Much of the work described in this article is supported by NIMH (Neurosciences Research Branch) Grant MH42900, BRS Grant RR07258, Office of Naval Research Contract N00014-92-J-1904 and NSF Grant DBS-9213995. We are very grateful to Tom Holroyd and Armin Fuchs for their help with the figures.
One can best appreciate, from a study of living things, how primitive physics still is.(A. Einstein)
The title of this article – at least the statement in front of the colon – is unashamedly stolen from Schrödinger's (1944) wonderful little book What is Life? The statement after the colon points to a source where these new laws may be found. Synergetics is a term coined by H. Haken (1969, 1977) to encapsulate a relatively new multidisciplinary field of research aimed at understanding how patterns form in open, nonequilibrium systems, i.e. systems that receive a continuous influx of energy and/or matter. Synergetics deals with how the (typically very many) individual parts of a system cooperate to create novel spatiotemporal or functional structures. In the last decade or so tremendous progress has been made in penetrating nature's ways of generating patterns in open physical, chemical and biochemical systems (e.g. Babloyantz, 1986; Bak, 1993; Bergé, Pomeau & Vidal, 1984; Collet & Eckmann, 1990; Ho, in press; Iberall & Soodak, 1987; Kuramoto, 1984; Nicolis & Prigogine, 1989, for reviews). In particular, synergetic construction principles have established the concepts of instability, order parameters, fluctuations and slaving as crucial to understanding and predicting the spontaneous (self-organized) formation of pattern in complex systems.