Friday, March 2, 2007

Emergence: The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of It's Parts


You can take a Personality Test and get the result like I did below. Just click on the links.

My Personality Test Result

INTJ - "Mastermind". Introverted intellectual with a preference for finding certainty. A builder of systems and the applier of theoretical models. 2.1% of total population.
Free Jung Personality Test (similar to Myers-Briggs/MBTI)

This wonderful image above, from Richard Seel of New Paradigm Organization Consulting gives a clear insight into the nature of Emergence.

Emergence is a property that occurs in most Complex Systems, from stock markets, to Cities, Ant Colonies, Chemical Reactions, Hurricanes and even to Computer generated Cellular Automata.

Kevin Mihata describes Emergence as " the process by which patterns or global-level structures arise from interactive local-level processes. This "structure" or "pattern" cannot be understood or predicted from the behavior or properties of the component units alone. (Mihata 1997:31)." Emergen-ism is the opposite of Reductionism which believed that you could reconstruct an object from it's components if you could reduce it to it's components and knew the relationship and properties of each component. In Emergence, 2 + 2 is greater than 4. The whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. The non-reductionist view of our Universe is now seen as more accurate. In the picture above, each image A, B, C, D denotes a stage in Emergence:

A. A population of individuals exist e.g. individual investors in a stock market, different chemicals before they are combined, wild Geese before they fly off in a flock, a network of roads

B. The individuals inter-act with each other in a 'closed-off ' environment such as a stock market, an ant colony etc, a crucible where chemicals are mixed and heated by a Bunsen burner etc

C. Their inter-action causes a mass of effects, non-linear in nature, with network and feedback loops, until a critical stage [threshold] is reached when self-organization takes place to tighten their bonds to each other.

D. Rising above the local influences, a 'new' entity or a super-organism emerges, with totally new properties that is different from the properties of the individuals from which it arose. This new entity then interacts with the individuals below again, causing further changes to itself in what we call Evolution.

Thus, a stock market Index attains a life of it's own even though the Index is a basket of component stocks. The individual investors cause the Dow Jones Industrial Average to rise and fall, but the DJIA's rise and fall in turn elicits further response from the individual investors, which in turn affects the Index.

Two or more chemicals, when mixed together may produce a totally new substance with properties that could not be predicted from the individual chemicals. In this way, many new synthetic materials were invented including Kevlar, synthetic rubber and many new metal alloys and types of plastic.

In an ant colony, each ant by doing only what it was genetically programmed to do, contributes to make the colony a super-organism that does not have any top-down or central control and yet changes and moves with a single purpose.

Roads and cities evolve in much the same way. If they were not master-planned, they first started out as a break in the bushes leading from one place to another. Through frequent use this break in the bushes becomes a well-trodden footpath. As the traffic increases the footpath by virtue of it's importance is made into a road with a name given to it, cities grow up beside it, and as the city population increased, the road is connected to other roads and other cities. Thus although much of the time cities were created at strategic geographic locations, much of the time their creation was a 'chance occurence' that snowballed in importance. Philadelphia, Boston could just as likely have been as big as New York, but lost out because New York's 'chain of events' whatever it may have been, which accelerated it's growth.

A village market is another instance of emergence. It could have started with 1 person standing at a certain place selling his vegetables. Another one seeing that he was successful, joined him, and another and another until it became a market with a name. Now if you take away the original person who started the market, the market would still exist. Sellers may come and go but the market which emerged will remain.

Emergence is a marvelous property. When applied to our Life it implies that you should always seize opportunities, take a chance, for you never know where and what an action taken will lead to, because of Emergence.

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