When electrons or atoms or individuals or societies interact with one another or their environment, the collective behavior of the whole is different from that of its parts. We call this resulting behavior emergent. Emergence thus refers to collective phenomena or behaviors in complex adaptive systems that are not present in their individual parts.
Examples of emergent behavior are everywhere around us, from birds flocking, fireflies synchronizing, ants colonizing, fish schooling, individuals self-organizing into neighborhoods in cities – all with no leaders or central control – to the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies and stars and planets, the evolution of life on earth from its origins until now, the folding of proteins, the assembly of cells, the crystallization of atoms in a liquid, the superconductivity of electrons in some metals, the changing global climate, or the development of consciousness in an infant.
Indeed, we live in an emergent universe in which it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify any existing interesting scientific problem or study any social or economic behavior that is not emergent.
David Pines. 2014. Emergence: A unifying theme for 21st century science. Santa Fe Institute Bulletin.
The term “emergence” comes from the Latin verb emergo which means to arise, to rise up, to come up or to come forth. The term was coined by G. H. Lewes in Problems of Life and Mind (1875) who drew the distinction between emergent and resultant effects.
Effects are resultant if they can be calculated by the mere addition or subtraction of causes operating together … Effects are emergent if they cannot be thus calculated, because they are qualitatively novel compared to the causes from which they emerge.
Elly Vintiadis. Emergence. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Emergence … refers to the arising of novel and coherent structures, patterns, and properties during the process of self-organization in complex systems. Emergent phenomena are conceptualized as occurring on the macro level, in contrast to the micro-level components and processes out of which they arise.
Jeffrey Goldstein. 1999. Emergence as a Construct. Emergence: Complexity & Organization.
We might roughly characterize the shared meaning thus: emergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them … Each of the quoted terms is slippery in its own right, and their specifications yield the varied notions of emergence[.]
Timothy O’Connor. 2015. Emergent Properties. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is a phenomenon whereby larger entities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities such that the larger entities exhibit properties the smaller/simpler entities do not exhibit.
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