my favorite example

My favorite example of emergence thus far has been ideas about consciousness. I was just reading a section of "Gödel, Escher, Bach" in which the author includes a quote, by Roger Sperry on the subject, which I find very palatable: "... if one keeps climbing upward in the chain of command within the brain, one finds at the very top those over-all organizational forces and dynamic properties of the large patterns of cerebral excitation that are correlated with mental states... near the apex of this command system in the brain we find ideas... the causal potency of an idea becomes just as real as that of a molecule, a cell, or a nerve impulse. Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains..." The author also mentions the idea about explaining such an emergent phenomena as a result of a "strange loop", where the so-called emergent level influences the simpler/sub/lower levels whose interactions are in turn responsible for the emergent level to begin with. Going along with the same example, he points out then that consciousness would emerge "at the moment it has the power to reflect itself." This type of back and forth or reciprocation reminded me of stigmergy in the context of termites-- where termites change their environment by laying down pheromones somewhere and in turn their behavior is influenced by the new, changed environment, then adding more pheromones where ever this is some already and ultimately building a nest. Anyway, I'm looking forward to learning about emergence in other contexts as well. As someone who likes to understand relationships across disciplines/systems/whatever the idea of accounting for things through emergent properties is very exciting/encouraging and 'comforting', if that makes any sense.


AngadSingh's picture

I'm interested in emergence's 'human' implications, primarily socio-economic behavior and interaction. In my mind, emergence retains a certain mystical quality typically reserved for theologies. It's imbued with transcendental powers, offering explanations for a diverse set of phenomena, from the big bang to coral reefs to the market economy. Though the concept remains opaque, I'm searching for a perspective that can provide insight into the most troubling aspects of human existence (marginalization, poverty, etc). Even if these phenemona possess no emergent qualities, some of their contributing factors (markets, social groupings, evolution) may prove susceptible to emergent analysis. As we struggle to achieve justice, knowledge, or a high salary, emergence is just another potential angle of analysis that can be utilized to serve some end. The term has a positive connotation to the extent that it can help achieve worthwhile ends (or be intellectually stimulating, I suppose).
DougBlank's picture

Laura, now you're talking our language! In fact, one of Doug Hofstadter's ex-students (Jim Marshall) spent his sabitical here at BMC a year ago and created a special version of a model right out of GEB. We'll be looking at that, and you will able to explore it yourself interactively. Also, "stigmergy" is a concept that you will hopefully get first-hand experience with. More on that later this afternoon...