## Does Matter Organize Itself?

A few people say that matter has a self-organizing capability. Let’s examine this statement to see if it involves unsupported assumptions or even presumption. Anyone can observe that matter has somehow become organized. For example, we have observed the beginnings of the universe, and have seen that the original light has a thermal spectral distribution arising from random collisions. Who recognized the distribution and associated it with thermal effects? Organized, self-reproducing, intelligent beings made the observation. If “matter organized itself” and if we are nothing more than the most complex product to date of this process, then we can conclude that “matter organized itself.” The assumption that we are “nothing more” than self-organized matter leads to this meaningless tautology.

When we observe the thermal spectral distribution of the first light, we see neither the agent nor the agency that produced the organization. However, anyone can use the agency of experimental apparatus to observe a similar distribution. Newton used a prism to disperse light into a colored spectrum. Today all we need is a compact disc (a “CD”). We can hold the disc so the underside reflects an image of a lamp, and then tilt the disc until we see colored light. An ordinary light bulb will make a rainbow, that is, a continuous colored smear of light. A fluorescent lamp will make three images with different colors. Now, does the light organize itself? No, the pattern of pits on the CD organized the light. Lamplight, sunlight, and starlight all come from material that is highly organized, consisting of subatomic particles that interact according to complex laws. The particles in turn came from gamma rays, highly organized in the sense that their energy was concentrated in large wave packets called photons. But how did the gamma rays receive their organization? At present we cannot see or study the universe as it was at the very beginning. But “self organization” is not the answer at any other stage in the process of splintering big photons into particles and little photons. Insisting that “self organization” has to be the answer at the beginning of the chain is presumption, not science.

Some people have claimed too much for the results of recent advances in the mathematical theory of chaos. The theory analyzes chaotic processes that seem to be no more than random noise and discovers the regularities or hidden laws behind the phenomena. Some computer programs make beautiful colored patterns from the analyses. It is not true, however, to say that the patterns “arise spontaneously” from chaos. Chaos is not completely random. It has some inherent order. It takes well educated, disciplined minds to write the computer programs that search out and display that order.

Seeming complexity may be simpler than people generally suppose. Sometimes people think they are seeing great complexity when they look inside a piano and see the mechanism a pianist uses to strike the strings. Actually repetition is what gives the impression of complexity. Pianos use large and small versions of the same mechanism to strike each of their 88 sets of strings.

Another picture with symmetry, repetition, variation, and seeming complexity is called the Mandelbrot set. This is the color graphic of lacy frills that never repeats but keeps the same complexity when one zooms in to any magnification as long as the calculations are sufficiently precise. The set seems to have a great deal of information—computer files of the color pictures may be many megabytes in size—but actually a single line of equations generates it.[i] Thus the Mandelbrot set contains almost as little information as a crystal or the pattern farmers follow when planting an orchard.

If matter has self-organizing power, where is it? Why haven’t physicists discovered it? Some people think that this self-organizing power adjusts the probabilities so random action can occasionally produce complex arrangements without discernable action from an outside agency. But the reason physicists apply statistics is precisely because they want to tease out any regularities there may be hidden in the noise. Astronomers and nuclear physicists are especially interested in statistical correlations in their data, because correlations may lead to new discoveries. If self-organization adjusted the probabilities we would have seen the correlations and known about matter’s self-organizing tendency long ago.

[i] For those who wish to know, the equations that generate the Mandelbrot Set are

When we observe the thermal spectral distribution of the first light, we see neither the agent nor the agency that produced the organization. However, anyone can use the agency of experimental apparatus to observe a similar distribution. Newton used a prism to disperse light into a colored spectrum. Today all we need is a compact disc (a “CD”). We can hold the disc so the underside reflects an image of a lamp, and then tilt the disc until we see colored light. An ordinary light bulb will make a rainbow, that is, a continuous colored smear of light. A fluorescent lamp will make three images with different colors. Now, does the light organize itself? No, the pattern of pits on the CD organized the light. Lamplight, sunlight, and starlight all come from material that is highly organized, consisting of subatomic particles that interact according to complex laws. The particles in turn came from gamma rays, highly organized in the sense that their energy was concentrated in large wave packets called photons. But how did the gamma rays receive their organization? At present we cannot see or study the universe as it was at the very beginning. But “self organization” is not the answer at any other stage in the process of splintering big photons into particles and little photons. Insisting that “self organization” has to be the answer at the beginning of the chain is presumption, not science.

Some people have claimed too much for the results of recent advances in the mathematical theory of chaos. The theory analyzes chaotic processes that seem to be no more than random noise and discovers the regularities or hidden laws behind the phenomena. Some computer programs make beautiful colored patterns from the analyses. It is not true, however, to say that the patterns “arise spontaneously” from chaos. Chaos is not completely random. It has some inherent order. It takes well educated, disciplined minds to write the computer programs that search out and display that order.

Seeming complexity may be simpler than people generally suppose. Sometimes people think they are seeing great complexity when they look inside a piano and see the mechanism a pianist uses to strike the strings. Actually repetition is what gives the impression of complexity. Pianos use large and small versions of the same mechanism to strike each of their 88 sets of strings.

Another picture with symmetry, repetition, variation, and seeming complexity is called the Mandelbrot set. This is the color graphic of lacy frills that never repeats but keeps the same complexity when one zooms in to any magnification as long as the calculations are sufficiently precise. The set seems to have a great deal of information—computer files of the color pictures may be many megabytes in size—but actually a single line of equations generates it.[i] Thus the Mandelbrot set contains almost as little information as a crystal or the pattern farmers follow when planting an orchard.

If matter has self-organizing power, where is it? Why haven’t physicists discovered it? Some people think that this self-organizing power adjusts the probabilities so random action can occasionally produce complex arrangements without discernable action from an outside agency. But the reason physicists apply statistics is precisely because they want to tease out any regularities there may be hidden in the noise. Astronomers and nuclear physicists are especially interested in statistical correlations in their data, because correlations may lead to new discoveries. If self-organization adjusted the probabilities we would have seen the correlations and known about matter’s self-organizing tendency long ago.

[i] For those who wish to know, the equations that generate the Mandelbrot Set are

*w0=z*,*wj+1=wj**2+z*. The variable*z=x+iy*is the position in the complex plane. To each point*z*in the portion of the plane included in the picture we assign a color corresponding to the lowest value of*j*that makes*|wj+1|>2*.