Portal:Complex Systems Digital Campus/E-Laboratory on Social Self-organization

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e-Laboratory on Social Self-organization


We will investigate the possible ethical consequences of the uses of ubiquitous computing in everyday life, involving affordances for trust, surveillance, and spontaneity – a subject related to the Latin American Complex Systems Roadmap – Brazil. Specifically, we will investigate the problem of informational privacy from the complex systems perspective. This problem may be formulated as follows: How can privacy be analyzed in light of the increasing presence of informational technologies in individuals’ daily lives? This problem arises from the fact that the relation between individuals and information technologies is generating new possibilities of action, which make it difficult to delimit public/private boundaries.

We will argue that adoption of the systemic perspective in the analysis of informational privacy provides a proper method for the investigation of interdisciplinary-philosophical reflections on new themes that arise in the contemporary scenario of digital technologies. Special emphasis is to be given to Weaver’s (1948/2004, p. 539) method of analysis of problems of organized complexity. Weaver’s approach takes into consideration a great number of variables, but focuses mainly on specific ways in which these variables are self-organized. Problems such as “Why is one chemical substance a poison, when another, whose molecules have exactly the same atoms, but assembled into a mirror-image pattern, is completely harmless?” illustrate an important concept that Weaver calls organized complexity. We argue that Weaver’s method for the study of organized complexity involves two forms of self-organization, known as primary and secondary self-organization (Ashby, 1962; Debrun, 1996, 2009).

Gonzalez & Haselager (2005, p.7) describe these forms of self-organization as follows:

  • Primary self-organization involves the encounter between organic or inorganic elements that are initially separated (or have independent behaviors). The meeting of these elements (ideally by chance) initiates a spontaneous interaction amongst themselves, in such a way as to give rise to new structures or distinct forms of organization, without a central controller;
  • Secondary self-organization, in turn, happens when under certain circumstances there appear disturbances that provide suitable conditions for the primary self-organized system to change, learning how to adjust the communication amongst its elements in order to create new stable patterns of behavior.

We understand that both forms of self-organization (primary and secondary) may constitute the core of organized complexity, as stressed by Weaver. According to him, problems of organized complexity can be found in areas including “the biological, medical, psychological, economic, and political sciences”. We are interested here in the ethical domain: In light of the complex systems perspective, privacy will be analyzed as being conventionally constituted from properties significant to individuals placed in groups that share information in self-organized ways. Within this context, the analysis of privacy will be established on the basis of personal, cultural, and professional characteristics, amongst others, which are specific to self-organized groups, with such characteristics being seen as worthy of protection (Moraes, 2012; Moraes & Gonzalez, in press).

In summary, in this e-laboratory we will discuss the hypothesis that primary and secondary self-organization constitute a powerful conceptual tool for analyzing problems of complexity, as proposed by Weaver (1948), on which basis we will be able to identify the boundaries of what is considered private by self-organized individuals organized into specific groups.


If want to join our interdisciplinary work, please, contact us:

  • social.self.organization@gmail.com

Name, website and institution[edit]

of the responsible for the e-laboratory[edit]

  • Maria Eunice Quilici Gonzalez | www.marilia.unesp.br, University of São Paulo State (UNESP), Brazil*
  • Mariana Claudia Broens | www.marilia.unesp.br, University of São Paulo State (UNESP), Brazil
  • Alexander Gerner | University of Lisbon, Portugal

list of the teams participating in the e-laboratory[edit]

  • Antonio Sergio da Costa Nunes | www.marilia.unesp.br, State University of São Paulo (UNESP), Brazil
  • Claudia Wanderley | www.cle.unicamp.br, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil
  • Edna Alves de Souza | www.marilia.unesp.br, University of São Paulo State (UNESP), Brazil
  • João Antonio de Moraes | www.cle.unicamp.br, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil
  • Jorge Barros Pires | www.marilia.unesp.br, University of São Paulo State (UNESP), Brazil
  • Ítala Maria Loffredo D'Ottaviano | www.cle.unicamp.br, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil
  • Marcos Antonio Alves | www.marilia.unesp.br, University of São Paulo State (UNESP), Brazil
  • Nathália Cristina Alves Pantaleão | www.cle.unicamp.br, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil
  • Renata Souza Silva | www.marilia.unesp.br, University of São Paulo State (UNESP), Brazil
  • William Alfred Pickering | www.cle.unicamp.br, State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Brazil

Coordination committee[edit]

  • Maria Eunice Quilici Gonzalez | www.marilia.unesp.br, University of São Paulo State (UNESP), Brazil*
  • Mariana Claudia Broens | www.marilia.unesp.br, University of São Paulo State (UNESP), Brazil
  • Alexander Gerner | University of Lisbon, Portugal

Research projects in the e-laboratory[edit]

From the Brazilian Roadmap:

1.Individuation and alterity (otherness) in complex social niches

1.1 A self-organized approach to individual and collective habits, with emphasis on relational aspects of alterity: a multicultural perspective;

1.2 The dialogic character of thought as semiosis, with the prevalence of systemic interpersonal relations in thinking processes.

2. The nature and role of frontier elements in complex systems

2.1 Frontier elements, by their own nature, do not belong to any specific niche, but they may communicate with internal and external elements of different niches. One of the problems under analysis is: Can this communication introduce relevant novelty to the organization of complex systems?

2.2 How does the transit between frontier elements in complex niches occur?

3. Research on environmental data within the framework of complex systems science

3.1 Emergence of order parameters may occur in complex systems at the macroscopic level. In the context of environmental science: What does it mean to say that environmental systems are complex systems?

3.2 How can the complexity and the levels of organization of environmental niches, including their subsystems, be detected?

4. Ethical consequences of human/machine interfaces in social niches

4.1 Possible ethical consequences of the use of ubiquitous computing in social niches, involving affordances for trust, surveillance, and spontaneity.

4.2. Possible ethical consequences of the use of Big Data

e-laboratory Scientific Committee[edit]

(to be completed)

URL for the Website and/or Wiki of the e-laboratory[edit]

Grid, Cloud, or other network utilities to be used[edit]

Data and/or Tools to be shared[edit]


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