Most broadly, a spontaneous order is a complex system that emerges from the interactions of simple agents. Simply said, one can be said to exist wherever “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
More precisely, it is a situation where many individual elements interact under the same rules, adjust to feedback from other elements or external shocks, and create an overall, ever-changing system of complexity that exhibits properties that can’t be ascribed to any of the individual elements themselves.
Across the various sciences, the idea is synonymous with terms like “emergence,” “self-organization,” “self-governance,” “complex adaptive systems,” “self-assembly,” “cellular automata,” and other related concepts. But we prefer the simple word “sporder” to encapsulate all of these ideas into something more digestible.
The idea is so powerful and elegant that it has found useful application in philosophy, law, economics, finance, political science, psychology, sociology, engineering, biology, zoology, physics, chemistry, systems theory, computer science, cybernetics, and more. Many of grandest problems of life and the universe, as well as much of the cutting edge of scientific research consists in unraveling the mysteries of various sporders – animal behavior, financial markets, human consciousness, artificial intelligence, the origins of life and of the universe. And yet, each of us encounters sporders every day in our lives, from the markets we buy and sell in, to the internet we use, to the flocks of birds we see in the sky, to the languages we speak, to the way we navigate crowds, to the patterns we see in snowflakes, down to the elementary particles that compose our universe.
The greatest sporder of all, (at least in our minds) is human society. Many people will quickly appreciate the wonders of sporders in science and in nature, but fail to appreciate the most important sporder (to our day-to-day activities) that we are a member of. Our societies and cultures exist in their present state for a multitude of reasons, and can be seen as a constantly evolving sporder of interacting people. Laws, cultural practices, moralities, religions, governments, traditions, markets, and other social norms exist not because gods, governments, or other authorities have decreed them so; our societies and their institutions exist as a trajectory of continuous bottom-up evolution from individual human beings cooperating to pursue their own ends. The politically popular notion of “self-governance” doesn’t go far enough to describe it. What emerges is “the result of human action, but not of human design.”