Anton Aylward

Cosmic Emergence

When explaining emergence
I sometimes say, half jokingly that:

The English language is an Emergent Property of the Hydrogen Bond

We usually talk of emergent properties of complex systems in the contemporary world, things like bio-systems and ecology, complex social systems and of course consciousness and “intelligence”.

Emergent properties are usually the result of complex interactions.  Simple, first level interactions such as sodium and chlorine, neither of which are crystalline or salty, combine to make salt – which has properties that are not inherent in either of them.  However basic chemistry does tell us that such chemicals can make “salts”.  Water, however, has complex physical properties that are unique in chemistry and cannot be predicted from knowledge of how similar elements combine.  Merely saying that:

“An emergent is a higher-level property, which cannot be deduced from or explained by the properties of the lower-level entities.”

is inadequate.  It may be simply that we don’t have the detailed knowledge.  Non-chemists, for example, will not be aware of the chemistry of “salts”.  There are no shortage of stories based on having such a superior knowledge to “impress the natives”.  Or be a stage magician.  See, for example, Penn and Teller explaining how they do their “magic” tricks.   Continue reading