phenomenon whereby larger entities arise through interactions among smaller/simpler entities such that the larger entities exhibit properties the smaller/simpler entities don't exhibit
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is a process whereby larger entities, patterns, and regularities arise through interactions among smaller or simpler entities that themselves do not exhibit such properties.
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- Each level of biological organization builds upon the previous level, and is more complex. Moving up the hierarchy, each level acquires new emergent properties that are determined by the interactions between the individual parts. When cells are broken down into bits of membrane and liquids, these parts themselves cannot carry out the business of living. For example, you can take apart a lump of coal, rearrange the pieces in any order, and still have a lump of coal with the same function as the original one. But, if you slice apart a living plant and rearrange the pieces, the plant is no longer functional as a complete plant, because it depends on the exact order of those pieces. In the living world, the whole is indeed more than the sum of its parts. The emergent properties created by the interactions between levels of biological organization are new, unique characteristics. These properties are governed by the laws of chemistry and physics.
- Sylvia S. Mader, Biology (10th ed., 2010), Ch. 1. A View of Life
- Every system that has existed emerged somehow, from somewhere, at some point. Complexity science emphasizes the study of how systems evolve through their disorganized parts into an organized whole.
- L.K. Samuels, In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action, Cobden Press (2013) p. 118.
- If an emerging system is born complex, there is neither leeway to abandon it when it fails, nor the means to join another, successful one. Such a system would be caught in an immovable grip, congested at the top, and prevented, by a set of confusing but locked–in precepts, from changing.
- L.K. Samuels , In Defense of Chaos: The Chaology of Politics, Economics and Human Action, Cobden Press (2013) p. 191.
- These emergent properties are due to the arrangement and interactions of parts as complexity increases. For example, although photosynthesis occurs in an intact chloroplast, it will not take place in a disorganized test-tube mixture of chlorophyll and other chloroplast molecules. The coordinated processes of photosynthesis require a specific organization of these molecules in the chloroplast. Isolated components of living systems, serving as the objects of study in a reductionist approach to biology, lack a number of significant properties that emerge at higher levels of organization. Emergent properties are not unique to life. A box of bicycle parts won’t transport you anywhere, but if they are arranged in a certain way, you can pedal to your chosen destination. Compared with such nonliving examples, however, biological systems are far more complex, making the emergent properties of life especially challenging to study.
- Jane B. Reece, Lisa A. Urry, et al. Campbell Biology (10th ed., 2014), Ch. 1. Evolution, the Themes of Biology, and Scientific Inquiry