Emergence is one of the central concepts within systems and complexity theory as it describes a universal process of becoming or creation, a process whereby novel features and properties emerge when we put elementary parts together as they interact and self-organize to create new patterns of organization. Emergence being a highly abstract concept is literally everywhere, from the evolution of the universe to the formation of traffic jams, from the development of social movements to the flocking of birds, from the cooperation of trillions of cells giving rise to the human body to the formation of hurricanes and financial crises. Although the ideas of emergence have been of interest to many for millennia it has often been seen as something of a mystery, but with the development of complexity theory, we increasingly have the computational and conceptual tools to understand it in a structured, scientific fashion. During the course, we will be drawing upon different ideas in complexity and systems theory to build up a framework for understanding emergence in a coherent fashion. More specifically, we will explore emergence as a form of nonlinear pattern formation. Where synergies between elementary parts give rise to self-organization and the formation of a distinct pattern, that creates new, emergent levels of organization, that are driven by an evolutionary dynamic.
After giving an overview of emergence theory, the course is designed around four main sections. In the first section, we start off by talking about patterns of correlation in general before going on to look at synergistic interactions that are the foundations to emergence.
The next section is focused on pattern formation, the question of how the parts come to self-organize; to synchronize their states into forming a new level of organization. Here we will talk about the two primary different types of emergence that are often used categorizations; what are called strong and weak emergence.
In the third section, we will look at the idea of integrative levels, how synergies give rise to pattern formation and the emergence of new levels of organization called integrative levels. We will talk about how these different levels come to have their own irreducible internal structure and processes that result in a complex dynamic between the micro and macro levels of organization.
In the last section of the course, we will look at how emergence plays out over time within some process. We will talk about the edge of chaos hypothesis; how self-organizing, emergent systems never quite lock into place but instead evolve through a dynamic interplay between order and disorder, to create novel phenomena at new levels of complexity.
This is an introductory course and is non-technical, however, it is important to note that the concept of emergence is highly abstract, to do it justice we will have to use high-level abstractions, as such students will need to feel comfortable with formal abstract models.
The course should be accessible without need for any specific background in science and should be of relevance to many different domains, in particular for those in the areas of computer science, biology and ecology, philosophy, the cognitive sciences and anyone with an interest in better understanding this central concept with the complexity and systems theory framework.
In this video we will be giving a very high-level overview to the concept of emergence and the different aspects to it that we will be covering in more detail in future modules in the course. The dictionary definition of the term emergence comes from the latin word meaning ‘bring to light’. In this sense it means the process of becoming visible or coming into existence. In its most abstract and metaphorical sense emergence describes the universal process of creation that is both a very fundamental and pervasive feature to our world as it plays out in all types of systems.
The term pattern is an integral part of many different areas from art and design to mathematics and computing and it is central to understanding the process of emergence. Here we will define a pattern as any form of correlation between the states of elements within a system.
Understanding the concept of a synergy is central to understanding the process of emergence. This is because emergence involves the creation of some new macro-level phenomenon that is not a product of the properties of its parts; this new phenomenon is instead a product of the synergies between the parts. In this video we discuss the basic workings to synergies.
The term pattern formation refers to the process through which a coherent set of associations between element’s states is formed and persists over some period of time, it captures the essence of self-organization and emergence in all kinds of systems. A primary question we are interested in when studying any pattern is the question of how was it generated or formed? In answering this question, we can make a fundamental distinction between those patterns that were created through order being imposed by some other external organization, or those that were created through the pattern being internally generated.
Emergence describes how new higher level properties, patterns and functionality form as we put the component parts of a system together. Emergence is a pervasive phenomenon in our world exhibited by virtually all types of complex entities, such as plants, animals, humans, societies, cultures, and economies. In this video we will discuss one of the central distinctions made between different types of emergence, that of weak and strong emergence.
An integrative level is a pattern of organization emerging on pre-existing phenomena of a lower level. Typical examples include life emerging out of nonliving substances, and consciousness emerging out of the nervous system and social institutions emerging out of individual people interacting. As components combine to produce larger functional wholes in hierarchical series, new properties emerge, and one cannot explain all of the properties at one level from an understanding of the components at the level below.
Emergence results in the development of integrative levels where systems come to have different levels of organization with different rules governing the internal workings to those different levels. The result of this is that we get a complex dynamic between the different levels where they both have different rules governing their behavior while also at the same time having to coordinate their activity in forming part of some overall system. It is this dynamic between these two primary levels that we call the micromacro dynamic and it is a central component to understanding the structure and functioning of systems of all kind.
In this module we will be talking about emergence as it plays out over time within some process. An emergent process is a process of change that involves nonlinear, abrupt phase transitions as a system’s overall structure and function are transformed into a new regime of behavior, exhibiting new properties that could not have been predicted to arise prior to the transformation.
The term edge of chaos is used to denote a transition space between order and disorder that is hypothesized to exist within a wide variety of systems. This transition zone between the two regimes is known as the edge of chaos, a region of bounded instability that engenders a constant dynamic interplay between order and disorder. This point or interface between the two is hypothesized to be a locus for maximum complexity and the dynamics driving evolution within many types of systems.
Think Academy is an e-Learning site dedicated to the area of systems thinking and complexity theory, our mission is to take the world of complexity and make it accessible to all. Systems and complex can be intimidating subjects with many sophisticated concepts, this is why we believe it is important to always start with the most essential, simplest elements of a subject making sure that students come away with a solid understanding of the core concepts behind each area. As Einstein said "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler"
Courses are curated and presented by Joss Colchester. Joss has extensive experience within the domain of complex systems both within academic research(mathematical modeling of complex system + network analysis) and has many years practical systems engineering experience(designing and developing complex web based information systems). He has a passion for taking abstract and complex concepts and making them concrete and accessible to as broad an audience as possible by combining clear and effective graphics with well structured course content.