On "emergence", aka "emergent properties"

Hello! This is my first post here, after lurking and sometimes commenting. I just wanted to share a couple videos that relate to the origin of organized complexity in dynamic systems. The first is a pretty basic (but still good) educational video about “emergence” (aka emergent properties), where interactions between the parts of a system results in new properties and greater complexity.
Emergence – How Stupid Things Become Smart Together - YouTube.
I always bring up this phenomenon when I teach biology, but I’ve learned from this video that I’ve been neglecting the point that emergence goes on an on to larger and larger scales of complexity all by itself.

The second video is about how a particle simulator with a few simple rules quickly builds into populations of life-like things. It’s a nice example of emergence. There are tons of simulators like this, but this one really caught my eye. Skipping to about 5 min. in the video, one learns about the rules that govern the emergent system seen here. The rules are not particularly biological in nature, but I don’t think that matters.


Well then it’s time for the official …

Welcome to Peaceful Science! :slight_smile:

… even though you have already been contributing comments for some time. I appreciate your efforts to add positive comments to discussions.

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  • Mark, I found your “referrals” informative and visually appealing, even if I don’t accept everything they convey.
  • Kurtgesagt has been a favorite video maker for a while now, although I’m still far short of watching all of “his” videos.
  • As it happened, while spring-boarding off the videos that you mentioned in your OP, I came across this one: I programmed some creatures. They Evolved. by a fellow unknown to me, Dave Miller. What stood out to me in his video was his assertion that there are five conditions necessary for evolution and natural selection, specifically:
    • There has to be **something that is Self-replicating.
      • Nota bene: Evolution does not explain where the first self-replicating thing came from, it only assumes that there is one.
    • Every self-replicating organism has to be “constructed” from some sort of Blueprint.
      • “Genome” is the word for the genetic information in the Blueprint. DNA and RNA are specific "chemical storage formats* that the genetic information has: DNA has four molecules called C, G, T, A, and RNA uses a U molecule instead of a T molecule.
    • The Blueprint has to be Inheritable, from the replicator by the replicant, i.e. from “the parent” by “the offspring”.
    • The Blueprint has to undergo occasional Mutations.
    • And finally, there has to be some Selection method for deciding Who Gets To Reproduce**.
  • That “list of five conditions” is the first neatly-packaged, memorable “List” that I’ve seen, and I wanted to ask you: Based on your experience in the field of Biology, have you seen any other conditions mentioned that you would add to Dave Miller’s list of five?

Like different cooks being asked to come up with a recipe for soufflé, it is likely that different biologists will add some other ingredients to the recipe needed for evolution by natural selection. Natural selection being the kind of evolutionary process that leads to adaptations for being good at reproduction.
To the recipe that you describe I would add:
Metabolism. To me that means having the ability to take in raw materials that carry potential energy from their surroundings, and then to deplete that potential energy as they self-assemble the raw materials to build and maintain an orderly body.
Living things do that as they grow, and they must do that even before they set about managing all that stuff about a blueprint. There is a general consensus that metabolism of some sort came before the replicator of RNA and DNA. Metabolism came before there was anything we’d call “life”.
How can that be? Well, we see many examples of non-living things that have a kind of metabolism of their own sort. Fire consumes fuel from its surroundings, and as a result, fire grows and becomes increasingly self-organized. Growing crystals do the same. And do violent storm systems like hurricanes and tornados. None of these have replicators (unless you really want to stretch things), and so they are not alive. But they are very life-like in so far that they have what one could generously call metabolism. And on their own they grow and become more and more organized.
Where did organic metabolism (and later life) begin? We don’t know, but a very popular candidate are alkaline vents. The model of this process is far from complete. We have gaps in how organic metabolism would be built completely in that environment, but the conditions of alkaline vents seem the best candidate for starting the process.


I am not any sort of biologist, but I have read on the subject and these are fairly basic matters to anyone with an interest in evolutionary science,

I would hold that the “blueprint” - which is not much like a blueprint in any life I know of - is not even strictly necessary. It may be a practical necessity for all but the simplest replicators, but it is replication that is necessary, not a particular Implementation. Also the list seems somewhat redundant.

So my list would be

  1. self-replicating entities
  2. that are capable of increasing in number
  3. that do not always perfectly replicate
  4. the variations produced by imperfect replication may affect reproductive success
  • Seems like an apt analogy to me.
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If you weren’t aware, @Jason_Rosenhouse used to write the popular Evolutionblog. He has a couple of books too.


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