Faversham Stoa is a philosophy discussion group meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of every month from 7.30 to 9.30pm in the The Bull in Tanners Street. We cover a large range of topics. If you have an idea for a topic that you would like us to cover why not drop us a line? There's no charge for membership and everyone is welcome to drop in. Just bring your brain and some beer money!

Emergence and Complexity

Emergence cartoon

It may be confidently claimed that science and technology has made a more important contribution to the way we live our lives than any other discipline.

In effect, most physical and biological processes are explained in terms of the interactions of electrons, atoms and molecules, although some features require the addition of nuclear processes.

In philosophical terms, the success of science rests firmly on the basis of 'reductionism', ie, the behaviour of a system is explained in terms of what happens at a smaller scale. In this case, fundamental interactions define the essential characteristics on a 'microscopic' scale and consequently determine the behaviour that we are able to observe in 'our' world. However, we are now more aware of the complexity of natural phenomena that are not easily seen as an automatic result of the basic properties. Emergence cartoon

How do physical characteristics lead to 'life'? What properties are required to construct a brain? How does consciousness arise? It seems that something else is needed to explain the hierarchical nature of our perceived worldview.

These ideas have led to a focus on the concepts of complexity and cooperativity in the natural world, both of which are fundamentally linked to the process of development where new features that seem to be unrelated to the basic properties can and do occur.

The relatively new topic of emergence is attracting much interest from both scientists and mathematicians. The discussion will examine what is meant by emergence and emergent properties and how they can arise in physical systems (you do not need to be a scientist to understand this part!). Several examples will be presented and the philosophical consequences of this approach will be considered for a range of scientific disciplines—it is a relatively new and exciting topic that may change our perceptions of the world and lead to uncertain outcomes!

Emergence cartoon

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