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Dizhechko Semyonovich: on 3/17/17 at 17:55pm UTC, wrote Dear Antony Garrett Lisi I inform all the participants that use the...

Predrag Bokšić: on 3/17/17 at 4:35am UTC, wrote Do you agree with the idea of "Substrate-Independence" from Max Tegmark? ...

Vladimir Fedorov: on 3/16/17 at 12:34pm UTC, wrote Dear Antony, I esmete hight the perfection, accuracy and brevity of your...

Anonymous: on 3/12/17 at 22:36pm UTC, wrote Dear Antony Garret Lisi I invite you and every physicist to read my work...

Graham Cookson: on 3/6/17 at 14:33pm UTC, wrote Dear Antony, What a beautifully written essay! You caught the natural...

Cristinel Stoica: on 3/4/17 at 18:57pm UTC, wrote Dear Garrett, I enjoyed reading your essay, which is well written and...

Stefan Keppeler: on 3/2/17 at 14:27pm UTC, wrote Dear Garrett, this beautiful text would make a great preface for a...

Steve Agnew: on 2/27/17 at 3:35am UTC, wrote You have got to be kidding...


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March 23, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Emergence by Antony Garrett Lisi [refresh]
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This essay's rating: Community = 4.8; Public = 6.0

Author Antony Garrett Lisi wrote on Jan. 10, 2017 @ 21:51 GMT
Essay Abstract

Everything complex emerges from vast numbers of simpler things and their interactions.

Author Bio

Physicist, Pacific Science Institute

Download Essay PDF File

Eckard Blumschein wrote on Jan. 11, 2017 @ 14:26 GMT
Dear author,

I admire your excellent style, and I agree with you up to page 3. However, I doubt that structures that are documented in the strata in the earth's surface arose from a comprehensive scientific foundation.


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Author Antony Garrett Lisi replied on Jan. 17, 2017 @ 18:36 GMT
That analogy was part of the metaphorical allegory.

John C Hodge wrote on Jan. 11, 2017 @ 19:37 GMT
Would you go another step - that emergence is a principle of the universe. Do you accept that emergence implies the whole is greater than the sum of the agents.


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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 02:10 GMT
Antony Garrett Lisi,

Your essay assumes the emergence of something, somehow.

Firstly, the essay doesn’t give examples of simple emergence which might help to explain more complex emergence.

E.g. does anything “arise naturally” when elementary particles interact, or atoms interact, or molecules interact, or large molecules like DNA interact (there are approximately 204 billion atoms in a human DNA molecule [1])? Surely you need a few examples of simple emergence in order to hypothesise that something similar, but bigger, could emerge out of the 100 trillion atoms interacting in a human cell? Your example of acidity is just an example of a higher-level description of existing properties, not an example of “qualitatively new properties” arising.

Secondly, the essay doesn’t say what “qualitatively new properties” might emerge. What type of thing or quality are we looking for, or does fully developed “thought, passion, love” emerge ex nihilo?

Thirdly, the essay doesn’t say how to represent emergence. Does a third dimension emerge out of a 2 dimensional graph? Are the shapes, that are sometimes observed on a graph of a complex system, analogous to the emergence of something? From what point of view does something emerge: from the point of view of a pixel embedded in a representation of a complex system, or from the point of view of someone observing the whole representation of the complex system?


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Lorraine Ford replied on Jan. 15, 2017 @ 00:37 GMT
(Antony) Garrett (Lisi),

To further pursue the issue of the mathematical representation of emergence:

1. Human observers are already highly evolved, and they have a high-level point of view. From the point of view of human observers, shapes can seem to emerge from graphical representations of the numerical values of complex system parameters (e.g. the Mandelbrot set), but it takes a pre-existing higher-level point of view to observe it. These shapes do not represent emergence - they only represent a set of numerical values (and they do not represent the emergence of a “set”!). Nothing new is happening from the point of view of the pixels representing the complex system: the numerical values are changing, that is all that is happening.

2. Emergence can be represented on a graph of the numerical values of system parameters if and only if you can get an equation for a new system parameter, or alternatively a new equation for an existing system parameter, to emerge from this graph. Logically, such a thing can never occur.

Conclusion: There can be no emergence from graphs representing complex mathematical systems. “Emergence” describes what happens when an equation for a new system parameter is introduced to the system, or a new equation for an existing system parameter is introduced to the system. These new equations are ex nihilo introductions to a mathematical system: they cannot evolve from a mathematical system.

Similarly, in actual reality, emergence is the equivalent of ex nihilo introductions of new equations to the system.

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Lorraine Ford replied on Jan. 17, 2017 @ 13:11 GMT
Re Emergence:

arieties-of-emergence : A transfixing audiovisual dive into varieties of emergence.

But the issue is not “how does structure emerge?”. The issue is “how do rules (representable by mathematical equations) emerge?”. The answer is that rules that control the system in question don’t emerge: rules are ex nihilo introductions to the system.

If you don't or can't add new rules to the system, the system is stagnant.

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Joe Fisher replied on Jan. 17, 2017 @ 16:50 GMT
Dear Ms. Ford,

No matter how “evolved” human observers might become, they can only observe surface for only surface has ever existed.

Simple natural reality has nothing to do with any abstract complex musings such as the ones you effortlessly indulge in. As I have thoughtfully pointed out in my brilliant essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY, the real Universe consists only of one unified visible infinite surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light. Reality am not as complicated as theories of reality are.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Jan. 12, 2017 @ 03:34 GMT
I especially like your beginning: "Thought."

Reminds me of the equation "self=(thinking, self)."


self = (thinking, (thinking, self))

self = (thinking, (thinking, (thinking, self)))

And so on and so on, until one day, in some cases, it's just


At this level, "self" is maximal simplicity. But underneath is complexity we don't yet understand-- breath, the proprioceptor system that works with it, for example.

Thanks for a great essay!

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David Brown wrote on Jan. 14, 2017 @ 11:26 GMT
"... to simulate something does not mean you understand the thing ..." The preceding is an important point — but I say that if you study a thing and ignore an important genius then you should be sure that the work of that genius is not relevant to that thing. I say that Milgrom is the Kepler of contemporary cosmology. I noticed that in your 2007 publication "An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything"

there are 22 references, but none to Milgrom's MOND. Do you think that MOND is wrong? Do you think that MOND can be explained by conventional physics?

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Joe Fisher wrote on Jan. 15, 2017 @ 15:40 GMT
Dear Dr. Garrett,

Every real thing has a real surface. This real surface did not emerge from anywhere.

One real Universe must have only one reality. As I have thoughtfully pointed out in my brilliant essay, SCORE ONE FOR SIMPLICITY, the real Universe consists only of one unified visible infinite surface occurring in one infinite dimension, that am always illuminated by infinite non-surface light. Reality am not as complicated as theories of reality are.

Joe Fisher, Realist

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Lorraine Ford wrote on Jan. 21, 2017 @ 00:29 GMT
Antony Garrett Lisi,

Re the fact that structure emerges from a graphical representation of a system, but the rules that control the system structure don’t emerge from the system – the rules are in effect ex nihilo additions to the system:

In a complex system, anything that has control of the rules (that in turn control the parameter numeric value outcomes) has control of the system. E.g. if a pixel, in a graphical representation of a complex system, had agency and could occasionally make its own rule for one of its own parameter numeric value outcomes, then that pixel has partial control of the complex system in which it is immersed. In a graphical representation, “agency” is about control of the rules.

Getting back to real life, as opposed to graphical representations of systems, “the character of the natural world” we live in is fundamentally about agency: “quantum theory is fundamentally about agency”. “In some way yet to be fully fleshed out, each quantum system seems to be a seat of active creativity and possibility, whose outward effect is as an “agent of change” for the parts of the world that come into contact with it. Observer and system, “agent and reagent,” might be a way to put it.” [1]

1. QBism: Quantum Theory as a Hero's Handbook, Christopher A. Fuchs & Blake C. Stacey,

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Jan. 21, 2017 @ 07:40 GMT
Garrett, you should read my footnote about "The Dream Child Hypothesis."

It talks about the emergence of dreams, and that they can exist on their own, before the self they have been waiting for exists. If the self never comes, dreams die, of course. But at least no self has died. Anyway, that's what the footnote is about-- the mathematics and the neuroscience.

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Joseph J. Jean-Claude wrote on Jan. 21, 2017 @ 14:48 GMT
The author offers an interesting interpretation of the structural development of matter in ever more complex shells with the notion of "emergence". However, he does not offer a mathematical basis or any element thereof as to how emergence is construed. Short of proposing a mathematical view of how intentionality emerges, some mathematical sense of the very construct of emergence should have at least been proposed in my view. Good flowing writing style though.

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Jan. 21, 2017 @ 22:45 GMT
Hi Garrett,

I really enjoyed reading your essay.I think you present a really good argument and clearly explain emergence. I wonder do you really think it could be emergence all the way down (rather than turtles) and no foundational level of material reality; Or was that just a clever and amusing way to wrap the essay up?

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Stefan Weckbach replied on Jan. 22, 2017 @ 11:51 GMT
Hi Georgina,

happy that you contribute to the discussions!

Do you elaborate an essay for the current contest? Your ideas are always interesting.

Best wishes

Stefan Weckbach

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Georgina Woodward replied on Jan. 23, 2017 @ 03:08 GMT
Just starting to think about it Stefan; maybe.

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Stefan Weckbach wrote on Jan. 22, 2017 @ 12:05 GMT
Dear Antony Garrett Lisi,

you give a concise summary of the concept of emergence. I like your clear and straightforward writing style and you make your main points easy to trace.

You point out that the core idea of emergence is its cumulative effects of systematical side-effects of some compounded systems. I understand these side-effects being systematical per definition (this is...

view entire post

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Jack Hamilton James wrote on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 00:03 GMT
Thanks for your interesting article, I enjoyed it.

If we arrange some match sticks we get a triangle. Or we get a square.

But to get a square we have to add one more matchstick.

Are squares and triangles real? Or just perception?

All perception of these properties is derived from consciousness, which is itself by this logic an emergent property of the arrangement of biological life.

So are any of these properties actually real?

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 1, 2017 @ 00:25 GMT
You say.... Hierarchical levels exist for human behavior. Say particle level, atomic level, chemical properties level, etc....

But what will guide at the top level...?

What is that top level... ?

Why that level will decide the goals.....?

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Jochen Szangolies wrote on Feb. 1, 2017 @ 13:11 GMT
Dear Garrett,

I enjoyed reading your essay. Despite its brevity, it manages to make an important point: to paraphrase, that while in principle everything is determined by knowing the exact configuration of some fundamental stratum (if such exists) and the laws according to which it behaves, it is not generally the case that this knowledge suffices to effectively derive all facts on higher level strata. There are no shortcuts for complex systems.

While thus everything is ontologically of one piece, epistemically, regarding our knowledge of the world, it is often practically impossible to reduce higher-level behaviours and properties to lower-level interactions (while the former are nevertheless completely determined by the latter). Hence, we observe the emergence of novelty in sufficiently complex systems---where 'sufficiently complex' here may be surprisingly simple: after all, even the three-body problem does not admit of a general analytic solution, and as you note, we tend to have to deal with systems (such as the human brain) which are a little bit more complex than that.

But I would have hoped for a more in-depth discussion of how such emergence may proceed---that is, how one can use the concept of emergence in order to build a bridge between the base physical facts about the universe and the facts about, e.g., human psychology, which seem to differ from the physical facts in kind, and not just in degree. I think the essay would have gained much from a more explicit discussion in this regard.

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Author Antony Garrett Lisi replied on Feb. 1, 2017 @ 23:42 GMT
Thanks for this comment. You're right that this essay would benefit from an in-depth technical example of how emergence happens from one strata to another, but since there are a multitude of readily available examples within each scientific field, I chose to leave it as an exercise for the reader.

Steve Dufourny wrote on Feb. 11, 2017 @ 08:52 GMT
Hello Mr Lisi,

You merit a prize also, your technical method is very relevant.I learnt new things, thanks for sharing.

All the best and good luck in this contest

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basudeba mishra wrote on Feb. 19, 2017 @ 04:16 GMT
Dear Sir,

We thoroughly enjoyed your essay.

You are right when you say: “Our fates are not guided by mystical energies or the motions of the planets against the stars”. But when you say: “Thought, passion, love... this internal world we experience, including all the meaning and purpose in our lives, arises naturally from the interactions of elementary particles”, can you explain the mechanism? Can “unimaginably large numbers of interactions” “make this magic possible”? A mountain is made up of more number of quarks and leptons than human beings, which are subject to the same interactions on a larger scale. Do they exhibit similar emotions? The technological advancements in various sectors has led to data-driven discoveries in the belief that if enough data is gathered, one can achieve a “God’s eye view”. Data is not synonymous with knowledge. Knowledge is the concepts stored in memory. By combining lots of data, we generate something big and different, but unless we have “knowledge” about the “physical mixing procedure” to generate the desired effect, it may create the Frankenstein’s monster - a tale of unintended consequences.

You talk about emergent strata. But what is emerging? Is it the laws of Nature or their revelation to us? In the present context, the obvious answer is the second. But the first cannot be ignored. We find a set of rules that remain invariant through space and time. The same with objects (matter) and forces (energy). But then, we are also finding hints about their unification. They must have emerged from some common source. Our goal is to find that common source by moving from diversity to unity – not emergence, but convergence.



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Willy K wrote on Feb. 22, 2017 @ 14:07 GMT
Excellent writeup, though brief. Really enjoyed reading it, since it dovetailed very well with my own views regarding emergence. So far, I am yet to find another writeup that matches my views so closely. Somewhat depressing given that there are over 50 submissions already.

The only place where I would beg to differ would be the outermost layers of emergence being sociology and economics. My essay is premised on the current final layer being the constitutional nation state. Economics can be shown to be embedded within it (as a kind of sub-emergence), but sociology probably can't be. At best, the constitutional setup can be modeled to rise naturally from the normal social interactions of people. I am not too sure, but I don't think that would qualify as sociology.

Apparently, my essay is unfamiliar territory for most people on this forum. Do you think I should publish it on viXra for better feedback (they have a section for social science). I entered the contest primarily to get feedback on the work so that the mistakes could be rectified and the model could be improved. That doesn't appear likely as of now.

Warm Regards, Willy

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Feb. 23, 2017 @ 06:12 GMT
I enjoyed this essay greatly Garrett..

You do a really excellent job of summing up exactly what emergence gives us, where differences in kind arise from the shift in scale resulting from the vastness of huge numbers. I talk about a mechanism for emergence in my own essay, but you say almost everything I don't - the nuts and bolts of what it is - and I thank you for your effort. The brevity was refreshing, but also a little disappointing as your unique view on some points might be valuable - had you elaborated.

Your contribution certainly adds to the mix, in this year's contest. Though brief; your essay has many useful insights. I hope you do well here in the contest, and I hope you enjoy our contributed efforts as well. I feature the octonions and mention E8 prominently, in my essay, so even though I don't mention your work specifically - I do talk about things you know about, or appreciate, and I'd value your opinion.

All the Best,


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Natesh Ganesh wrote on Feb. 23, 2017 @ 23:56 GMT
Dear Anthony,

A short and good essay on what I would agree as well is the path to the solution. You might be interested in my submission 'Intention is Physical' where I show how higher level goals and objectives can emerge as a tradeoff between energy dissipation and complexity.


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Steve Agnew wrote on Feb. 27, 2017 @ 03:35 GMT
You have got to be kidding...

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Stefan Keppeler wrote on Mar. 2, 2017 @ 14:27 GMT
Dear Garrett, this beautiful text would make a great preface for a collection of more technical papers on different emergent phenomena. For the purpose of this contest I think it would have benefited from a more detailed discussion on how goal-oriented behavior fits into this general scheme of emergence. But I like your essay nevertheless. Cheers, Stefan

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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 18:57 GMT
Dear Garrett,

I enjoyed reading your essay, which is well written and contains good arguments in favor of reductionism.

I consider reductionism should be the default position, and give up only when it is clear that it won't work. In my essay I discuss some possible limitations of reductionism, and I would welcome your critical view on these.

Best regards,

Cristi Stoica

The Tablet of the Metalaw

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Graham Walker Cookson wrote on Mar. 6, 2017 @ 14:33 GMT
Dear Antony,

What a beautifully written essay! You caught the natural power of emergence in an almost poetic manner. However, science focuses on phenomena that can be mathematically modeled. This tendency has resulted in blind-spots when addressing an understanding of emergency. Within this area of interest there exists much more mystery. It can be beauty itself, but there exist unknowns too. I don’t feel that in your essay. Thank you, Graham

PS. Excellent last sentence… a nod to ‘elephants’.

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Anonymous wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 22:36 GMT
Dear Antony Garret Lisi

I invite you and every physicist to read my work “TIME ORIGIN,DEFINITION AND EMPIRICAL MEANING FOR PHYSICISTS, Héctor Daniel Gianni ,I’m not a physicist.

How people interested in “Time” could feel about related things to the subject.

1) Intellectuals interested in Time issues usually have a nice and creative wander for the unknown.

2) They usually enjoy this wander of their searches around it.

3) For millenniums this wander has been shared by a lot of creative people around the world.

4) What if suddenly, something considered quasi impossible to be found or discovered such as “Time” definition and experimental meaning confronts them?

5) Their reaction would be like, something unbelievable,… a kind of disappointment, probably interpreted as a loss of wander…..

6) ….worst than that, if we say that what was found or discovered wasn’t a viable theory, but a proved fact.

7) Then it would become offensive to be part of the millenary problem solution, instead of being a reason for happiness and satisfaction.

8) The reader approach to the news would be paradoxically adverse.

9) Instead, I think it should be a nice welcome to discovery, to be received with opened arms and considered to be read with full attention.

11)Time “existence” is exclusive as a “measuring system”, its physical existence can’t be proved by science, as the “time system” is. Experimentally “time” is “movement”, we can prove that, showing that with clocks we measure “constant and uniform” movement and not “the so called Time”.

12)The original “time manuscript” has 23 pages, my manuscript in this contest has only 9 pages.

I share this brief with people interested in “time” and with physicists who have been in sore need of this issue for the last 50 or 60 years.


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Vladimir Nikolaevich Fedorov wrote on Mar. 16, 2017 @ 12:34 GMT
Dear Antony,

I esmete hight the perfection, accuracy and brevity of your thoughts in the essay.

You are absolutely right «Our fates are not guided by mystical energies or the motions of the planets against the stars.»

In my essay , is shown that if you do not use the mystical properties of matter and fields, then there is every reason to believe «Everything complex emerges from vast numbers of simpler things and their interactions», that the universe is much simpler than it is thought to be.

I assert that all fundamental interactions have the property of forming a potential pit of stability, as a strong interaction and, therefore, easily are united by a single formalism.

There is only one essence and the only universal quantum mechanism in the universe that operates on the principle of the classical heat pump (air conditioner) in solitons, and that functions both at the micro- and macro-level of fractal matter. This mechanism allows using a small fraction of the external energy to control in many times big fraction the energy of the system. This mechanism allows «It is the unimaginably large numbers of interactions» in solitons, it is easy to formalize in the levels of fractal matter. This mechanism is also the answer to the questions of this competition.

However, everyone loves their fiction and "magic", built by their "gods", so very few are able to see the rational grain in other people's ideas because of their illusions.

My assumptions seem to me simple and logical, but, perhaps, I'm subjective and of course, I would like to know the evaluation of the work from your point of view.

Kind regards,


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Predrag Bokšić wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 04:35 GMT
Do you agree with the idea of "Substrate-Independence" from Max Tegmark?

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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Mar. 17, 2017 @ 17:55 GMT
Dear Antony Garrett Lisi

I inform all the participants that use the electronic translator, therefore, my essay is written badly. I participate in the contest to familiarize English-speaking scientists with New Cartesian Physic, the basis of which the principle of identity of space and matter. Combining space and matter into a single essence, the New Cartesian Physic is able to integrate modern physics into a single theory. Let FQXi will be the starting point of this Association.

Don't let the New Cartesian Physic disappear! Do not ask for himself, but for Descartes.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential in understanding the world. To show potential in this essay I risked give "The way of The materialist explanation of the paranormal and the supernatural" - Is the name of my essay.

Visit my essay and you will find something in it about New Cartesian Physic. After you give a post in my topic, I shall do the same.


Dizhechko Boris

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