Article Review
The Demystification of Emergent Behavior
Review by Steven Entezari Article by Gerald E. Marsh 9/22/2011

Steven Entezari I600 - Fall 2011 September 22nd, 2011

The main purpose of this article is to explain emergent behavior. There are many examples of emergent behavior given by the author from many different fields and subjects. Some examples include emergent behaviors identified in artificial insect development, ant colonies, classical mechanics, and quantum chromodynamics. The impact of reductionist ideals, such as constraints, are compared and measured against the emergence of behaviors. Explanation of emergent behavior also involves the identification of corollaries within emergent behavior and its subparts. The author also takes a look at clarifying the process of behaviors emerging from a sum of a systems particular parts.

The key question that the author is asking is “what is emergent behavior?” Drawing from the author’s research and findings, there is no definition of emergent behavior that has been “universally acknowledged”. Also, by understanding the definition of emergence and the concept of the rules of interaction that appear by virtue of a system (the emergent behavior), the predictability of emergent behavior based on a systems parts becomes an avenue of investigation. Delving a bit deeper, within that investigation of interaction, an important principle to defining emergent behavior is to identify what relationships exist, protruding these behaviors as emergent of the system rather than simply a sum of their parts. The author takes a special look at the relationship between internal degrees of freedom and emergence.

The most important information in this article is within examples of emergence and constrains leading to reductionism and its effects on emergence. Using examples from classical mechanics, the author identifies the correlations between internal degrees of freedom and emergence. Systems that have higher degrees of internal freedom establish higher levels of emergence in

Steven Entezari I600 - Fall 2011 September 22nd, 2011

their behaviors. Likewise, systems can be constrained to reduce emergence by restricting internal degrees of freedom. The higher one explores the hierarchy of emergent behavior, the more the organization seems independent of the rules.

The main conclusions in this article are twofold. The first investigates what emergent behavior is. The second identifies ramifications of moving along the emergence hierarchy. Emergent behavior was described by the author as a system that is “greater than the sum of the parts”. The rules and interactions that are exhibited within a system can neither explain nor predict a behavior that emerges based on the interaction of these individual pieces. A hierarchy of emergence exists based upon internal degrees of freedom within the system. As one ascends the emergence hierarchy, more internal degrees of freedom become available. Inversely, as one descends the emergence hierarchy, internal degrees of freedom are eliminated.

The main assumptions underlying the authors thinking are that there are no structured definitions for the concept of emergence and higher levels of detail (meaning smaller pieces of a system) will lead to higher levels of emergent behavior. While the author did identify some descriptions of emergence, there was no proof displayed to show the extent to which the author went to ensure he has thoroughly searched for a definition. There were many examples given to explain emergent properties. Many of them, including one about slowing two particles down, sought to identify more properties within the system, and thus more degrees of freedom. The assumption here is that with more detail there will be more opportunities for degrees of freedom.

Steven Entezari I600 - Fall 2011 September 22nd, 2011

If we accept the author’s line of reasoning, the implications are that we can predict objects with no constraints to have higher emergence than those with constraints. Likewise, while unable to predict specific behaviors of a system, we can identify systems that may have higher emergence than other systems based upon the pieces and degrees of freedom within the system itself. Given that system A has 20 internal degrees of freedom and system B has 100 internal degrees of freedom, we can expect system B to produce a higher-level emergent behavior.

If we reject the author’s line of reasoning, the implications are that emergent behaviors causes remain unknown. As a phenomenon with no explanation, ties between emergence and internal degrees of freedom would be severed. The whole would still be greater than the sum of its parts, but an element in the environment would be the only thing left to be solely responsible for the interaction with the system that causes a system to achieve a behavior uncharacteristic to its individual pieces.

When writing this article, the author’s point of view may have been influenced by his position at the Argonne National Laboratory and the time of the articles publication. The author is an established member of the Argonne National Laboratory, explaining many of the examples for such a multidisciplinary paper being from a physics and chemistry focus. Also, the article was published in 2009, a time when people began feeling the implications of the economic meltdown and individualism was on the rise (Chang, 2009).A need to understand individualism and its effect on the systems production was of ultimate need.

Steven Entezari I600 - Fall 2011 September 22nd, 2011

Works Cited
Chang, D. (2009, January 16). Nine Trends for 2009 for a world in flux. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from Biz Community:

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