A group of teenagers gazing up at a starry night sky with text “How might the emergent nature of matter inspire us to reimagine the emergent nature of mind?”

Emergent Cognition

How might the physical emergence of matter inspire us to reimagine the cognitive emergence of mind?


A gallery of ideas that inform and can be informed by an emergent systems perspective of cognition. The central themes relate to systems thinking, cognitive theory, and experience design.


A theoretical framework of cognition as patterns and levels of emergence that give rise to perceptual (sensory/physical), associative (experiential/emotional), conceptual (abstract/mental), and interpretative (narrative/spiritual) systems of representation (awareness). The framework is inspired by Uri Wilensky and Mitchel Resnick’s definition of emergent levels; Andrew Ortony, Donald Norman, and William Revelle’s work related to levels of cognitive processing; and Terrence Deacon’s description of evolutionary levels of representation based on Charles Sanders Peirce’s theory of signs.

Deacon, T.W. (1997). The symbolic species: The coevolution of language and the brain. New York: Norton.

Ortony, A., Norman, D. A., and Revelle, W. (2005). Affect and proto-affect in effective functioning. In J.M. Fellous & M.A. Arbib, Who needs emotions: The brain meets the machine. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wilensky, U., and Resnick, M. (1999). Thinking in levels: A dynamic systems approach to making sense of the world. Journal of Science Education and Technology, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 3-19.









Everything is simpler than we think, and at the same time more complex than we can imagine.
[Johann Wolfgang von Goethe]