Synergy or Emergence?

Whichever word we choose (*1) – synergy or emergence – to represent systematic parts (internal and/or external) interacting to create “more than the sum of the parts” (*2), what really matters is that we have an explanation and understanding of how IT happens (*3). How synergy leads to emergence of entirely new entities and behaviours, not just evolution of the original entities.

(*1) All words carry baggage and all words start with a metaphorical element before they reify into a worldview of presumed reality. Words matter, but IT matters more than the word we choose. Either word here is perfectly serviceable and preferences depend on the baggage of the hearer.

(*2) The saying only expresses part of the story. Not just more than the sum, but more than the mathematically computable result. Entities, behaviours and properties arising, not only not predictable from the parts, their properties and their prior / historical arrangements, but not entirely or repeatably caused by, even with hindsight.

(*3) Explanations do exist, it’s just that logically-positive, objectively-deterministic scientists are predisposed to deny the possibility of such explanations beyond a mechanistically physical scientific orthodoxy. [There’s more to life than (orthodox) science.]  The problem is the denial not the explanations.


Surely, Conway’s (1970) “Game of Life” is the starting point (*4). Even with explicit algorithmic behaviours of the fundamental elements, even with low levels of – and low numbers of levels of – complexity we get very quickly that the “synergy” of the elements-plus-algorithms leads to “emergence” of structures whose own behaviours are not derivable from the elemental algorithms even though these structures are by definition entirely computable.

Then Hofstadter / Dennett … and all the mid-20th C heroes of systems thinking … plus the usual 18th / 19th C thermodynamic / informational sources.

Then Friston / Solms / McGilchrist / Mitchell … in the 21st C


(*4) Conway’s Game of Life:

This is an old but comprehensive Cornell description of the rules, structures and behaviours, with some early computer simulations linked too. Once you get what it’s about, there are many modern configurable computer simulations out there in 2024. (Above the “Glider Gun” by Gosper.)


More on Psybertron:
This post is effectively one of a connected set of 4.

1 More than (Orthodox) Science ?

2 Humanistic Cybernetics ?

3 Synergy or Emergence ?

4 What’s in a name (Psybernetics) ?

(All my posts are connected, obviously, but these 4 specifically form a linked thread. They reflect a real-life developing dialogue, but there is a logical dialectic in the argument, so in order, do not pass go, etc.)


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