# rwemack comments on The Futility of Emergence - Less Wrong

29 26 August 2007 10:10PM

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Comment author: 12 August 2010 12:17:36AM 5 points [-]

I think you are railing against the way emergence is used as opposed to itself as a theory.

Emergence theory can be helpful in breaking down complex systems to gain a better understanding of how they work. If the behavior of a system is dominated by a decentralized and internal control mechanism, then it is emergent. If the behavior is dominated by a centralized or an external control mechanism then it is non-emergent.

Let's take for an example the complex movement of a bee swarm. From casual observation, it looks to be a single entity that has an intelligence of itself. As a layman, upon looking at this, I could take a guess that perhaps it is magic, or the Queen bee is in full control somehow.
If somebody tells me that it is in fact emergent, then I can understand and predict the bee swarm much more accurately. I can see that each individual bee's behavior influences it's neighbor's in such a way to produce a highly complex and sophisticated system. I will be able to model and predict the swarm much more accurately than if I thought it was controlled by the Queen via pheromones, for example.
This theory also has the luxury of being testable.

Also, we can use emergence as an approach engineering problems as well. Since video games were used as an example before, let's use them again. Say we wanted to make a game where the player is being chased by formations of monsters.

One approach would be to create a computer AI to direct the monsters in a line and move towards the player. This would be non-emergent.

Another would be to create the monsters as individual objects that move towards the next nearest monster and also towards the player but at a slower rate. This would tend create clusters of monsters that charged towards the player. Now, what if had the monsters move towards the player and the next nearest monster, but away from the second nearest monster. This would tend to create lines of monsters that moved towards the player.

So, to force you to talk about emergence, I would like to propose a theory about your chosen profession, computer AI. (Caveat, I don't really know anything about it) Software AI* is non-emergent.
Neural Networks are emergent.

• This does not count software that is modeling the human brain on a neural level.
Comment author: 30 January 2011 03:49:20AM 1 point [-]

Does an emergent bee swarm follow the same rules as an emergent market?

That is, can you take the rules of emergence and apply them to both as is - including only the necessary details (like how many bees or the number of stocks)?

If so, you have a testable theory. If not, you have phlogiston.

As Wikipedia describes them, "weak emergence" seems to be what the people above are talking about - that is the properties of the whole can be described/predicted by the interactions of its parts, and "strong emergence" which says the properties of the whole cannot be described/predicted by the interaction of its parts - seems to be what EY is talking about.

The notion of strong emergence, to me, seems nonsensical. I also see no formula for emergence of any kind, which suggests to me that it is not intended to make any predictions - only describe events after they occur. That sounds a lot like phlogiston to me.