Introduced by the late Per Bak and his colleagues, self-organized criticality (SOC) has been one of the most stimulating concepts to come out of statistical mechanics and condensed matter theory in the last few decades, and has played a significant role in the development of complexity science. SOC, and more generally fractals and power laws, have attacted much comment, ranging from the very positive to the polemical. The other papers in this special issue (Aschwanden et al, 2014; McAteer et al, 2014; Sharma et al, 2015) showcase the considerable body of observations in solar, magnetospheric and fusion plasma inspired by the SOC idea, and expose the fertile role the new paradigm has played in approaches to modeling and understanding multiscale plasma instabilities. This very broad impact, and the necessary process of adapting a scientific hypothesis to the conditions of a given physical system, has meant that SOC as studied in these fields has sometimes differed significantly from the definition originally given by its creators. In Bak's own field of theoretical physics there are significant observational and theoretical open questions, even 25 years on (Pruessner, 2012). One aim of the present review is to address the dichotomy between the great reception SOC has received in some areas, and its shortcomings, as they became manifest in the controversies it triggered. Our article tries to clear up what we think are misunderstandings of SOC in fields more remote from its origins in statistical mechanics, condensed matter and dynamical systems by revisiting Bak, Tang and Wiesenfeld's original papers.
25 Years of Self-Organized Criticality: Concepts and Controversies
Nicholas Watkins, Gunnar Pruessner, Sandra Chapman, Norma Bock Crosby, Henrik Jensen