A self-propagating system (or self-prop system for short) is a system that tends to promote its own survival and propagation. A system may propagate itself in either or both of two ways: The system may indefinitely increase its own size and/or power, or it may give rise to new systems that possess some of its own attributes.
There can also be self-propagating subsystems (self-prop subsystems) that exist within self-propagating systems.
Self-propagating systems can be described by the following propositions in Chapter 2 of Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How, titled "Why the Technological System Will Destroy Itself".
- Proposition 1. In any environment that is sufficiently rich, self-propagating systems will arise, and natural selection will lead to the evolution of self-propagating systems having increasingly complex, subtle, and sophisticated means of surviving and propagating themselves.
- Proposition 2. In the short term, natural selection favors self-propagating systems that pursue their own short-term advantage with little or no regard for long-term consequences.
A corollary to Proposition 2 is:
- Proposition 3. Self-propagating subsystems of a given supersystem tend to become dependent on the supersystem and on the specific conditions that prevail within the supersystem.
- Proposition 4. Problems of transportation and communication impose a limit on the size of the geographical region over which a self-prop system can extend its operations.
Human experience suggests:
- Proposition 5. The most important and the only consistent limit on the size of the geographical regions over which self-propagating human groups extend their operations is the limit imposed by the available means of transportation and communication. In other words, while not all self-propagating human groups tend to extend their operations over a region of maximum size, natural selection tends to produce some self-propagating human groups that operate over regions approaching the maximum size allowed by the available means of transportation and communication.
- Proposition 6. In modern times, natural selection tends to produce some self-propagating human groups whose operations span the entire globe. Moreover, even if human beings are some day replaced by machines or other entities, natural selection will still tend to produce some self-propagating systems whose operations span the entire globe.
- Proposition 7. Where (as today) problems of transportation and communication do not constitute effective limitations on the size of the geographical regions over which self-propagating systems operate, natural selection tends to create a world in which power is mostly concentrated in the possession of a relatively small number of global self-propagating systems.
A system may propagate itself in either or both of two ways:
- The system may indefinitely increase its own size and/or power.
- The system may give rise to new systems that possess some of its own attributes.
Principle of natural selection: Those self-propagating systems having the traits that best suit them to survive and propagate themselves tend to survive and propagate themselves better than other self-propagating systems.
The principle of natural selection is operative not only in biology, but in any environment in which self-propagating systems are present.
Subsystems and supersystems
There can be self-propagating subsystems (or self-prop subsystems) that exist within self-propagating systems.
There can also be self-propagating supersystems (or self-prop supersystems) that include self-propagating subsystems.
Definition: If A and B are systems of any kind (self-propagating or not), and if A is a functioning component of B, then we will call A a subsystem of B, and we will call B a supersystem of A.
Examples of self-propagating systems:
- Biological organisms
- Groups of biological organisms
- Global self-propagating systems
- Global "superpowers"
- Global corporations
- Global political movements
- Global religions
- Global criminal networks
Global self-propagating systems exist within the world-system, meaning all things that exist on Earth, together with the functional relations among them. The world-system itself is not regarded as a self-propagating system. A technological world-system, which corresponds to Kevin Kelly's technium, has now arisen. As the [technological] world-system becomes ever more complex and more tightly coupled, a catastrophic breakdown has to be expected sooner or later.
Within any complex, large-scale society, a similar process will produce self-propagating systems that will invade every corner and circumvent all attempts to suppress them. These systems will compete for power without regard to the objectives of any government (or other entity) that may try to steer the society. These self-propagating systems may constitute uncontrollable forces that will render futile in the long run all efforts to steer the society rationally.
If the development of the technological world-system is allowed to proceed to its logical conclusion, then in all probability the Earth will be left a dead planet-a planet on which nothing will remain alive except, maybe, some of the simplest organisms-certain bacteria, algae, etc.-that are capable of surviving under extreme conditions.