Re: [asa] Emergence

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Thu Jun 11 2009 - 22:08:57 EDT

Hazen isn't suggesting these are sufficient, he's just identifying common
features that always seem to be present in emergence of complexity. He
didn't state either "necessary" or "sufficient", just "common".

I think emergence isn't always precisely defined. It can be used in the more
narrow sense as you did and some people use it in a broader sense to refer
to any characteristic that could not be predicted from a knowledge of only
one or a very few individuals.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Powers" <>
To: "Randy Isaac" <>
Cc: <>
Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:07 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Emergence

> Randy et al.
> Remember that emergence, at least classically, is nonreductionist,
> implying that what emerges is not merely surprising, but novel and
> inexplicable in terms of the "base" level from which it emerges.
> So it is not like the "slipperiness" of water.
> What he has so far provided as "necessary" conditions seem likely to be
> insufficient to produce emergence, i.e, there are too many examples that
> have these conditions but would not be regarded as truly emergent.
> bill
> On Thu, 11 Jun 2009, Randy Isaac wrote:
>> Another lecture I just heard from Hazen in his Origins of Life course
>> warrants taking some notes. I need to write them down to help me remember
>> so I'll go ahead and share them with you, in case you're interested.
>> The topic of this lecture was emergence. Thinking about the phenomenon of
>> emergence may have some relevant input into the study of origins of life.
>> Hazen therefore takes the time to articulate four factors necessary for
>> the emergence of complex phenomena in a group of individual elements. Two
>> simple examples that he uses to illustrate these ideas are grains of sand
>> and ants. I mentally added my own field of charge carriers in
>> semiconductors.
>> 1. Concentration. There needs to be a concentration of individual
>> elements that exceeds some threshold level. Grains of sand won't show
>> complex structures until you have enough of them concentrated in one
>> region. Ants don't show social behavior until you have enough of them.
>> Charge carriers aren't interesting if you don't have enough.
>> 2. A mode of interaction. There must be a means of interaction among the
>> individual elements in order for complexity to emerge. Grains of sand
>> interact merely by touching each other. Ants have various means of
>> interacting including carrying each other! Charge carriers interact
>> through electromagnetic coupling but can also form Cooper pairs, for
>> example.
>> 3. Energy flux. There must be a source of energy through the system
>> before complexity emerges. This must be in some optimal range. Too little
>> and nothing happens. Too much and the complexity is destroyed. For sand,
>> it is gravity and wind and/or water. I forgot what he said it was for
>> ants. Maybe the food source. Charge carriers need an applied voltage or
>> electric field.
>> 4. Cycling of energy. This was the new one for me. He says that a cycling
>> of the energy flux dramatically increases the complexity that emerges in
>> a system. For sand it would be the ebb and flow of the waves or the wind.
>> For ants there are various cycles including day/night cycles and seasonal
>> fluctuations. Charge carriers respond much more interestingly due a
>> varying field.
>> How does this affect the study of the origins of life? I'm sure he'll use
>> it more later but for now it can help shape the places and features to
>> study. Concentration means you aren't looking for just one little microbe
>> but a relatively large population. Interactions are most likely chemical
>> so one needs to study all possible chemical reactions to form
>> biomolecules. Energy flux can come from many sources--solar energy,
>> chemical energy, geothermal, etc. Most of these are cyclical as well.
>> We'll see where it goes from here.
>> I really like his style of teaching. He describes science as it really
>> works in a far-out frontier, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It's not a
>> smooth process and has lots of bumps in the road. But the process
>> generates a lot of insight, whether the endgoal is reached or not. The
>> Teaching Company has his course, among several other interesting ones, on
>> sale through Sunday. See
>> Randy

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Received on Thu Jun 11 22:09:31 2009

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