Emergence


Read here about a concept that is critical to understanding the superscale.

Definition

From Wikipedia:

In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems. Weak emergence is a type of emergence in which the emergent property is reducible to its individual constituents. Strong emergence is a type of emergence in which the emergent property is irreducible to its individual constituents. Some philosophers have proposed that qualia and consciousness demonstrate strong emergence. Strong emergence is a view not widely held in the physical sciences but proposed as a philosophical theory of etiology, epistemology and ontology.

The concept has been in use since at least the time of Aristotle. John Stuart Mill and Julian Huxley also wrote about the concept.

Coining The Term Emergent


The term "emergent" was coined by the pioneer psychologist G. H. Lewes, who wrote:
  • "Every resultant is either a sum or a difference of the co-operant forces; their sum, when their directions are the same -- their difference, when their directions are contrary. Further, every resultant is clearly traceable in its components, because these are homogeneous and commensurable. It is otherwise with emergents, when, instead of adding measurable motion to measurable motion, or things of one kind to other individuals of their kind, there is a co-operation of things of unlike kinds. The emergent is unlike its components insofar as these are incommensurable, and it cannot be reduced to their sum or their difference." (Lewes 1875, p. 412)(Blitz 1992)

Goldstein's definition

Professor Jeffrey Goldstein in the School of Business at Adelphi University provides a current definition of emergence in the journal, Emergence (Goldstein 1999). Goldstein initially defined emergence as: "the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems" (Corning 2002).
Goldstein's definition can be further elaborated to describe the qualities of this definition in more detail:
  • "The common characteristics are: (1) radical novelty (features not previously observed in systems); (2) coherence or correlation (meaning integrated wholes that maintain themselves over some period of time); (3) A global or macro "level" (i.e. there is some property of "wholeness"); (4) it is the product of a dynamical process (it evolves); and (5) it is "ostensive" (it can be perceived). For good measure, Goldstein throws in supervenience -- downward causation." (Corning 2002)

Corning's Definition

Corning's definition of emergence:
  • "Rules, or laws, have no causal efficacy; they do not in fact “generate” anything. They serve merely to describe regularities and consistent relationships in nature. These patterns may be very illuminating and important, but the underlying causal agencies must be separately specified (though often they are not). But that aside, the game of chess illustrates precisely why any laws or rules of emergence and evolution are insufficient. Even in a chess game, you cannot use the rules to predict “history” — i.e., the course of any given game. Indeed, you cannot even reliably predict the next move in a chess game. Why? Because the “system” involves more than the rules of the game. It also includes the players and their unfolding, moment-by-moment decisions among a very large number of available options at each choice point. The game of chess is inescapably historical, even though it is also constrained and shaped by a set of rules, not to mention the laws of physics. Moreover, and this is a key point, the game of chess is also shaped by teleonomic, cybernetic, feedback-driven influences. It is not simply a self-ordered process; it involves an organized, “purposeful” activity." (Corning 2002)

Weak vs. Strong Emergence

The usage of the notion "emergence" may generally be subdivided into two perspectives, that of "weak emergence" and "strong emergence". Weak emergence describes new properties arising in systems as a result of the interactions at an elemental level. Emergence, in this case, is merely part of the langauge, or model that is needed to describe a system's behaviour.
But if, on the other hand, systems can have qualities not directly traceable to the system's components, but rather to how those components interact, and one is willing to accept that a system supervenes on its components, then it is difficult to account for an emergent property's cause. These new qualities are irreducible to the system's constituent parts (Laughlin 2005). The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This view of emergence is called strong emergence. Some fields in which strong emergence is more widely used include etiology, epistemology and ontology.

Strong emergence says that if systems can have qualities not directly traceable to the system's components, but rather to how those components interact, and one is willing to accept that a system supervenes on its components, then it is difficult to account for an emergent property's cause. These new qualities are irreducible to the system's constituent parts.(Laughlin 2005) The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This view of emergence is called strong emergence.
  • "The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe. The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. At each level of complexity entirely new properties appear. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry..We can now see that the whole becomes not merely more, but very different from the sum of its parts."

Regarding strong emergence, Mark A. Bedau observes:
  • "Although strong emergence is logically possible, it is uncomfortably like magic. How does an irreducible but supervenient downward causal power arise, since by definition it cannot be due to the aggregation of the micro-level potentialities? Such causal powers would be quite unlike anything within our scientific ken. This not only indicates how they will discomfort reasonable forms of materialism. Their mysteriousness will only heighten the traditional worry that emergence entails illegitimately getting something from nothing."(Bedau 1997)
However, "the debate about whether or not the whole can be predicted from the properties of the parts misses the point. Wholes produce unique combined effects, but many of these effects may be co-determined by the context and the interactions between the whole and its environment(s)." (Corning 2002) Along that same thought, Arthur Koestler stated, "it is the synergistic effects produced by wholes that are the very cause of the evolution of complexity in nature" and used the metaphor of Janus to illustrate how the two perspectives (strong or holistic vs. weak or reductionistic) should be treated as perspectives, not exclusives, and should work together to address the issues of emergence.(Koestler 1969) Further,
  • "The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe..The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. At each level of complexity entirely new properties appear. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry. We can now see that the whole becomes not merely more, but very different from the sum of its parts."(Anderson 1972)

Critique of Strong Emergence


The plausibility of strong emergence is questioned by some as contravening our usual understanding of physics. Mark A. Bedau observes:
  • "Although strong emergence is logically possible, it is uncomfortably like magic. How does an irreducible but supervenient downward causal power arise, since by definition it cannot be due to the aggregation of the micro-level potentialities? Such causal powers would be quite unlike anything within our scientific ken. This not only indicates how they will discomfort reasonable forms of materialism. Their mysteriousness will only heighten the traditional worry that emergence entails illegitimately getting something from nothing."

  • One must make a distinction between a) macroscopic properties (e.g. superconductivity) which nobody has, as a matter of fact, been able to deduce from the microscopic equations and b) the idea that something macroscopic has features that are not even due to microscopic interactions. Laughlin belongs to a). In his book, he explains that for many particle systems, nothing can be calculated exactly from the microscopic equations, and that macroscopic systems are characterised by broken symmetry: the symmetry present in the microscopic equations is not present in the macroscopic system, due to phase transitions. As a result, these macroscopic systems are described in their own terminology, and have properties that do not depend on many microscopic details. This does not mean that the microscopic interactions are irrelevant, but simply that you do not see them anymore - you only see a renormalized effect of them. Laughlin is a pragmatic theoretical physicist: if you cannot, possibly ever, calculate the broken symmetry macroscopic properties from the microscopic equations, then what is the point of talking about reducibility?