What is synergy?

An important research question for m21

Synergy (external link) is a vague term:

  • The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, or more colloquially, 2+2 > 4
  • Synergy refers to the combined effect rather than the sum of individual effects resulting from the interaction of a group of humans, agents or forces
  • Synergy means the behavior of whole systems unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately (see Buckminster Fuller's definitions (external link))
  • Fuller's idea refers to a non-absolute abundance that emerges from auspicious combinations of some, or all parts, within that system
  • Here, non-absolute abundance means a surplus value or property not represented by an additive auditing of all the parts
  • In this sense the abundance is neither extrinsic to the system, nor is it intrinsic to the individual parts. It is a property of the combining of parts.
  • See more mathematical and topological ramifications of this generalisation.

M21's idea of Sympoiesis

  • Inspired by Maturana & Varela's term autopoiesis? it describes how several agents can work as one.
  • One example of sympoiesis is when co-authorship meets the following performance standards:
    • 1. Transcendent
      When work achieved is of a quality higher than the best work by either/any of the participating authors
    • 2. Emergent
      When work achieved embodies favourable qualities or outcomes that are surprising and, or unpredictable by both/all author/s.
    • 3. Applicable Elsewhere
      When work achieved also connects, richly integrates, or transcends the collaborative task itself.
    • 4. Manifestly Attributable
      When work achieved remains recognisable and interoperable to both/all authors.

Understanding Synergy through Emergence

  • The idea of synergy is closely linked to the idea of emergence
  • In ecological systems, emergence of new levels usually implies an increase in complexity.
  • This means that the newly created level is more complex than the previous one.
  • One ecological example may be an ant colony which together can perform much more complex tasks than individual ants.

Corning's Idea of Information-Sharing:

  • Information is the capacity to exercise cybernetic control over the acquisition, disposition and utilisation of matter/energy in and by living systems (Corning, 1995).
  • Information can only be measured in terms of the results it achieves for specific systems.
  • Everything in the universe potentially has an informational aspect, but Information only exists in the context of specific real-world transactions within a thermodynamic/ cybernetic system, or between such a system and its environment.

Information-sharing synergies:

Information-sharing synergies are always context-specific and contingent
We can identify 4 main different types of Information-sharing synergies:

1) Linear synergies

synergies that arise as a result of additive phenomena. An aggregation of certain components or certain conditions that, in the end, result in a new situation. For example, a big group of organisms is able to do things that a smaller one cannot.

2) Phase transition synergies

Synergies that arise out of abrupt changes of state. Examples may be the crystallization of water or seed germination.

3) Emergent synergies

synergies that arise out of a merging between 2 or more parts, which result in an unexpected new situation with its own distinctive characteristics. A symphony orchestra is an example.

4) Augmentation and facilitation synergies

synergies that arise out of dynamic, cooperative processes. For example, the huddling together of emperor penguins in the antarctic cold in order to reduce energy expenditures and keep warm.