Life Origin

A Scientific Approach

Edited for the Non-Scientist

#3 What’s the difference between “self-ordering” and “self-organizing”?  

Self-ordering happens every day in non-living nature. 1

Candle flame shapes, vortex-swirls at bathtub drains, tornadoes, and hurricanes all form spontaneously.  This is called, “self-ordering.”

But, is “self-ordering” the same as “self-organizing”? 2-4

No purposeful choices are involved or required for self-ordering to occur spontaneously>. 3-20   This is the crucial difference between self-ordering and organization.  Organization always requires purposeful choices.  One object or thought must be deliberately selected over another in order to organize a collection of items or thoughts.   Holistic cooperation between parts also requires choice contingency to achieve.  Integrated circuits cannot be generated by the laws of physics; only by wise programming choices. 

No truly sophisticated function has ever arisen from self-ordered states.

Irreducible complexity 21, 22 does not and cannot arise by chance or necessity.  When the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and where the sophisticated function of that whole cannot be maintained with the loss of any one of its parts, we know immediately that formal choices were involved in its organization.  Conceptually complex machines don’t just happen.  Take one part away from a mousetrap, and see how many mice you catch!

Where did any of the mousetrap parts come from?  How did they get assembled into a useful conceptually complex machine?  Only by clever engineering choices specifically designed to catch mice.   The simplest know cell seems almost infinitely more conceptually complex than a mouse trap.  How did the first cell form?

Self-ordering in nature is the subject of Chaos theory. 1, 23, 24

Chaos theory only addresses self-ordering phenomena (“dissipative structures”).  Self-ordering phenomena are fully explainable from nothing but the laws of physics.

Chaos theory has nothing to do with organization.  Self-ordering cannot organize. 2-4, 8-10, 12, 25

Organization is an abstract, formal concept.  Organization cannot be achieved by chance or by law (“necessity”).

No meaningful (semantic) information, 26-33 or prescriptive information 18, 25, 34-36 (instructions), are contained within self-ordered “dissipative structures” in non-living nature.

The discussions found under Questions 1 and 2 explain more fully what is “organization.”  We won’t repeat that here.  But, the formal nature of organization must be thoroughly understood before addressing the notion of “self-organization.”   Blind belief in “Self-organization” is a whole different ball game from discussing “organization.”  

Look around you.  If you were to try to organize anything in the room where you sit, could you do it without making purposeful choices?  Could you organize your thoughts without making decisions of which idea to pursue first?   Organization requires choice contingency, not chance contingency.  Nothing can be organized with Physico-chemical Determinism (PD).   It can only be organized by Choice Determinism (CD). 35-37

Organization is a formalism.  Other formalisms include symbol systems such as language, mathematics, and logic theory.  Esthetics and ethics are also formalisms.  Formalisms are invariably functions of purposeful choice contingency (Choice Determinism [CD] rather than Physico-Chemical Determinism [PD]).  Organized phenomena have been acted upon by choosing agents who alone produced that organization. 

Organization itself is not an agent.  Organization is a descriptive inanimate noun.  Organization cannot produce itself.  No such thing as “self-organization” exists.

Bona fide organization has never been observed to arise from any cause other than agency.  Agency alone makes purposeful choices at true decision nodes.  Those choices are invariably made by “minds” external to the organization itself.  Organization is a thing, not an agent.  Organization was brought into existence only by active prescription by an agent—by programming choices and integrative configurable switch-settings.  It also had to be produced after its conception.  Instructions had to be processed.  Processing requires agency, also.   A written recipe is not a delicious entre. Not even agents can organize themselves into existence.  No formalism can. 

Formalisms are products of intelligent pursuits, not inanimate physical reactions.  Neither chance nor necessity (physical law) can organize, program or process computation. 

A highly engineered RNA might be able to catalyze the polymerization of more molecules like itself.  But that RNA first has to exist as cause before it can catalyze reactions leading to copies.  It does not bring itself into existence.  That RNA did not engineer itself.  Its organization was engineered by highly intelligent chemists to perform a very sophisticated function desired by those chemists.  And, that’s all that prescribed sequence of nucleosides could do, replicate copies of itself.  It would not also prescribe and manufacture from the same sequence at the same time useful proteins needed for life.  It would just produce a monotonous, useless collection of the exact same RNA molecule.  There would be no more “organization” in that collection of molecules than a self-ordered state.

We’ve differentiated “order” from “organization.”  What about defining “self-organization.”  It is much more difficult to define “self-organization” than “organization.”  How could we define a supposed phenomenon that has never been observed? 

Three of the pillars of science are “repeated observation,” “testability (falsifiability),” and “predictability.”   “Self-organization” has never been observed to happen; the notion is not testable; and no predictions of “self-organization” have ever come true.  The notion of “self-organization” fails all three scrutinies.  “Self-organization” comes far closer to superstition than to scientific theory.

The notion of "self-organization" arises out of "pretzel thinking." In addition to never having been observed, it is logically impossible. 

Can anything organize itself into existence?

From a purely logical standpoint,  “No effect can be its own cause.” 

Logical soundness is another crucial criterion of scientific theory.  We are left wondering how we could even define a self-contradictory nonsense term like “self-organization?

The notion of “self-organization” cannot possibly contribute mechanism or explanation to any scientific hypothesis if the very term is logically fallacious. Even if the term made sense, at best it would be tautological—circular, with no new meaning or information.  It would not answer the all-important scientific question of, “How?”   How could the first genetic instructions have written themselves?  What machinery would be waiting to process those instructions even if they had randomly written themselves?   Even if “the programming had programmed itself,” what central processing unit would be waiting that was specifically designed and engineered to process that program?  What would successfully compute the orchestration of biofunction and integrated, holistic metabolism?

All known life is cybernetic. Not only do programs not write themselves, computers don’t organize themselves.  Neither do cells.

Well, what about self-ordering phenomena?  Couldn’t self-ordering phenomena eventually produce formal organization, given enough time? 

Absolutely not! It is a logical impossibility for fixed, redundant, boring self-ordered states to make wise programming decisions.  No freedom of programming choice would exist in such a state.   Everything would happen the same way every time, “by law.” 

Self-ordered tornadoes and hurricanes, for example, don’t organize anything!  Tornadoes and hurricanes invariably destroy organization.

Genetic programming (genotype) had to have been written prior to the existence of any phenotype.  Only then could the environment favor the fittest already-programming, already-living organism. 12

Purposeful choices are needed to organize anything, including protocells. Inanimate nature cannot make purposeful choices. 

No scientific justification exists for attributing the exquisite organization of life to the “self-ordering” phenomena addressed by chaos theory.

  1.          Prigogine I, Stengers I. Order Out of Chaos. London, 285-287, 297-301: Heinemann; 1984.

  2.          Abel DL, Trevors JT. Self-Organization vs. Self-Ordering events in life-origin models. Physics of Life Reviews. 2006;3:211-228  Also available from

  3.          Abel DL. The capabilities of chaos and complexity. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2009;10(Special Issue on Life Origin):247-291 Open access at  [last accessed: March, 2015] Also available from

  4.          Abel DL. Constraints vs. Controls: Progressing from description to prescription in systems theory. Open Cybernetics and Systemics Journal. 2010;4:14-27 Open Access at [Last accessed: April, 2016]  Also available from

  5.          Abel DL. Is Life Reducible to Complexity? Workshop on Life: a satellite meeting before the Millennial World Meeting of University Professors; 2000; Modena, Italy.

  6.          Abel DL. Is Life Reducible to Complexity? In: Palyi G, Zucchi C, Caglioti L, eds. Fundamentals of Life. Paris: Elsevier; 2002:57-72.

  7.          Abel DL. Life origin: The role of complexity at the edge of chaos.  Lecture given at the Headquarters of the National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA, Jerry Chandler and Kay Peg, Chairmen. 2006;  Power Point slides and speaker notes downloadable.

  8.          Abel DL. Complexity,self-organization, and emergence at the edge of chaos in life-origin models. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences. 2007;93(4):1-20 [Last accessed: March, 2015].

  9.          Abel DL. The capabilities of chaos and complexity. Society for Chaos Theory: Society for Complexity in Psychology and the Life Sciences; Aug 8-10, 2008; International Conference at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.

10.          Abel DL. The ‘Cybernetic Cut’: Progressing from Description to Prescription in Systems Theory. The Open Cybernetics and Systemics Journal. 2008;2:252-262 Open Access  at  Also available from  [Last accessed July, 2016]

11.          Abel DL. The biosemiosis of prescriptive information. Semiotica. 2009;2009(174):1-19  Also available from

12.          Abel DL. The Formalism > Physicality (F > P) Principle. In: Abel DL, ed. In the First Gene: The birth of Programming, Messaging and Formal Control. New York, New York: Ed. LongView Press-Academic, 2011: Biological Research Division; 2011:447-492  Also available from

13.          Abel DL. What is ProtoBioCybernetics? In: Abel DL, ed. The First Gene: The Birth of Programming, Messaging and Formal Control. New York, N.Y.: LongView Press-Academic: Biolog. Res. Div.; 2011:1-18  Also available from

14.          Abel DL. The three fundamental categories of reality. In: Abel DL, ed. The First Gene: The Birth of Programming, Messaging and Formal Control. New York, N.Y.: LongView Press-Academic: Biolog. Res. Div.; 2011:19-54  Also available from

15.          Abel DL. The Cybernetic Cut and Configurable Switch (CS) Bridge. In: Abel DL, ed. The First Gene: The Birth of Programming, Messaging and Formal Control. New York, N.Y.: LongView Press--Academic, Biol. Res. Div.; 2011:55-74  Also available from

16.          Abel DL. What utility does order, pattern or complexity prescribe? In: Abel DL, ed. The First Gene: The Birth of Programming, Messaging and Formal Control. New York, N.Y.: LongView Press--Academic, Biol. Res. Div.; 2011:75-116  Also available from

17.          Abel DL, Trevors JT. Three subsets of sequence complexity and their relevance to biopolymeric information. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modeling. 2005;2:29-45.

18.          Abel DL, Trevors JT. More than metaphor: Genomes are objective sign systems. Journal of BioSemiotics. 2006;1(2):253-267  Also available from

19.          Abel DL, Trevors JT. More than Metaphor: Genomes are Objective Sign Systems. In: Barbieri M, ed. BioSemiotic Research Trends. New York: Nova Science Publishers; 2007:1-15  Also available from

20.          Trevors JT, Abel DL. Chance and necessity do not explain the origin of life. Cell Biol Int. 2004;28(11):729-739.

21.          Behe MJ. Darwin's Black Box. New York: Simon & Shuster: The Free Press; 1996.

22.          Behe MJ, Dembski W, Meyer SC. Science and Evidence for Design in the Universe. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press; 2000.

23.          Prigogine I. Introduction to Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes. 2nd ed. New York: Interscience; 1961.

24.          Prigogine I. Introduction to Nonequilibrium Thermodynamics. New York: Wiley-Interscience; 1962.

25.          Abel DL. Is life unique? Life. 2012;2(1):106-134 Open access at  [Last accessed July, 2016]  Also available from

26.          Barbieri M. The Organic Codes:  An Introduction to Semantic Biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2003.

27.          Bar-Hillel Y, Carnap R. Semantic Information. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 1953;4:147-157.

28.          Carnap R, Bar-Hillel Y. An outline of a theory of semantic information. Technical Report #247,  MIT Research Laboratory in Electronics; Also in Bar-Hillel, 1964, Language and Information, Chapter 15. 1952.

29.          Devlin K. Logic and Information. New York: Cambridge University Press; 1991.

30.          Griffiths PE. Genetic information: A metaphor in search of a theory. Philosophy of Science. 2001;68:394-412.

31.          Hintikka J. On semantic information. In: Hintikka J, Suppes P, eds. Information and Inference. Dorcrecht: D. Reidel; 1970.

32.          Hoffmeyer J, Emmeche C. Code-Duality and the Semiotics of Nature. Journal of Biosemiotics. 2005;1:37-91.

33.          Maynard Smith J. The concept of information in biology. Philosophy of Science. 2000;67(June):177-194 (entire issue is an excellent discussion).

34.          Abel DL. The Birth of Protocells. In: Abel DL, ed. The First Gene: The Birth of Programming, Messaging and Formal Control. New York, N.Y.: LongView Press--Academic, Biol. Res. Div.; 2011:189-230  Also available from

35.          Abel DL. Primordial Prescription: The Most Plaguing Problem of Life Origin Science   New York, N. Y.: LongView Press Academic; 2015.

36.          Abel DL, ed The First Gene: The Birth of Programming, Messaging and Formal Control. New York, N.Y.: Longview Press Academic; 2011.

37.          Abel DL. Moving 'far from equilibrium' in a prebitoic environment: The role of Maxwell’s Demon in life origin. In: Seckbach J, Gordon R, eds. Genesis - In the Beginning: Precursors of Life, Chemical Models and Early Biological Evolution. Dordrecht: Springer; 2012:219-236  Also available from