Chemical Organization Theory as a universal modelling framework for self-organization, autopoiesis and resilience

Francis Heylighen, Shima Beigi, Tomas Veloz

Research output: Working paper


Chemical Organization Theory (COT) is a recently developed formalism inspired by chemical reactions. Because of its simplicity, generality and power, COT seems able to tackle a wide variety of problems in the analysis of complex, self-organizing systems across multiple disciplines. The elements of the formalism are resources and reactions, where a reaction (which has the form a + b + … → c + d +…) maps a combination of resources onto a new combination. The resources on the input side are “consumed” by the reaction, which “produces” the resources on the output side. Thus, a reaction represents an elementary process that transforms resources into new resources. Reaction networks tend to self-organize into invariant sub-networks, called “organizations”, which are attractors of their dynamics. These are characterized by closure (no new resources are added) and self-maintenance (no existing resources are lost). Thus, they provide a simple model of autopoiesis: the organization persistently recreates its own components. Organizations can be more or less resilient in the face of perturbations, depending on properties such as the size of their basin of attraction or the redundancy of their reaction pathways. Concrete applications of
organizations can be found in auto-catalytic cycles, metabolic or genetic regulatory networks,
ecosystems, sustainable development, and social systems.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2015


  • Resilience
  • Sustainable development
  • Tragedy of the commons
  • Chemical Organisation Theory


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