useful ideas


and notes touching on





“Emergence is the idea that behaviours and properties that don’t seem to exist when we look at the individual components of a complex system suddenly take shape when we see the system as a whole. Emergent phenomena are, essentially, more than the sum of their parts. Individual water molecules aren’t wet, for instance, and yet wetness is a property of water.” (Lewtin 2022)*


EMERGENCE. “The unpredictable –or at least unexpected—natures of higher orders of organization are characterized as emergent.    As a biologist, my first impulse is to see an emergent property as adaptive and attributable to the recruitment and engagement of extant elements deployed in an unpredictable way [This could be my bias to see evolutionary innovation as a kind of bricolage]  This appears to increase complexity and give a direction to levels.  (Seeking insight by discovery and description of the  presumed less complex phenomena is termed reductionism). Phenomena that could not have been predicted from our most complete knowledge of subordinate real or potential causes are regarded as “emergent phenomona” 


“In philosophysystems theoryscience, and artemergence occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own, properties or behaviors which emerge only when the parts interact in a wider whole.

Emergence plays a central role in theories of integrative levels and of complex systems. For instance, the phenomenon of life as studied in biology is an emergent property of chemistry, and many psychological phenomena are known to emerge from underlying neurobiological processes.”  Wikipedia




DOES IT HELP TO THINKOF LEVELS AS NESTED:  as in Arthur Koestler’s HOLON:  a kind of Matryoshka concept that crystalizes the concept of any point of thought existing in a flow—like an idea within the stream of consciousness—that is perceived and defined by its ephemerality and connections to precedent and following (usually perceived as causes and consequences)

Information moves through systems and it is that movement—throughput—that sustains them.

“Koestler proposed the word holon to describe the hybrid nature of sub-wholes and parts within in vivo systems. From this perspective, holons exist simultaneously as self-contained wholes in relation to their sub-ordinate parts, and as dependent parts when considered from the inverse direction.”   (that is, Upstream (toward source)/downstream (toward fate); afferent (approaching)/efferent (leaving); top-down (large-to-small)/bottom-up (small-to-large))







Nested systems also has conceptual connections to “Ecological systems theory, also called development in context or human ecology theory, identifies five environmental systems within which an individual interacts.”   (Wikipedia)

Urie Bronfenbrenner
. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University PressISBN 0-674-22457-4









LEVELS of ORGANIZATION are typically defined in terms of each other and their relative levels of complexity. In other words, they refer to phenomena of relative complexity where it appears that more complex phenomena are composed of hierarchically subordinate units: so biochemistry is organized in organelles and cells which are organized into tissues or organs which are organized into organisms or even societies.   The human disposition to characterize unknown entities by interpolating or extrapolating from better known phenomena –that is characterizing the unknown in terms of the known—can even extend these hierarchical relationships upward to ecosystems and the earth itself (Gaia) and the cosmos — or “downward” to progressively smaller units such as atoms and sub-atomic particles.  In both cases–looking up or looking down– our search for connections can rapidly lead to levels about which we can only speculate.     


What is “NORMAL” at one level may not be so at another 


The embedding of one level within another led to Arthur Koestler’s concept of the holon (discussed on A&O page on LEVELS).     


IS CONSCIOUSNESS EMERGENT?   In Graziano’s “What is Consciousness”  (proposing an engineering approach) he also says something that supports my view that consciousness is another example of  “emergence at a higher level of organization.”  Other researchers build on the insight that consciousness isn’t just a stimulus processed in the brain. Their higher-order thought theory proposes that the brain contains a system that re-represents the stimulus at a higher level with added self-information, which is how we become conscious of it. Exactly what that higher-order information is, what cognitive purpose it serves and where in the brain it is constructed are all debated – although some people associate it with the prefrontal cortex.” (p34)


TRANSCENDENT EXPERIENCES involve an awareness of experience sufficiently outside of the routine or mundane that emotion is evoked–usually (but not always) a distinctive pleasure.     Personal growth is a process of self-transcendence… 


For example, boundless nature is always outside our bubble of daily life in which stability is valued to predictably support our most basic needs.  More-or-less controlled ventures outside this bubble–curiosity, exploration, invention–is important to maintain readiness to enable coping with the inevitable events that are outside our control.  A kind of homeostasis of experience–a dynamic balance of controlled and uncontrolled circumstances is maintained.  We venture outside to exercise our competence and enhance our resilience when confronted with the unexpected .  So nature is a primary source of experience that  encourages and exercises going beyond routine experience and going beyond our personal physical or competence

See, for example, Bethelmay & Corraliza (2019) (Transcendence and Sublime Experience in Nature: Awe and Inspiring Energy in Front. Psychol )



AND ART?  Adapting Maria Popova’s words (speaking of  flowers),


“For as long as humans have been alive and awake to our bittersweet cosmic inheritance as transient constellations of atoms capable of transcendent beauty,” we find in art …

models of moral wisdom, emblems of freedom, nonbinary pioneers, portals to paying attention” (Marginalian)






* from Thomas Lewton‘s (2022) reporting in NS issue 3380 , published 2 April 2022.  Read more: