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Synergetics is an interdisciplinary science explaining the formation and self-organization of patterns and structures in open systems far from thermodynamic equilibrium. It is founded by Hermann Haken, inspired by the laser theory.
Self-organization requires a 'macroscopic' system, consisting of many nonlinearly interacting subsystems. Depending on the external control parameters (environment, energy-fluxes) self-organization takes place.
Essential in synergetics is the order-parameter concept which was originally introduced in the Ginzburg-Landau theory in order to describe phase-transitions in thermodynamics. The order parameter concept is generalized by Haken to the "enslaving-principle" saying that the dynamics of fast-relaxing (stable) modes is completely determined by the 'slow' dynamics of as a rule only a few 'order-parameters' (unstable modes). The order parameters can be interpreted as the amplitudes of the unstable modes determining the macroscopic pattern.
As a consequence, self-organization means an enormous reduction of degrees of freedom (entropy) of the system which macroscopically reveals an increase of 'order' (pattern-formation). This far-reaching macroscopic order is independent of the details of the microscopic interactions of the subsystems. This supposedly explains the self-organization of patterns in so many different systems in physics, chemistry, biology and even social systems.
In management science, synergetics was first applied to deliberative structures by Stafford Beer, whose syntegration method is based so specifically on geodesic dome design that only fixed numbers of persons, determined by geodesic chord factors, can take part in the process at each deliberation stage. Beer's earlier work was briefly applied by the government of Salvador Allende in Chile in the early 1970s. This was Project Cybersyn- a portmanteau word from "Cybernetic synergy". The approach is applied today as a series of related management methods. All of these seek some macroscopic order of priorities by taking some path of integrating diverse positions or attitudes to some problem, making the synergetic assumption that priorities will converge under the constraint of viability.
There are similar themes in the work especially of Jay Forrester and Donella Meadows who sought leverage on social and management problems by seeking out an emerging macroscopic order. Under synergetic assumptions, this could often be reliably found by determining the points of greatest resistance to change by an older or inertial macroscopic order. The twelve leverage points of Meadows apply the order parameter concept but without making the assumption of "enslaving" lower-leverage points to the higher-leverage. A similar view is expressed in the deep framing theory of linguist George Lakoff, in which basic conceptual metaphors partly but do not completely determine the actions of their users.
As in all social sciences, conscious goals, choices, free will, self-interest and self-awareness prevent any control groups or strictly predictive models from applying to human problems as they do in natural sciences. In Meadows' leverage model the leverage of self-organization is explicitly below that of goal-setting, and much below that of mindsets and the ability to change them. The synergetic assumptions apply mostly to the lower leverage factors, while the higher leverage factors follow principles more like Lakoff's. However, the basic relationship remains: fast-relaxing (stable) modes are at least partly determined or strongly biased by the 'slow' dynamics of only a few parameters. Lakoff argued in his Moral Politics that there could be as few as one basic metaphor (state as parent) determining a vast range of political choices and policy making patterns.
- H. Haken: "Synergetics, an Introduction: Nonequilibrium Phase Transitions and Self-Organization in Physics, Chemistry, and Biology", 3rd rev. enl. ed. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1983.
- H. Haken: Advanced Synergetics: Instability Hierarchies of Self-Organizing Systems and Devices. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1993.
- H. Haken: Synergetik. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New York 1982, ISBN 3-8017-1686-4
- R. Graham, A. Wunderlin (Hrsg.): Lasers and Synergetics. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg New York 1987, ISBN 3-540-17940-2
- Korotayev A., Malkov A., Khaltourina D.: Introduction to Social Macrodynamics: Compact Macromodels of the World System Growth. Moscow: URSS, 2006. ISBN 5-484-00414-4 .
- Homepage of the former Institute for Theoretical Physics and Synergetics (IFTPUS)
- Center for Synergetics homepage
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