Friday, April 1, 2011


. Friday, April 1, 2011

Sometimes I really like David Brooks.

Public life would be vastly improved if people relied more on the concept of emergence...

We often try to understand problems by taking apart and studying their constituent parts. But emergent problems can’t be understood this way. Emergent systems are ones in which many different elements interact. The pattern of interaction then produces a new element that is greater than the sum of the parts, which then exercises a top-down influence on the constituent elements.

Culture is an emergent system. A group of people establishes a pattern of interaction. And once that culture exists, it influences how the individuals in it behave. An economy is an emergent system. So is political polarization, rising health care costs and a bad marriage.

Emergent systems are bottom-up and top-down simultaneously. They have to be studied differently, as wholes and as nested networks of relationships. We still try to address problems like poverty and Islamic extremism by trying to tease out individual causes. We might make more headway if we thought emergently.
Indeed. Why doesn't the logic of emergence play a more central role in social science thinking? I wonder this especially about the social science of international politics which, arguably, are fundamentally a product of a complex adaptive system.


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