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[P]
Steven Johnson: Emergent qualities in software

By schrotie in Technology
Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:00:10 AM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

Steven Johnson has written a book on emergence in ants, brains, cities and software. Emergence is the occurence of qualities in compound objects, which cannot be regarded qualities of the parts.


One the most renowned examples of emergence is the resonant circuit (also see here) which is (hopefully) well known from basic physics lessons. The resonant circuit shows a quality - resonance - which can not be found in any of its parts. Neither does a capacitor show any resonance nor does an inductor. It is not found in resistors and certainly not in the connecting conductors. But if you plug these simple parts together you can observe a relatively complex behaviour - resonance.

The example of the resonant circuit has been very well understood. But "emergence" has become a buzzword since old AI was mostly abandoned and new AI is on the rise. Now emergence is often used to assign an attribute to any phenomenon that is not well understood.

There are however also other more interesting examples of emergent behaviour. One example that also has been used before Steven Johnson stumbled over it are ant hives. There you have many relatively simple elements - ants - that together form a super organism with amazingly complex and seemingly planned behaviour. E.g. Holk Cruse wrote a book (only available in German) by the title: The discovery of intelligence or: can ants think (my translation).

Steven Johnson gives the subject a new interesting perspective though. The most promising part is IMHO indicated by the last part of the book's title: software. He applies the concept of emergence to certain kinds of software and especially networks. I cannot write a review of the book, because I have not read it - it's due to appear in September this year.

There is however an interview with Johnson on oreillynet that might wet your appetite. Interestingly (for K5ers) Johnson goes to some lengths on analyzing the other site in terms of emergence and critizes the lag of certain features that can actually be found on K5 - which he does not seem to know. Or maybe he is a nice guy and respects rusty's quest for remaining the underdog.

You can find much more information on the book on google.

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Poll
Intelligence is ...
o emergent 20%
o a rare flower 5%
o easily drowned 7%
o due to arrive on the planet somewhere through the 22nd century 23%
o who cares when she has the right looks ... 20%
o ... or money for that matter 5%
o hugh? 1%
o Bollocks! This is awarded dumbest poll of the week. 15%

Votes: 69
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Google
o Steven Johnson
o book
o resonant circuit
o here
o Holk Cruse
o book [2]
o interview
o the other site
o google
o Also by schrotie


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Steven Johnson: Emergent qualities in software | 60 comments (53 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
Reactionary emergence (2.30 / 13) (#1)
by medham on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 08:39:09 PM EST

The utility of any scientific concept can be determined, by a large part, by the manner in which its inevitable co-optation in the public sphere occurs. The legacy of Darwinism in this respect is well known. What will happen with emergentism?

A good indicator can be found in the author photos of Stuart Kaufmann. Do you see the leather? The rugged individuality? Do I have to paint you a picture here, folks?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

sigh (3.75 / 4) (#14)
by greenrd on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 10:22:35 PM EST

The utility of any scientific concept can be determined, by a large part, by the manner in which its inevitable co-optation in the public sphere occurs.

Oh what are you blabbering about this time? How does the "manner of co-optation" of an idea help you to determine how useful it is? There is such a thing as usefulness beyond the text, of course, as you know.

A good indicator can be found in the author photos of Stuart Kaufmann. Do you see the leather? The rugged individuality? Do I have to paint you a picture here, folks?

Yep. We lack your wisdom, o great one.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Why? (4.20 / 10) (#15)
by rusty on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 10:31:07 PM EST

Why are people still responding to medham? Why? Is he that convincing?

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Pardon me (2.75 / 4) (#16)
by medham on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 10:38:25 PM EST

Look at the discussion I had with your favorite writer, localroger, over on the Saudi story, for example. Did it degrade your site? Did it lower the quality of discussion here? Is this what my comments do? Just let me if you think so, because I respect property rights.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

insert a rhyming word, there [nt] (3.00 / 3) (#18)
by medham on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 10:42:39 PM EST


The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Yes (3.50 / 4) (#20)
by greenrd on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 10:49:51 PM EST

To me, he always will be. Very convincing. I can't seem to shake off the impression that there's a great (albeit obtuse) mind behind those koans.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Becasuse ... (4.16 / 6) (#29)
by schrotie on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 04:07:04 AM EST

his is a mind beyond mediocracy. He is the most interesting troll on K5. If you ignore the provocations his crusades frequently hit rather original ideas.
He's a buisance, sure. But I think K5 would be poorer without him. He makes people laugh, he makes them rage. Great, we need nuisance sometimes. Though I certainly agree that fewer replies to medham would be desireable. Anyway, it's probably a plague that will pass. If not - if medham indeed manages to keep being interesting enough to persist - than that's another feather in his hat ;-)

[ Parent ]
Have you seen the photos? (3.00 / 4) (#17)
by medham on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 10:41:46 PM EST

It doesn't take much to notice an image is being projected. Scientific discovery is integrated into social process. I'm sorry if this is disquieting to you. Remember Social Darwinism? I'm asking people to think about what Social Emergentism might be like.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Social Emergentism (4.25 / 4) (#32)
by schrotie on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 10:05:47 AM EST

I'll try to show two things: firstly I'll try to make a point that significant science may not necessarily have direct social implications, secondly that there might indeed be a scope for social emergentism.

Firstly:
Darwinism had direct social implications, because it was one of the three great scientific theories that changed the way humans perceive the world. The first of these three great theories was proposed by Copernicus and pushed humanity out of the center of the universe. The second was Darwin's theory that pushed humanity out of the great plan of creation and made them the like of apes. The third and currently last was Freud's theory which pushed humanity out of dominance over its very minds and gave the inaccessible subconscience all power.

These three theories changed the way humans perceived the world and their role in it. But there were also scientific theories which had much more indirect social implications without being scientificly less significant: e.g. Newtonian mechanics, quantum mechanics and relativity. These are arguably scientificly not second to the three socially most relevant theories.
Emergentism might proof to be as important as a scientific concept without having the social impact of the three aforementioned theories.
There is already one concept where emergence has become the de facto base of scientific understanding: life.
The struggle to explain what life actually is is as old as philosophy itself. At the beginning of the 20th century there were still scientists that postulated some force or breath or spirit of life. Today biologists tend not to worry about life that much. We still don't really understand it, but we know about all these little parts and have a feeling of how they interact. We perceive life as being an emergent property of all these parts and their interactions without necessarily calling it emergence.

Secondly
If (not when, I really mean if) we reach an understanding of intelligence one day, the concept of emergence might play an important role in that understanding - or so do many scientists believe. Now if we do in fact reach this understanding, that might place Emergentism among the three (then four) theories of great social impact. After loosing our place in the universe, in creation and in our own minds, we may finally loose the last thing to distinguish us from dead matter or presumably machinelike insect minds - our intelligence. Then social Emergentism might indeed arise. But that is currently petty speculation.

[ Parent ]

Three theories? (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by bodrius on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 04:28:26 PM EST

I just would like to point out that three theories is a very modest estimate, and that you're dismissing the influence of many others, just as significant as those.

Newtonian physics did change the worldview of humanity. Most of the world still sees the world through Newtonian physics, and let's not forget that much of the Enlightenment was due to Newton, with all the social implications. The universe was now clockwork and everything was a machine, the laws of reason defining the laws of nature.

Relativity and Quantum-mechanics did have an effect on the world, but unfortunately that effect had little to do with their scientific content. Just look at the "liberal" use of the word "quantum" in certain New Age circles, and the dismissal of rationality as "unable to explain anything anyway" in social-science and literary circles. The lack of a physical absolute also legitimized the lack of a social/moral/whatever absolute, although neither theory should have needed legitimizing.

Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
[ Parent ]
Counter point on the book review: (4.10 / 10) (#3)
by quasipalm on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 09:01:14 PM EST

I'll vote this story up because I like the topic. But, I must disagree about the quality of the book. I read it and I found that Johnson hit on all of the most obvious subjects. There wasn't really any point in the book where I took pause, thinking, "I never looked at it that way before." But, then again, I've doing an average amount of reading on the subject of neural-nets and "emergence" in things like flocks of birds, ant hills, cities, etc.

Especially boring was the long section on the intelligence of cities. While I find cities fascinating as self-organizing structures, Johnson focus way too much on the un-illuminating examples of random street encounters and street vendors. That section went on and on, repeating over and over the obvious.

Overall, it wasn't a bad book, but I wish I `d spent the time with something else. If you're like me ("emergence" isn't a foreign concept and you like books with a little more meat, like, say Steven Pinker) than this book isn't for you.

(hi)
Pinker is an anti-emergentist (1.42 / 14) (#4)
by medham on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 09:03:40 PM EST

As are all Darwinian fundamentalists. And besides, this book hasn't been published yet, so let's get our shit straight, shall we?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Hardcover, Published September 2001 (3.00 / 1) (#7)
by quasipalm on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 09:09:04 PM EST

I didn't say anything about Steven's philosophy. Oh, and I read the hardcover, try getting your facts straight before making a fool out of yourself.

(hi)
[ Parent ]
Right-o (1.00 / 19) (#9)
by medham on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 09:10:31 PM EST

I'm sure you and "Steven" have discussed everything else under the sun in his spartan Cambridge flat, haven't you? What kind of sheets does he have?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Presently reading the hardcopy version . . . (2.75 / 4) (#19)
by 5150 on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 10:48:48 PM EST

that I bought for a friend's birthday, back in November. And I just so happen to be in what you consider the especially boring part about the intelligence of cities.

I'm a newbie to emergence theory, (a child of very crappie 80's education) and while not all of his discussion is brand-spanking new, I am thoroughly enjoying many of the connections he is explaining.

For an introductory read it is very good. What, in your humble opinion, would you recommend as more enlightening?



[ Parent ]
Follow up reads (3.50 / 2) (#23)
by quasipalm on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 12:24:10 AM EST

A good follow up read I'd suggest is Self-Organization in Biological Systems. But note that I've only read about a 3rd of it (I put it back on the shelf for the remainder of the quarter (I was going brain dead with school and all.)) Amazon has kindly posted a few pages from the book you may want to check out.

I hope I didn't portray Emergence, the book, in too bad a light. I just didn't find it as interesting as this story's author. I think it's a good intro book for sure. I just don't want someone already in touch with the foundation concepts to waste $20.

(hi)
[ Parent ]
Agree. (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by kimpton on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 04:33:57 AM EST

I'm about three quarters of the way through and so far I agree with Quasipalm. I'm new to the subject but it doesn't really arrest your attention in any way. The conclusions drawn from the first few examples don't seem to be advanced upon with the later examples, which just drift along into each other. The writing style and examples are pretty dull in themeselves too.

Maybe the book is an exercise in emergence itself, six unsophisticated chapters, following simple rules, will inexplicably develop into an complex and interesting seventh chapter.....but I doubt it.

[ Parent ]
Book is out! (4.50 / 4) (#10)
by schrotie on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 09:18:43 PM EST

Sorry, I made a fault, should get my facts right. As quasipalm pointed out the book has already been published as a hardcover. I was mistakenly referring to the paperback which will appear in September 2002. Sorry.

Everything is resonant (3.42 / 7) (#11)
by sigwinch on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 09:34:17 PM EST

Neither does a capacitor show any resonance nor does an inductor. It is not found in resistors and certainly not in the connecting conductors.
The vacuum itself is resonant (see Maxwell's equations), and therefore so is everything in it. You can arrange things so that capacitance or inductance is emphasized, and you can move the resonance crossover point around (within limits), but resonance always exists.

I now go back to fighting to keep my capacitors capacitive on the 150 MHz operational amplifier I am designing into a circuit...

--
I don't want the world, I just want your half.

Frame of reference (3.50 / 4) (#28)
by schrotie on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 03:01:52 AM EST

You mix up different frames of reference. The resonance you are talking about is a purely abstract mathematical concept. It's called "resonance" there to add some meaning for humans. It's just a metaphor, humans are meaning mainliners. We need our dose in everything we want to get into our brain. But it's really only math that can be used to predict the results of certain experiments.
If - as you state - everything were resonant, than resonance would be a completely useless concept since it could not be used for any discrimination.
The resonance I am talking about is something that can be sensually experienced. It's not everywhere. It plays in whole different league than yours ;-)

[ Parent ]
Sexy mofo (1.38 / 13) (#12)
by medham on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 10:05:02 PM EST

And I thought The Perfect Storm guy was a beefcake! I'll be going away for a little bit now.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

Just to be clear (3.80 / 5) (#21)
by inerte on Mon Mar 18, 2002 at 11:18:59 PM EST

Anytime you add two pieces and have a result, you have an emergence? If the pieces are not mimics of the whole.

That's far too vague, if it is the definition I understood. There are infinite similarities and differences on any object.

You could say a metal cup is emergent, since when molded it can hold water, and iron can not. You could go beyond and say it can hold 200ml, while its parts can not.

Is that it?

--
Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.
Plato

Nope (4.66 / 6) (#27)
by schrotie on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:52:53 AM EST

The concept "emergence" is AFAIK only used for systems that show some behaviour. You can pour water into a cup, but no interesting behaviour will occurr. Actually, the cup won't do anything.

Think of it that way: If you have a system that gives a measurable response to certain stimuli then you determine, what concepts you need to describe that response. If you e.g. take a resistor and plug it into a conductor, than you'll see a higher tension if you apply a current. To describe that behaviour you might use the concept of resistance.

Now you look at the various parts of resonance circuit and determine what concepts you need to describe their responce to current. You'll see that the concept of resonance is not needed to describe the behaviour of any of the parts the system, but you need it to describe the compound object - the resonant circuit.

A sloppy definition of emergence is: Emergence is given when the product is more than the sum of the parts. Hm, well I don't like that definition, but maybe it's usefull.

[ Parent ]

Emergence (none / 0) (#50)
by jmzero on Thu Mar 21, 2002 at 06:59:29 PM EST

Things only look emergent when we aren't very good at predicting them.

When I write an "AI" agent that follows a simple algorithm to find a player in a maze, I don't see any "emergent" properties in its behavior. I do see "emergence" when I put in enough interacting AI agents . At some point, I can no longer predict what's going to happen and things start to seem intelligent.

To a being with a certain level of intelligence human beings wouldn't have any "emergent" characteristics. Everything would be boring and deterministic (I believe human action is deterministic, feel free to disagree - in any case the behavior would be boring even if parts of it were random).

You cannot design a system to have emergent properties, it's a contradiction. But if you design a system with flexibility then you'll find it can do things you didn't initially think of.
.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]
Nope again (none / 0) (#52)
by schrotie on Fri Mar 22, 2002 at 06:48:16 AM EST

You can predict resonance in resonant circuits with only some basic physic knowledge and without explicitly knowing resonant circuits. Yet the resonance there is an emergent property.

[ Parent ]
Emergence and Resonance (none / 0) (#53)
by jmzero on Fri Mar 22, 2002 at 11:05:13 AM EST

Resonance is just a name we use to describe a lot of little interactions between those components. It's only for convenience that we talk about resonance. IE - when you put those those components together, their behavior becomes difficult to predict without using a model we call resonance.

And if a being was intelligent enough, that being wouldn't see resonance, he would see a lot of small interactions (and he would be able to predict behavior much better than we can with our resonance model).

Or do you think that resonance is a magic property that the universe endows to these components when they are placed in alignment?

So yes, you have validated my point.


.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]
RE: Emergence and Resonance (none / 0) (#56)
by MrMikey on Sat Mar 23, 2002 at 05:13:21 AM EST

Resonance is just a name we use to describe a lot of little interactions between those components. It's only for convenience that we talk about resonance. IE - when you put those those components together, their behavior becomes difficult to predict without using a model we call resonance.
So, what you are saying is that when we assemble the components of a tuned circuit, we see a pattern of activity we label "resonance." Yes, this is true. None of this, however, contradicts the statement that resonance is an emergent property of tuned circuits. Whether one is capable of predicting resonance or not is irrelevant. Emergence is simply a set of characteristics which are a function of the components of a system and the architecture of their interconnection. It's the difference between a violin and a pile of varnished pieces of wood. When you run Conway's "Game of Life", you can get a pattern of cell activation which propagates across the screen (it's called a "glider"). Could you predict the appearance of gliders based on the characteristics of the base cellular automata? Perhaps... but this phenomena is emergent regardless of one's ability to predict it.
And if a being was intelligent enough, that being wouldn't see resonance, he would see a lot of small interactions (and he would be able to predict behavior much better than we can with our resonance model).
That's a handy (but baseless) assertion you have there. "Intelligent enough"? And, again, emergence doesn't mean "Gee, I never would have predicted that!", though emergent behavior can catch one by surprise. Emergence means "Oh, I see... when you put the parts together, you see this phenomena that isn't a function of the characteristics of any of the parts taken individually, but instead is a consequence of the characteristics of all of the parts and the way in which they are interconnected."

I suggest you do some reading on the subject of "Complex Adaptive Systems", and the Santa Fe Institute. Emergence is more than you believe it to be.

[ Parent ]

Emergence. (none / 0) (#57)
by jmzero on Mon Mar 25, 2002 at 12:01:06 PM EST

Emergence is simply a set of characteristics which are a function of the components of a system and the architecture of their interconnection I think it might be clearer and more general to speak of systems as being the product of their "components" and their "arrangements". In any case, maybe I can clarify my position. We talk about "resonance" because it makes the behavior of that system easier to understand. But that doesn't mean that "resonance" actually exists physically - it's only a model for a complex process. I'm not saying that resonance isn't an "emergent" property. Also, I'm not saying that it isn't an effective model. It's very useful. What I'm asking is this: What does the idea of "emergence" add to our discussion of it or anything else? What am I missing? That's a handy (but baseless) assertion you have there. "Intelligent enough"? I was hypothesizing about how simple processes might appear to a super-intelligent race. Do you not agree with my little hypothesis (and if so, what do you think is wrong?), or are you questioning my right to hypothesize? (Perhaps hypothesizing is too handy?) Here it is again: I believe that to a sufficiently intelligent being, system properties that we see as "emergent" wouldn't be viewed that way. A sufficiently intelligent being wouldn't see "resonance", that being would see a combination of many small interactions. Their sum total would be simple enough that that being would have no need or use for a model like resonance to simplify them. We see "emergent" properties in systems all the time. I do some work with AI, and I can seldom predict what will happen. I see lots of behavior patterns I didn't specify. I'll even give names to these "emergent" behaviors. Recognizing these behaviors will help me to work with and predict the AI (because there's too many steps for me to deal with otherwise). Even though I use these properties, labelling these properties "emergent" doesn't help me understand anything. Nor does talk about possible emergent properties help me to design a system. When you work with a neural net, you have no idea how the system works, even though you understand each node. You end up dealing the behavior of the system as a whole (its emergent properties you might say). But how has the idea of "emergence" helped us understand anything? All we can say is that we can better understand the system's behavior by viewing it as "the system's behavior" (an Emergent(TM) property). This doesn't shed a lot of light on things for me. Doesn't emergence boil down to something like the following? Sometimes we can better predict and understand the behavior of a system by modelling its behavior in terms of its "emergent" properties, properties of the system as a whole. And if we agree that that's what the idea of emergence is getting at, then our only disagreement stems from the fact that I see emergence as uninteresting - and that's a disagreement that can certainly be forgotten about.
.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]
Sorry for the mess. (none / 0) (#58)
by jmzero on Mon Mar 25, 2002 at 12:02:36 PM EST

Guess that'll teach me to post without previewing. I'm used to posting in plain text.
.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]
Your "problem" is ... (none / 0) (#60)
by schrotie on Mon Apr 01, 2002 at 09:15:12 AM EST

... that you grew up with a modern scientific world model. Thus you don't see what that admittedly simple concept achieved. Emergence is indeed a very powerful concept that has replaced myriads of inferior concepts. We ceased to believe that life requires souls to animate it. Life is an ermergent property. We ceased to believe fire is fuled by flogiston (or whatever, I forgot what was supposed to be the driving force of fire). We ceased to believe that concience is ultimatly some obscure homunculus in our heads. And so on, and so on.

The simplicity of the concept of emergence is obviously disappointing to many. The simplicity yields its amazing explanatory power, but on the same time it does explain very little. It just says: there is no magic, yet unfound part in this system that makes it behave thus. It's all a result of the complex interactions of the parts we already know. Therefore emergence is also rather an analytical tool than a design tool. It does however tell you not to go searching for a discrete soul to put in your AI.

Emergence is everything you need when discussing with people that hold esotheric viewpoints. When you understand what emergence is about (and what it's not about), then you probably understand, why they insist on hidden energies and vibrations. And you know what argumentative route to take to face them.

With its simplicity and extraordinary explainative power, emergence is a concept well suited to face Occam's razor. No serious scientist can do without it when he tries to analyze complex systems.

[ Parent ]

Little or no content make this MLP not Technology (1.85 / 7) (#25)
by erp6502 on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 12:28:58 AM EST

I would see Rod Brooks suffer the Hot Needle of Inquiry for introducing the execrable and undefined term emergence to the lexicon. The only good thing to say about it was that it seemed to be dead a few years ago. Now comes along superhunk Steven J. reheating this stale and unpleasing topic simply to squeeze a few bucks out of the unwashed masses of web monkeys.

First Impression: I'm going to run right out and avoid this one.

In any case, resonance is not so complex; it is second-order behavior, and occurs in a large proportion of systems with two coupled degrees of freedom. A better indicator of emergent behavior is the phenomenon of entrainment -- the coupling of two or more similar periodic systems. Favorite examples of this phenomenon are the self-synchronization of pendulum clocks sharing the same wall, or the synchronized blinking of a stationary warm of fireflies.

The poster (and by [perhaps unfair] extension Mr. Johnson) would do well to read the literature.

You talking to me? (4.44 / 9) (#26)
by schrotie on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:41:06 AM EST

I assume by poster you are refering to me ...
I wrote my master thesis on insect inspired robot navigation and are now working on my phD thesis which is about insect inspired gait generation in a six legged walker.

I'd appreceate it if you were a bit more carefull with dealing out insults.
I have actually emphasized that the notion of emergence is a buzzword. If you do use it carefully though, the concept is usefull for describing certain phenomina.

In any case, resonance is not so complex;
Really great. How about the brain? It's the most complex known system and does probably sport emergence galore. Ah and lots of people love to apply the term to it. Guess what the point of using a simple example is? Resonant circuit was deliberately chosen as the simplest example that I know. If you know some physics it's rather obvious how the resonance comes to be. Your examples are IMHO much harder to understand und thus much worse.

As for avoiding that book - I certainly do not intent to read another popular cientific book on the topic if I don't have to. There are however some poor ignorants around us that don't share in our superior wisdom. I thought the book might make an interesting read for these mere mortals.

[ Parent ]

Emergence is a cognitive process (4.00 / 8) (#31)
by bob6 on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 09:48:21 AM EST

For beginners there's a quite good article about emergence from the Media Lab (Java).

Now a mind experience.
Think about yourself, your body then any cell of your body. This cell contains a lot of molecules, these molecules gathered makes the cell.
For the next week, the molecules will be catabolized (destroyed) and others anabolized (built). The same cell still exists but most of its component molecules have changed.

Scale out, back to your body.
Your body constantly destroy and buid cells, replaces old cells with new ones. The next month you will still exist (hopefully) but half of your cells won't be the same. After a year, you won't have much in common with yourself right now. Scary, isn't it ?

What is the connection with emergence ? You and everyone around you will see you as the same person as last year even if the cells are not the same, because stable emergent properties makes you you.

Scale out, take the country where you live in.
People die and are born in this country since a long time. The culture that makes your country unique and distinct still the same along several generations even if the inhabitants are not the same.

Uh... Ok I'll stop there and end with the point.
Emergence is what your mind does when it recognises an object :
  • distinct from whatever surrounds that object
  • stable along time
  • compound parts are left aside
  • recognized by its properties and behaviour
The vertiginous part is that, like any cognitive process, emergence is performed by your brain which is your brain which is emergent itself...

Cheers.
Hmmm... (3.00 / 2) (#34)
by erp6502 on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 11:35:27 AM EST

You've done a much better job than the original poster of explaining the topic; let me see if I've got it straight:
  • You defer the definition of emergence, calling it a cognitive process.
  • You claim that cognitive or precognitive processes re-cognize long-range order in the evolution of some cellular automata with certain initial conditions.
  • You liken our physical, consensual, and cosmological reality to a fractal.
  • In support of these points, you've done point-and-click due diligence to unearth an antediluvian Media Lab demo for kids.
In short, you've brilliantly made the point that there's no point to make and saved the best for last in that breathy closing line, with which I have to agree: Yes, this is vertiginous stuff, i.e., characterized by or suffering from vertigo or dizziness and inclined to frequent and often pointless change.

[ Parent ]
XML (5.00 / 2) (#36)
by schrotie on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 12:33:50 PM EST

I find the comment rather original - for the elegant prose style in which the much overused vicous circle argument was brought forward.

Sadly though it's obviously not that much overused that people don't fall for it anymore. Thus three remarks:

  • Emergence is not a cognitive process but an abstract concept.
  • There is no proof that systems in principle can't describe themselves. You can e.g. describe XML in XML. The complexity argument (brain can't understand anything that's as or more complex than itself) is rather vain - science is all about simplification.
  • Some of the attractiveness of the concept of emergence lies in its breaking the vicious circle that persisted while the homunculus concept was used (see e.g. Descartes) to approach the phenomenon of mind.


  • [ Parent ]
    Alan's machine too (4.00 / 1) (#38)
    by bob6 on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:12:59 PM EST

    I find the comment rather original - for the elegant prose style in which the much overused vicous circle argument was brought forward.
    Thanks. It was not really an argument, it's just that some people were not sure what emergence was.
    Emergence is not a cognitive process but an abstract concept
    Since I caught the attention of an authority (yes, you), I'd like to ask : What's the difference ?
    There is no proof that systems... The complexity argument ... is rather vain - science is all about simplification
    I was not exactly saying that. I was just trying to remind that we cannot observe without interpreting, emergent properties are a way of observing/interpreting things.
    There are several posts challenging that resonance is about emergence by giving some alternative explanation of the phenomenon. Perhaps we stop calling something an emergent property when we found a better "how".

    Cheers.
    [ Parent ]
    Emergence, Abstractions and Cognition (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by schrotie on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 07:25:00 PM EST

    Hm well, the short answer is you might be right. Now for the long answer.

    First I want to eleborate a bit on cognition or cognitive processes. In AI cognition is currently an IMHO bad buzzword. Emergence used to be a buzzword but it's now rather well established. It's now heavily leaking into popular science and is a buzzword there. The trouble with cognition is that nobody seems to know what it's really about. Sometimes it means everything that goes on in human (and maybe other) minds. Sometimes it refers to deliberate judgement (whatever that is). My boss thinks that cognition has to do with manipulable world models and I think that might prove to be a promising approach.

    Anyway, I don't like using the notion and would rather refer to biological information processing or something alike. From what is currently known, biological information processing relies (beside other mechanisms) on neural networks. The renowned artificial neural networks are very special cases of neural networks, but it can be shown, that the basic architecture of even these special neural networks allows for turing complete systems.

    That means arbitrary functions can be implemented with them. Or arbitrary streams of information can be mapped into different arbitrary streams of information.
    If you could write down such a function you had a definition of the mental process. If you forget about Heisenberg it's theoreticly possible to achieve such a complete defenition of a given biological information processing system. If you insist: you get a concrete instance of cognition. It's a function.

    You can then go and try to break that function down into logical subfunctions. You can e.g. say that some parts of such a function are representations of concrete things or abstract notions. You might e.g. find something in the function that is a representation of the notion "emergence". That is what you refer to when you say emergence is a cognitive process.

    Philosophy has a long history of arguing the relations between ideas and the minds they are represented in. Platon was famous for (beside other things) stating that ideas have independent existence. That would mean abstractions can be part of a mental processes, but there is more to them then that. Now I'm certainly no philosopher. Thus if you were really serious about asking me as an expert, then you got the wrong man.

    That said, I do in fact think ideas/abstractions/whatever are more than mental representations. Take e.g. the number pi. If there were no sentience in the universe would pi not be 3.14 (or the equivalent in arbitraryly based numeric systems)?
    The fact that every sentient being that tried to determine the area of a circle from its radius would evetually discover pi, suggests - to me - that there is something more to pi than it being a mental representation in my particular mind.
    As for what abstractions are if they are not (just) mental representations - I have no clue how to approach the problem.

    I was just trying to remind that we cannot observe without interpreting, emergent properties are a way of observing/interpreting things.
    Right, but it's not the only possible way of interpreting things. Our original animistic religions did probably not use the concept of emergence. Complex behaviours were interpreted as the actions of spirits. I don't know how old the concept of emergence is, but that's not that interesting anyway. The interesting question is: How useful is it. Is it just a way of hiding our ignorance as a couple of comments suggested? Or does it add to our understanding? I'd say it can do both.

    [ Parent ]
    Links to Amazon (none / 0) (#33)
    by tekue on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 10:33:50 AM EST

    For future reference: if you don't need the reference, links to Amazon.com only need to be in form of http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0123456789, no need for the statistics and session junk they put in the URL.
    --
    Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. --Tom Robbins

    That link doesn't seem to work (none / 0) (#45)
    by quasipalm on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 07:44:05 PM EST

    Just fyi.

    (hi)
    [ Parent ]
    Well, yes... (none / 0) (#47)
    by tekue on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 09:04:44 AM EST

    ...but this one (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345371984) works. The previous one was an example, you need to provide a valid ASIN yourself :)
    --
    Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. --Tom Robbins
    [ Parent ]
    Bullshit (2.00 / 2) (#35)
    by trhurler on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 12:32:18 PM EST

    Resonance is a necessary implication of a certain arrangement of things with certain properties, and if you understand those things and their properties, then you can easily reason out resonance without ever having witnessed it.

    Emergence freaks claim that you cannot predict emergence, and lots of other ridiculous things too. "Emergent behavior" is just the latest buzzword which implies of the user, "I'm a clueless trend following idiot."

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    That is an apt subject for your post (none / 0) (#37)
    by obsidian head on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 12:53:42 PM EST

    Could you personally have derived E=mc2 with just a little reflection? How about the reasoning behind Fermat's Last Theorem?

    Too bad schrotie chose such a simple example. People like you need to pick on them for being, in fact, simple.

    [ Parent ]

    "Bullshit" (4.00 / 2) (#39)
    by Farq Q. Fenderson on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:38:21 PM EST

    Emergence freaks claim that you cannot predict emergence, and lots of other ridiculous things too. "Emergent behavior" is just the latest buzzword which implies of the user, "I'm a clueless trend following idiot."
    That is bullshit. "Emergent Behaviour" and the effects of "Synergy" are essentially the same thing. Have you never heard of something being "more than the sum of its constituent parts"? That's emergence. That's all you need.

    -An "emergence freak"

    farq will not be coming back
    [ Parent ]
    Yes, except... (4.00 / 1) (#40)
    by trhurler on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 02:51:59 PM EST

    In every case where you think something is "more than the sum of its parts," the real problem is that you don't know how to apply the addition operator to the types in question. No thing is more than the sum of its parts.

    Either emergent behavior does not exist(and if you look at a lot of peoples' claims for what it is, it certainly does not,) or else it is nothing but a curiosity of partial understanding and incomplete knowledge. Either way, it isn't worth all this fuss.

    I bet you also like memes and transhumanist singularity blather:)

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    [ Parent ]
    I'm beginning to believe... (none / 0) (#48)
    by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 01:55:15 PM EST

    ...that you just don't understand. That, or you're a troll (if so, bravo!)

    Real life doesn't have any "addition operator" so perhaps you're thinking about it the wrong way. Emergence, as I see it, is very simple. Given a group of phenomena, you either have:

    A) a collection of phenomena, with no effects other than what can already be found in its constituents. I.E. No phenomenon is present that wasn't actually put into the mix. Or:

    B) some phenomenon, or phenomena that was not put into the mix to begin with, in addition to, or instead of one, some or all of the constituent phenomena. This is an emergent phenomenon.

    If you're saying that case B never occurs, then you're challenging the very notion of emergent phenomena (and I'll disagree.) If not, then you're arguing against something else - whatever it is, I don't know.

    Tghe key is to think in terms of *process* - not *matter*. Matter, I believe, is an illusion of process.

    WRT, memes & transhumanism. I haven't read the "blather", because I don't agree with most trashumanists (though I am one, of a sort) and I take memes for granted.

    farq will not be coming back
    [ Parent ]
    Er... (none / 0) (#49)
    by trhurler on Thu Mar 21, 2002 at 12:23:01 PM EST

    some phenomenon, or phenomena that was not put into the mix to begin with, in addition to, or instead of one, some or all of the constituent phenomena. This is an emergent phenomenon.
    If we "think in terms of process" as you request, then the "emergent phenomenon" is nothing but a function of the input processes. It "emerges" in the same way that 4 emerges from adding 1 and 3, and any perceived difference is merely a matter of complexity. If "emergent phenomenon" is just another word for "things I didn't happen to expect when I did this experiment," then it isn't useful. I'm not arguing that your case B never happens - I'm arguing that people have created a mysterious and important sounding term for something that a reasonably bright five year old takes for granted, and are now going around acting like it is something newly grasped.
    Matter, I believe, is an illusion of process.
    I believe you're mistaken on this point, but that's probably an argument for another time.
    I don't agree with most trashumanists (though I am one, of a sort)
    Hard to comment on that, but I never met a transhumanist I didn't disagree with.
    I take memes for granted.
    That is sad to hear. Anthropomorphizing other life forms is bad enough; when people start doing it to information, that's just pathetic, as far as I'm concerned.

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    [ Parent ]
    Indeed (none / 0) (#51)
    by schrotie on Fri Mar 22, 2002 at 06:42:51 AM EST

    It "emerges" in the same way that 4 emerges from adding 1 and 3, and any perceived difference is merely a matter of complexity.
    I could not agree more. Now that we got that settled, I propose we abolish other stupid redundant concepts. To make ends meat we should start with something basic: how about multiplication. Completely redundant concept, you can do anything just as well with sums.

    [ Parent ]
    Hmm... (none / 0) (#54)
    by trhurler on Fri Mar 22, 2002 at 01:53:55 PM EST

    How about this. I'll admit that what I'm sick of is the hype, rather than the idea itself, and you admit that there IS hype and that most people using the term on k5 are just blathering, and we can agree that there is in fact something referred to, however uninspiring it may be to me.

    --
    'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

    [ Parent ]
    Deal (none / 0) (#59)
    by schrotie on Mon Apr 01, 2002 at 08:51:30 AM EST

    Yes, well, I agree.

    [ Parent ]
    Not Bullshit (4.50 / 2) (#41)
    by bodrius on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 04:07:52 PM EST

    Not everyone who believes in emergence is an "emergence freak", and actually I think the example chosen in the article was good precisely because it shows this is not an "emergence freak" case.

    Emergence could always be explained by a full understanding of the interactions between parts, and by fully tracking those interactions. The problem with emergence is that it applies to complex systems, which, as they get more complex, make it very hard to predict this emergence by dealing with the parts.

    Therefore it's usually better, as in more illuminating, to deal with the emergent behavior as a phenomenom by itself. Sometimes it's the only way to deal with it at all.

    Example:

    Life is obviously an emergent behavior. We could, theoretically, predict life if we understood perfectly well the physical world, the chemical interactions that result from that physical world, and the biological interactions that result from those chemical interactions.

    Unfortunately we don't, we won't for a long time, and there's a very good chance we never will because of fundamental physical limitations.

    Even if we did, we would be missing the point that life is a "Big Thing" that's sufficiently complex and worth studying by itself (ok, maybe not with life, but something less obvious).

    Emergence allows us to increase our knowledge of complex systems, and also their original parts, without waiting for thousands of years until we figure out everything else.

    Top-Down analysis is just more efficient than Bottom-Up in some cases.
    Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
    [ Parent ]
    Value of emergence (none / 0) (#55)
    by jmzero on Fri Mar 22, 2002 at 07:04:27 PM EST

    <EM>Emergence allows us to increase our knowledge of complex systems, and also their original parts, without waiting for thousands of years until we figure out everything else. </EM>

    I think we all agree that it's useful to study the properties of complex systems that people are calling "emergent".

    However, "emergence" doesn't allow us to increase our knowledge. Studying interactions and results helps us increase our knowledge - and talking about "emergence" wastes our time. Engineers would manage to come up with the idea of resonance without ever talking about how it's an emergent property.

    It seems that some people view emergence as "the magical value adder", especially when dealing with artificial intelligence.

    "We're going to make a system so complex that we have no hope of understanding it. Hopefully interesting behavior will emerge."

    "I didn't know that the ants would go cover up the light. That's emergent behavior! Awesome!"

    Great. Where's the lesson? How does the study of emergence help us?

    -Sometimes we can't predict how complex systems will turn out.
    -Sometimes we have to study things on a "macro" scale.

    These don't seem like interesting statements, and what else does "emergence" really mean? The idea of "emergence" has this mystique that I don't understand.

    I'm not suggesting that you are an emergence-freak, but I've certainly read enough articles that see emergence as something magic - more than it really is.

    .
    .
    "Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
    [ Parent ]
    Think! (none / 0) (#44)
    by Groby on Tue Mar 19, 2002 at 07:42:44 PM EST

    I hate to break that to you, but resonance is simple for simple setups. Ever heard of Tacoma Narrows Bridge?

    This is a perfect example for emergent behavior. Given enough time and resolution, the outcome could have been predicted. However, we're still working on a model of what exactly happened. This, IMHO clearly qualifies as emergent behavior that is not easily predictable...

    Maybe emergent behavior is not only a buzzword...

    [ Parent ]

    other clueless trend following idiots (1.00 / 1) (#46)
    by etherdeath on Wed Mar 20, 2002 at 01:01:22 AM EST

    It doesn't imply anything to other clueless trend following idiots like myself.

    [ Parent ]
    Steven Johnson: Emergent qualities in software | 60 comments (53 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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