Re: [asa] Emergence

From: Randy Isaac <>
Date: Sat Jun 13 2009 - 21:06:13 EDT

Well said. Good perspective.

Nevertheless, Uko's view of emergence being reductionist, though I disagree
with it, is one I find hard to dispute. I can see his point. If the emergent
properties arise solely from the ensemble of component parts being together
and interacting in a particular environment, they why wouldn't it be
reductionistic? Perhaps we need to figure out what we mean by reductionist.
We all have a pejorative connatation for it. But I don't feel I have a good
handle on this. If reductionism means that the properties of the whole can
be determined from a knowledge of the properties of the component parts,
taken individually, then it is quite absurd and can easily be shown to be
false, I would think. In any case, it would be definition be anti-emergence.
If, however, it means that the whole is comprised solely of its component
parts and their interaction with no supernatural forces, then it's a
materialistic assumption, which may or may not be correct, depending on the
system being discussed. I think I'm confused but I'm sure some of you can
help clarify.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Terry M. Gray" <>
To: "ASA" <>
Sent: Friday, June 12, 2009 7:16 PM
Subject: Re: [asa] Emergence

> Randy,
> Yes. I apply emergence even to phenomena like inside/outside that results
> when a bilayer self-assembles from phospholipids in water to form a
> vacuole. The property is "unpredictable" from the individual components
> and is the result of the system--in this case a amphipathic molecule of
> the right geometry in water. Inside/outside is at completely different
> level--perhaps even ontologically--and the molecules in question still
> don't "know" that they are participating in the higher level.
> To me this is a very interesting model for how the biological can at the
> same time be reduced to the physical/chemical and yet not be reduced to
> the physical/chemical.
> Loren Haarsma and I discussed these sorts of phenomena in our chapter in
> Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Frankly, I see this as a very
> promising direction for origin of life studies to take. Early
> manifestations of these sorts of systems may even be acellular. It also
> lends some solution to the protein first or RNA first conundrum. The
> answer is neither. They were both present and the RNA/protein emerged as
> an autocatalytic system. This is where some of the work of Stuart
> Kauffman comes in.
> Bill commented that emergence was considered non-reductionistic. I agree
> with him. And this is the true meaning of irreducible complexity and why
> I don't want to give up the term or leave it to the ID folks. The
> function is a property of the whole. But it is conceivable given the
> description/criteria that Randy summarized for the whole to be assembled
> (sufficient complexity, energy flux, etc.) and then function to suddenly
> emerge (and this is no miracle or act of special creation).
> Interestingly, Uko Zylstra considers emergentism to be a form of
> reductionism because the whole emerges from the parts based solely on
> physical/chemical properties.
> TG
> On Jun 11, 2009, at 8:08 PM, Randy Isaac wrote:
>> 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.
>> Randy
>> ----- 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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> ________________
> Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
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Received on Sat Jun 13 21:06:39 2009

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