Emergence: A Powerful but Little Known Notion

Lee Smolin in his book, “The Trouble with Physics” first brought my attention to the concept of emergence. This is a very powerful approach to physics and potentially other sciences. Smolin describes emergence as something new is able to manifest itself from something that was previously not present. For example the mind emerges from the brain.

Note by comparison, synergy is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and emergence is when the whole is different from the sum of its parts.

It has been contended that since something cannot come out of nothing, emergence therefore requires that all emerging properties must come from a medium that is complex else it is magic. And we definitely cannot have that in physics, can we? This is a paradox. How can something new emerge when it already exist?

To keep things clear, I will use the term “medium” to describe “what was there’. I have placed some conceptual restrains on emergence to eliminate potential paradoxes. These are:
1. New: New properties emerge from the medium.
2. Stimulus: A stimulus is required to bring about a new property.
3. Resemblance: The new property cannot resemble the stimulus, else it is not new.
4. External Factor: The new property is not dependent on an external factor.
5. Form: The stimulus alters the form of the medium, and constrained by (3).
6. Inheritance: Objects inherit the properties of the medium that it emerged from.
7. Reversion: Objects can exhibit a reversion to the properties they inherited.

Of course the stimulus property postpones the discussion of whether physics is derived from magic or not, as we don’t know how it originated. We can wait on that answer. The seven constraints provide a structured approach —> Read More