Self-organization is an art

Steffie Verstappen
October 12th, 2010
Article by: Steffie Verstappen
Self-organization is an art

BOOKS | The Perfect Swarm: The science of complexity in everyday life, by Len Fisher (Basic Books: 2009).


At THNK, we are excited about figuring out the feasibility of predicting human group behavior. Is it possible? Len Fisher's The Perfect Swarm is yet another recent book that implies that it is. He uses a wide range of examples from both the animate and inanimate worlds to demonstrate his argument. Additionally, his book is very entertaining. Read this if you are interested in learning about the rules that apparently govern our complex lives!


In his most recent book, Len Fisher introduces us to the modern science of complexity. He sheds light on the utility and, perhaps first and foremost, the beauty of complexity theory by exploring some of the surprising mathematics of decision-making. The basic idea of his argument is that the complex patterns that we find in life are often produced when all of the members of a group behave according to the same, often simple, rule. Seemingly complex behaviors can hence be explained and, possibly, anticipated.


The phenomenon of "swarm intelligence"—what results when large groups of individuals behave in the same way and their collective actions become intelligent—is central to Fisher's overall argument. To make this complex subject accessible, Fisher draws on a great variety of examples ranging from laboratory experiments, historical events, nature, as well as personal examples from his own life. The process of "self-organization" that he demonstrates is exposed in the inanimate worlds of crystals and seashells, but is also apparent in living organisms, from ants, to bees, to human beings.