If there was a simple meaning of the often-used scientific term “emergence,” then 100-plus scientists wouldn’t have spent four days presenting, debating and not infrequently disagreeing about what it was.
But as last month’s organizers of the Earth-Life Science Institute’s “Comparative Emergence” symposium in Tokyo frequently reminded the participants, those debates and disputes are perfectly fine and to be expected given the very long history and fungibility of the concept.
At the same time, ELSI leaders also clearly thought that the term can have resonance and importance in many domains of science, and that’s why they wanted practitioners to be exposed more deeply to its meanings and powers.
Emergence is a concept commonly used in origins of life research, in complexity and artificial life science; less commonly in chemistry, biology, social and planetary sciences; and — originally – in philosophy. And in the 21st century, it is making a significant comeback as a way to think about many phenomena and processes in the world.