verb (used with object)
1. to rule over by right of authority: to govern a nation.
2. to exercise a directing or restraining influence over; guide: the motives governing a decision.
3. to hold in check; control: to govern one’s temper.
4. to serve as or constitute a law for: the principles governing a case.

used to form nouns from verbs: brilliance; appearance.

The World Bank(3) defines governance as:
“the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.”(4a)
“Governance, in general, has three distinct aspects:
(i) the form of political regime (parliamentary/presidential, military/civilian, authoritarian/democratic);
(ii) the processes by which authority is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources; and
(iii) the capacity of governments to design, formulate, and implement policies, and in general, to discharge government functions. The first aspect clearly falls outside the Bank’s mandate. The Bank’s focus is, therefore, on the second and third aspects.”(4b)

noun or verb
1. a command or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue given by the electorate to its representative.
2. a command from a superior court or official to a lower one.
3. an authoritative order or command: a royal mandate.

The World Bank – a broken model of governance?
Apparently The World Bank assumes to have been mandated to exercise authority in the management of economy (i.e. technology, innovation, geographic features, ecological features, other natural resources along with various other resources, such as the people and social structures; institutions) of arbitrary countries, and in general to guide governments in the design, formulation, implementation and general discharge of governmental functions.

An obvious question is who has mandated The World Bank? Does anybody really want a bank running their social affaires, their country; their world? You shall have to decide for yourself what or who the definitions given above are supposed to represent, and whether they accurately describe the reality you observe. In my mind the given definitions are products of a malfunctioning system. In particular, the term development is used in an ambiguous manner, one can only assume that the Bank, being a bank, is ultimately referring to normal economic growth (an annual increase of approximately 2 to 3% of GDP), which is itself a fundamentally flawed concept, as permanently sustained growth of any kind of thing is in principle not possible. Indeed, it may be said that the interconnected spheres of economics, politics, ecology and environment, seem to be suffering from inefficient, disappointing and/or outright broken forms of artificial governance.

Engineers and designers have on occasion turned to nature for inspiration in rendering systems that offer greater efficiency, pragmatism and aesthetic beauty. The term biomimicry(6) was first used in 1997 by J. Benyus in her book “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature”. The work defines biomimicry as a “new science that studies nature’s models and then imitates or takes inspiration from these designs and processes to solve human problems”, Benyus suggests looking to Nature as a “Model, Measure, and Mentor” and emphasizes sustainability as an objective of biomimicry.

So it is with sustainability in mind and our spyglass trained on the horizon, that we steer a course to explore the foundations of natural governing systems.

How does nature govern her systems?
In reference to the governance of a colony of eusocial insects, Hayward (2010) quotes Bourke & Franks, and Camazine et al: “In general colony functions such as nest maintenance, foraging and reproduction are coordinated without any central control or environmental template and form complex spatio-temporal patterns. This feature is known as self-organization whereby a global pattern formation results from interactions internal to the system without intervention from external directing influences. These patterns and therefore cohesion and coordination of colony functions are reliant on a high frequency of social interactions between colony members. The purpose of social interactions is to transfer resources and information vital in decision making among colony members.”(7)

ant bridge ant_colonyexcavated ant colony

In this respect, the self-organization of eusocial insects is reminiscent of bacterial quorum sensing, described here by Sifiri (2008): “Cell communication in bacteria occurs through a vernacular of small diffusible chemical signals that impact gene regulation during times of high cell density. This form of intercellular signaling, known as quorum sensing, optimizes the metabolic and behavioral activities of a community of bacteria for life in close quarters. Quorum sensing is best characterized as a means of communication within a bacterial species, whereas competitive or cooperative signaling can occur between groups of bacteria or between bacteria and the host. These systems are often integrated into complex, multilayered signal transduction networks that control numerous multicellular behaviors […].”(8)

Bacterial swarm(9)

In a review(10) of the literature (re: complex systems, development, evolution, natural selection, and self-organization), Batten etal (2008) give the following definition of self-organization: “[a process in which pattern(s) at the global level of a system emerge solely from interactions among lower level components. Moreover, the rules specifying interactions among the system’s components are executed using only local information, without reference to the global pattern. Self-organization is the root source of order in the biological world. It arises spontaneously due to physicochemical principles and dynamical rules of complex processes, which we are just beginning to un-cover and understand.]” The authors continue by saying “selection maintains systems in precisely the region of phase space [i.e. potential] that affords them the greatest opportunity to evolve further. What selection has disposed invites further self-organization. Note that, in general, this view replaces the neo-Darwinian concept of a random search for the new with self-organization of the new. Furthermore, complex systems may have convergent rather than divergent flow. The principle of homeostasis is a natural feature of many complex systems, and Kauffman calls it “order for free”.”

In regard to continued and successful operation of complex systems, various authors(10) have used the phrases “onset of chaos” or “edge of chaos”, as this seemingly precarious position is assumed as key to evolvability. Theoretically, natural selection favours traits (i.e. system characteristics, features) that encourage and facilitate evolution. So evolvability, if viewed as a trait, may be seen as the greatest adaptation of all.

Anarchy and Chaos – not the dangerous mess one might imagine them to be
Sustainable systems are anarchic and chaotic but by no means unregulated or bereft of order. A cyclical and evolving system replaces its components with others that enhance the rate of cycling, thus allowing the system to ingest and process more resource(s), thereby out-competing rival systems. Such systems must exist in a window of opportunity, framed by the limitations of a non-dynamic state and a chaotic state (i.e. successful systems must be neither over-regulated, nor too disorderly).

Self-reference invariably produces an increase in complexity (i.e. iteration tends toward chaos). Self-referentiality stems from a system’s existing organization, which evolves to cycle information, resources and energy (IRE) with increasing efficiency. Thus an increasingly focused flow of IRE is produced, which can be used to further harness and release IRE. The result is that more of the right kinds of IRE become more readily available to do even more, all via an increasingly complex system. Also, as the scale of organization and level of complexity tend to increase in tandem, maintenance of the system’s increasing complexity inevitably requires a larger flow of IRE. In fact, regulation (communication via flow of IRE) is critically important to continued evolution of the system.

A self-regulating (i.e. self-governing) system has surpassed its initial function of extracting resources from the environment; it is capable of competing and/or cooperating with other systems. So let us now cast an eye upon the basic modes of self-regulation in biological cellular systems.

Cellular signalling: a categorical analogy
Table 1. Four categories of cellular signalling.

Category Description (micro scale) Analogy (macro scale)
intracrine(11) signal is transferred between locations within a cell (eg. between cytoplasm and nucleus) a thought
autocrine(12) signal is secreted and received by the same cell a note one makes for oneself (eg. shopping list)
paracrine(13) signal is secreted by cells and transmitted locally; received by cells within close proximity to the broadcaster(s) a speech or a presentation one gives to a local audience (eg. a group of friends, family or colleagues)
endocrine(14) signal is secreted by cells and transmitted globally; received by other cells, not necessarily within close proximity to the broadcaster(s) a speech or presentation one gives publicly (eg. this blog post, or an international news service)

Schematic representation of various cellular signalling modes

Stationary phase
All biological species may be said to adhere to a standard population growth curve, typically represented as a lag phase (slow growth) followed by exponential (log) phase, during which the population enjoys optimal growth, then a transition phase gives way to stationary phase, during which no population growth occurs (on average) due to environmental and/or behavioral limiting factors (collectively identifying the carrying capacity of the environment). The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has published a statistical projection of the human population(16a), showing a population growth curve(16b) that correlates with the standard biological population growth curve.

Standard growth curve(15)

Apparently, the developed regions of the globe are already in stationary phase and experiencing the effects of dense population (road rage, intermittent explosive disorder, group violence, massacres, infertility, and general dysfunction of sustainable natural behaviors), as described by Calhoun (1973) in experiments with mice(17).

The duck test
It would be difficult to argue that communication technologies (information technologies) are not facilitating the evolution of human culture. Instead, a good question may be whether or not, or better, to what extent are human cultures evolving into cybernetic superorganisms?(18) Futuristic as this may sound, both the popular and academic press is rife with stories of an imminent singularity(19) and posthumanism(20). An interesting corollary of this idea is that people with little information about the reliability of a machine system tend to trust it less, but use it more(21). This experimental finding conforms nicely with the Dunning–Kruger effect(22), a cognitive phenomenon of our psychology which Darwin had succinctly identified, commenting that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”(23).

Simply put, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck(24), and it is not a rabbit(25a), fricasseeing rabbit(25b), or goat(25c), then it probably is a duck.

no comment

Living in and observing the Anthropocene(26) develop, there remains little doubt that we are changing on a grand scale. The cultural artifice that was constructed 10,000 years ago (with the advent of agriculture), and that we have accepted unquestioningly as normal and good, now shows clear signs of systemic error and disruption. Little wonder then, that the definition of governance given by The World Bank, and even the idea of democracy itself, seems fuddled.




7) “RESOURCE DISTRIBUTION IN ANT COLONIES”, R. Hayward, (2010), University of Bath,

8) “Quorum Sensing: Bacteria Talk Sense”, C. Sifiri, (2008), Oxford Medical Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases, Vol 47, issue 8, pages 1070-1076,

9) ”Bacteria use chat to play the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” game in deciding their fate”, E. Ben-Jacob (image), American Chemical Society, (2012),

10) “Visions of Evolution: Self-organization Proposes What Natural Selection Disposes”, Batten, Salthe, Boschetti, (2008), Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research,


16a) “WORLD POPULATION TO 2300”, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN, (2004),
16b) “Figure 6. Estimated world population: 1950-2000, and projections: 2000-2300”, page 13 (pdf page 27), “WORLD POPULATION TO 2300”, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UN, (2004),

17) “Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population”, J. Calhoun, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, (1973), Vol 66, pages 80-88,


21) “Mental models, trust, and reliance: Exploring the effect of human perceptions on automation use”, A. Cassidy, (2009), Naval postgraduate school – California,

22) “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”, J. Kruger, D. Dunning, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77, no. 6, December 1999, pp. 1121-34,

23) “The Descent of Man; And Selection in Relation to Sex”, C. Darwin, (1871), Introduction, page 3,


Further reading:


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