emergence 1 of 4

Simplifying Complexity
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It’s been said that “Everything is simpler than you can imagine and more complex than you can comprehend.” As one might guess, emergent complexity is rather complex. Nevertheless, with a little imagination, there are simple ways to organize how we think about it.

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FINDING ORDER IN CHAOS
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Emergent complexity, or emergence, is a term typically used to describe the way in which relatively simple interactions can have disproportionately complex results. It involves a kind of grassroots, bottom-up organization that helps explain why we find so much order in a universe that lacks any executive, top-down organization. Everything from superconductivity to ant colonies and other everyday phenomenona are considered to be examples of emergence.

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EMERGING THEMES


Yet all of these examples of emergence involve very different sorts of interactions. The only way to create a useful framework for describing emergence would require finding a common thread among them. Fortunately, that’s what Wilensky and Resnick (1999) did when they explained the significance of emergent levels to the study of complexity.

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HIGHER LEVEL THINKING
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Of course, not all levels are created equally. Emergent levels are informed by specific dynamic, part-whole, and cause and effect relationships. If we organize these relationships into dimensions of patterns and levels of interaction, they provide the basis for an emergent systems framework.