Understanding Emergence

Emergence is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Imagine assembling an object from many building blocks: if we understand the properties of the building blocks then we might expect that the finished building has properties that are understandable from the things we know about the blocks and how they fit together. However, if the object we build has some new feature which doesn’t follow from what we know about the blocks, then that feature is emergent.

This is an important concept - many people currently believe that there are things in Nature, such as magnetism, the rigidity of solid materials and many features of quantum mechanics which cannot be derived from what we know about atoms or subatomic particles. These things may, therefore, be emergent.

There are many other important things at stake in asking questions about emergence. Do you believe your mind is just the result of a collection of biological circuitry, or something else? Do you believe there could be mathematical barriers to deriving the laws of Nature? Do you think that there is more to complex problems than simply the complication of their large size? This website is part of a project that addresses these questions.