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On Emergence

This article will demonstrate the concept and the phenomenon of emergence and present a critical reflection to the concept. Emergence is a concept that surrounds being in a way that existence and the forms that what exists takes are thought by the thinkers of emergentism to be determined by this phenomenon (Clayton, 2006). Being occurs and its forms come forth in an orderly and organized manner. The term being in this definition is used in the univocal sense of being. Univocal sense of being refers to the existence as a whole (Berto & Plebani, 2015). This orderly and organized manner is considered as the product of the particulars that make up the whole or the parts of the form. The shape or form that is taken as the whole is not merely the sum of the particulars of the whole but the occurring orderly and organized motion is the form that is considered as the whole (Gibb, 2021). Thus, whole is not the collection of the single particles, and it is the emergent structure and the motion that is exhibited by the bits. In the light of this description, the questions regarding the concept in order to present a critical reflection to the concept are about the scope of the phenomenon, and whether and to what extent the particulars are effective affective in the occurrence of the forms.


Kaplan, Chizuru Morii. (2022). Emergence I. [Watercolor on Arches paper].
Figure 1. Kaplan, Chizuru Morii. (2022). Emergence I. [Watercolor on Arches paper].

Firstly, an elaboration of the concept of emergence, and emergentist approaches is required to be able to present answers to the questions that are proposed regarding emergence. The most general definition for emergence is that it is the coming forth and occurring of the entities, and their workings by the actions and the interactions of the particulars (Gibb, 2021). In this way, the particulars of the whole create the behaviour or action of the whole. Universe, consciousness, particles, particulars of the whole, the forms that are perceived as a whole that is conceived as conscious, living and non-living things, thus, being emerges, if the being is taken as the forms that interact and create forms. In a sense, this approach of emergence resembles the idea of conatus of Spinoza (Spinoza, 1994). According to Spinoza, conatus is the will of the things in the way to take their forms, which simply can be put forth as the pockets of consciousness in the being that shapes the things according to the interactions they make (Deleuze, 1988). Thereby, emergence can be described as a concept in philosophy and sciences that represents the occurring of the being. Hence, the topic of this article leads a way that starts from the field of the questions "Why is there something rather than nothing?” or “How can something occur from nothing?” to the field of the question “How does the being occur as it is?”.


The determination of the action is thought to be conscious and self-determined by the particulars or unconscious and determined by the characteristics of the whole (Chalmers, 2006). This aspect of the concept is where the idea branches because when the will, the agency, and the subjectivity of the particles that make up the whole are questioned. The phenomenon could be considered from a mechanistic perspective or a perspective that designates a piece of consciousness for all entities in question (Tabaczek, 2019). This branching is going to be explicated regarding the second question. To continue the definition, day to day examples for emergence could be observed in the behaviour of the living beings such as the flying patterns of the birds, or the patterned emergence of cauliflower flower, the hexagonal shapes of the honeycombs made by bees. The conditions of the emergence of these phenomena channel the beings to take certain forms. When the conditions are right, these forms occur. For example when the season changes and weather becomes colder, thus the birds fly to the warmer places forming a triangular shape; or when the plant gets enough nutrition, water, sunlight, and temperature, then the cauliflower flower sprouts and grows; or when a new queen bee is thrown out of the hive and hold onto a branch of a tree or a suitable rock, then the bees create a new hive around them and as the hive feeds the queen bee to lay eggs, they build the hexagonal honeycomb from beeswax as a place for storage and as a place for larvae to grow. The studies of the conditions and the formation of these emergent patterns are conducted by the related fields of sciences (Corradini, 2010).


Tyldesley, Amber., Wilson, Daniel. (n. d.). Emergence. [Charcoal and Acrylic].
Figure 2. Tyldesley, Amber., Wilson, Daniel. (n. d.). Emergence. [Charcoal and Acrylic].

The answer to the question of the scope of the concept of emergence could be given focusing on the role that the concept takes in different fields of inquiries. As the concept of emergence is investigated, the investigation could be extended from the existence itself to the occurring of the forms of the existence (Tabaczek, 2019). In this way, the concept expresses a phenomenon in metaphysics and epistemological relations of the existence (Aristotle, 2016). The former is related to the concept of being emergence, which is examined by many philosophers as the hierarchy of entities (Lovejoy, 2023). The hierarchy between different levels of phenomenon is proposed by thinkers of different ages. The hierarchy of the beings is proposed in a range from God to the minerals, and in between lying angels, humans, animals, plants, and devil spirits in that order. This hierarchy is proposed by the Medieval philosophers and is inspired by the idealistic division of the world of Plato, and in natural philosophy (Lovejoy, 2023). The hierarchy of beings is biologically ordered according to the perception of the complexity and nobility of organisms and material (O'Gorman, 2005). This hierarchical order of nature is traced back to Aristotle (Lovejoy, 2023). The idea of hierarchical order of beings depends on a strictly causal order of entities that are thought to be in a historicity relation with each other and the existence of one is dependent on the existence of the one before (Aristotle, 2016). As being does not necessitate such as system of causality and such a causality can go back infinitely, as the root cause of something can always lead to another causation, the idea of such an hierarchy of beings is not a sufficient explanation for the emergence of the entities interrelatedly (Nielsen, 1971). In evolutionary approaches, the categories of complexity are taken as similar criteria of the emergence of being, merely a mean of categorization, and not a perspective of causation. On the other hand, the latter is related to the concept of pattern emergence. Emergence of entities occur through the characteristics of pattern behaviour of the whole they compose. However, the pattern behaviour is not simply a repeating motion, but it is a complex system of similar motions, behaviour, and entities. In this sense, pattern emergence encompasses contemporary approaches of epistemology and sciences (Tabaczek, 2019).


Considering the second question of this article regarding the agency of the particles of the whole, the two types of emergence come forth as strong emergence and weak emergence (Winning, 2019). Strong emergence describes a direct strict causal relation of determination between the characteristics of the whole and the particulars (Winning, 2019). For this approach, the behaviour and characteristics of the particulars is determined by the whole (Winning, 2019). Hence, this strict causal relation defines the agency of the particulars as non-existent. On the other hand, the weak emergence approach regards the particulars having new methods of interaction in the dimensions of their operation (Winning, 2019). In this sense, the weak emergence approach does not answer the question of agency for the different levels of operation (Gibb, 2021). This approach leads the way to find the interactions of the parts in a deeper level because as the dimensions change, the formations of the emergence creates different methods of operation (Tabaczek, 2019). This could be observed in scientific inquiries as the behaviour of particles and atoms differ and they bring forth different interactions, or even simplistically the different-sized organisms comprehend dimensions differently and interact with dimensions differently. For example, an ant takes a sheet of paper it walks on as a two-dimensional plane, which consists of dimensions of length and width and does not have height or curvature, and a human can bend the paper to take a three dimensional bent form, which connects two sides of the paper together. In this way, different particulars in the same system interact and form unique interactions. In addition, if the point is taken one step forward to consider the consciousness of the individual parts of the systems, Spinoza's conatus explains an agency in a similar way. The conatus, which is the desire of the particulars to take their forms and interact in their way, creates a space for individuality for the particulars. In an ontological sense, individuation is an instantiation. When an entity that is considered as a part of one category is embodied in a particular instance, individuation occurs (Audi, 1995).


Korber. (n. d.). Return to an Unfinished Thought... Emergence. [Pyrotechnic Iconographism].
Figure 4. Korber. (n. d.). Return to an Unfinished Thought... Emergence. [Pyrotechnic Iconographism].

To conclude, emergence is a concept that is at least as old as philosophy (Gibb, 2021). As philosophy questions the phenomena and questions are considered empirically by rational and logical inquiries, the fields of questionings become the fields of detailed explanation of the occurrence of emergence (Tabaczek, 2019). Different approaches are taken in consideration of the phenomenon of emergence, such as hierarchical conceptualization and unfolding of the being as non-repeating patterns which are explicated in this article as pattern emergence and being emergence. And the will of the particles is questioned in this field (Winning, 2019)(Chalmers, 2006). The two approaches of emergentism as strong emergence and weak emergence are elaborated and critically reflected on. While the former gives no agency to the particulars, the latter presents that the will of the particulars does not depend on their agency, and the interactions can differ from the characteristics of the whole (Chalmers, 2006). With these conceptualizations, the concept of emergence takes the form of a disenchanted view of examination of consciousness of the existence. In the light of this conceptualization, the scientific inquiries and philosophical fields shape to find interactions of different entities and how entities take their forms. Therefore, concept of emergence plays a key role in the understanding of the being in the sense of its univocality (Berto & Plebani, 2015).


Bibliographic References

Aristotle., & Reeve, C. D. C. (2016). Metaphysics (The New Hackett Aristotle) (UK ed.). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.


Audi, R. (1995). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. New York City: Cambridge University Press.


Berto, F., & Plebani, M. (2015). Ontology and Metaontology: A Contemporary Guide. Bloomsbury Academic.


Chalmers, D. J. (2006). Strong and Weak Emergence. In P. Davies & P. Clayton (Eds.), The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis From Science to Religion. Oxford University Press.


Clayton, P., & Davies, P. (2006). The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.


Corradini, A., & O’Connor, T. (2010). Emergence in Science and Philosophy. Taylor & Francis.


Deleuze, Gilles., (1988) [1970]. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Translated by Hurley, Robert. City Lights Books. ISBN 978-0-87286-218-0.


Gibb, S. C., Hendry, R. F., & Lancaster, T. (2021). The Routledge Handbook of Emergence. Taylor & Francis.


Goodenough, U., & Deacon, T. W. (2008). The Sacred Emergence of Nature. Oxford University Press EBooks, 853–871. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199543656.003.0051


Lovejoy, A. O. (2023). The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, The William James Lectures Delivered at Harvard University, 1933 (Second Edition). Harvard University Press.


Nielsen, K. (1971). Reason and Practice: A Modern Introduction to Philosophy. Harper & Row.


O’Gorman, F., & Donald, D. (2005). Ordering the World in the Eighteenth Century. Palgrave Macmillan.


Spinoza, Benedict., (1994). Curley, Edwin (ed.). A Spinoza Reader: the Ethcs and other works. Translated by Curley, Edwin. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00067-0.


Tabaczek, M. (2019). Emergence: Towards a New Metaphysics and Philosophy of Science. University of Notre Dame Press.


Winning, J., & Bechtel, W. (2019). Being Emergence Vs. Pattern Emergence: Complexity, Control, and Goal-Directedness in Biological Systems. In S. Gibb, R. Hendry, & T. Lancaster (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Emergence (pp. 134–144).

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