Chaos and Order in Living Systems


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A question for systems geeks out there…

I’m thinking about the relations of various bubbles we live in. A bubble with a living system within another living system. I am a living system of cells and organs within a larger ecosystem of other humans and organisms, for example my neighbourhood. And that living system is part of another living system, for instance the city I live in. And so on and so on…

This organisation of “bubbles within bubbles” is sometimes known as a holarchy – and in a holarchy the health or thrivability of a whole nested system is depending on the health and thrivability of each of the levels.

A couple of years ago I tweeted something about Berlin being a living system within the larger living system that is Germany. My interest in this relationship was that Berlin seems quite chaotic, while the larger, surrounding system of Germany is very organised. And that’s probably why Berlin is so attractive to many. The chaotic system within would not be so cool if it wasn’t surrounded and supported by the ordered, structured and über-organised system around. If Berlin would be situated in Somalia it wouldn’t attract many graphic designers.



As a complex systems hobbyist I wonder about the validity of the following statement:

Every second layer of a system must be ordered and every second chaotic for healthy development of the overall system-of-systems.

In my question, I wonder whether the health and thrivability of every-second-layer implies that it oscillates between chaos and order. As a layer in a holarchy (which is self-contained and sustainable) turns towards chaos or towards order, the layers above and below can turn toward the opposite. As a cancer cell turns “chaotic” i.e. out of control, the larger surrounding system and layer above, must structure itself orderly to fight the disease.

For instance; many people see the natural state of the world as chaotic, so we need the sub-system within it to be ordered, i.e. a country, the European union or the United States of America.

If a country is seemingly in disorder, for instance Italy, we need the lower living systems to be ordered, i.e. the family structure within that country.

If a person is disordered and chaotic, she needs to be in an ordered environment in order to develop.

The universe is to most of us very complex, but there seems to be some kind of order, as we don’t see or we’re not affected by any of the challenges or problems in this system.


So there might be four relationships:

  1. An ordered sub-system in an ordered system leads to stagnation. Too boring…
  1. A chaotic sub-system in a chaotic system leads to explosion. Too much craziness…
  1. A chaotic sub-system in an ordered system becomes grounded. It hates the structures, systems and rules, but eventually compromises in order to thrive. “They are annoying but we have to play the game to move ahead…”
  2. An ordered sub-system in a chaotic system initially struggles but eventually adapts to the chaos in the surrounding system. It finds patterns in the chaos (increased level of complexity reached). “Holy shit! How will we deal with this chaos? Well, let’s sit down and think about it. We might have to loosen up a bit in order to find the simplicity beyond the complexity. Dance with the system.”

How does that sound?

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