet their significance can be downplayed by control mechanisms grounded in the officially sanctioned corporate hierarchy. One of the keys for leaders from complex systems theory is how to facilitate emergent structures and take advantage of the ones that occur spontaneously.

See: Self-organization

Bibliography: Cohen and Stewart (1994); Goldstein in Sulis and Combs (1996)

List of Terms

Equilibrium:

Equilibrium is a term indicating a rest state of a system, for example, when a dynamical system is under the sway of a fixed or periodic attractor. The concept originated in Ancient Greece when the great mathematician Archimedes experimented with levers in balance, literally "equilibrium". The idea was elaborated upon through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Birth of Modern Mathematics and Physics in the 17th and 18th centuries. "Equilibrium" has come to mean pretty much the same thing as stability, i.e., a system that is largely unaffected by internal or external changes since it easily returns to its original condition after being perturbed, e.g., a balanced lever on a fulcrum (i.e., a see-saw). More generally, equilibrium suggests a system that tends to remain at status quo.

See: Attractor; Far-from-equilibrium

Bibliography: Goldstein (1994); Prigogine and Stengers (1984).

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