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Volume 46 • Number 3

July 2009



Reentrant Emergence

by Steven Ravett Brown

Despite its long history, there is no agreed-upon conception of emergence. One might claim that a common idea of emergence seems to be that something termed a "system" gives rise to, or possesses, characteristics termed "properties," which latter are absent or unmanifested in whatever individual components the system consists and are thus "emergent" from the system itself. However, types of systems discussed run a gamut from purely mental entities (e.g., O'Connor and Jacobs 2003) to simple tools (e.g., Maturana and Varela 1980). "Properties" is similarly unconstrained (e.g., properties as content: Weiskopf 2008, p. 360; Terhune 2008, p. 2; and properties as characteristics: Japaridze 2006; Johnson-Laird 2006, p. 125). The so-called (e.g., Fodor 1975) special sciences, such as biology, psychology, sociology, and even chemistry (e.g., Luisi 2002) have all claimed some properties as emergent. However, the enormous literature dealing with various types of systems characterized as emergent can be divided, roughly speaking, into two classes of descriptions of emergence. One might be termed "structural" and the other "functional." The first characterizes emergent systems in terms of their components and their interrelationships (e.g., Earley 2003), while the second characterizes them in terms of their effects on other systems or elements (e.g., Ryan 2007, Wong 2006). There is generally no mention of possible internal structures of the system in the latter, and if there is, it is in vague and/or abstract terms, while the former emphasizes internal structures over clear characterizations of the effects of emergence. Thus, a conception of emergence like Kim's (e.g., Kim 1999) is functional, while explicit descriptions of small-world networks, chaotic systems, or other types of complex internal organizations in mathematics, physics, and computer science (e.g., Atay and Jost 2004; also, see the Appendix) are structural. The structuralfunctional distinction will play a part in the analysis of emergence later in this paper.

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ISSN: 2152-1123