Chemical Organization Theory as a General Modeling Framework for Self-Sustaining Systems

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This paper summarizes and reviews Chemical Organization Theory (COT), a formalism for the analysis of complex, self-organizing systems across multiple disciplines. Its elements are resources and reactions. A reaction maps a set of resources onto another set, thus representing an elementary process that transforms resources into new resources. Reaction networks self-organize into invariant subnetworks, 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. The resilience of organizations in the face of perturbations depends on properties such as the size of their basin of attraction and the redundancy of their reaction pathways. Application domains of COT include the origin of life, systems biology, cognition, ecology, Gaia theory, sustainability, consciousness, and social systems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number111
Number of pages21
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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  • autopoiesis
  • chemical organization theory
  • reaction networks
  • resilience
  • self-organization
  • sustainability


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