4 - System-level order (emergence)

Complex collections of stuff become organized into systems - weather systems, climate systems, geological systems, ecological systems, evolutionary systems, etc.. The stock market is a system. So is the economy.

Systems exhibit order (otherwise, they wouldn’t be systems). Where does this order come from - from the stuff which make up a system or from the system itself?

The organized behavior of local weather patterns can be traced to atmospheric conditions which can be traced to the properties of gaseous stuff. This order seems to come from within. The behavior of global weather patterns is trickier - seeming to be controlled by semi-random, Mandelbrotian chaos (a butterfly in Africa causes a windstorm in Kansas). Do these rules of non-linear dynamics derive from the gaseous stuff or the system?

The science of complex systems (of which my understanding is not complex) says that some system-level order comes from the system itself. The system is self-organizing. It makes its own rules. From the standpoint of the stuff which makes up the system the order comes from the outside.

A characteristic of these complex systems is “emergence”. Among other things, this is defined as order that arises spontaneously from a system. It is unexpected, novel.

Evolutionary Aside
In particular cases, the validity of the order might be questioned. Is it real or imagined? Is a system really present? Is emergence real?

For example, evolution produces changes in animals and plants in response to changes in the environment. The result is an ordered system of life, neatly divisible in various taxonomies and categories. Is this order the product of an external evolutionary system (maybe even a Higher Power), or is it an ordered inner response to random external changes?

Some say that the general thrust of evolution is from the simple to the complex, from lower order creatures (like bugs) to higher order beings (like us). It is a progression of order. This suggests that a system (or Higher Power) imposes rules from the outside.

Some, like Jay Gould (evolutionary biologist, author of Full House), say that such a progression is illusory. Gould says it is a statistical artifact based on the fact that the only direction available for evolution to proceed is from the simple to the complex.

Some say that the orderly nature of the living products of evolution could not be due to random processes. Religious people claim this is the result of a Higher Power (upper case). Scientists of complex systems also say it is a result of a higher power - but this one is lower case. These scientists say that evolution is a complex system whose inner rules dictate the occurrence of non-incremental changes (new species, types of organs - the emergence of life itself).

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