Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 20, Issue 1, pp 137–151 | Cite as

The Emergence Principle in Biological Hierarchies

  • Robert W. KornEmail author


Emergent properties have been described by Mill, Lewes, Broad, Morgan and others, as novel, nonadditive, nonpredictable and nondeducible within a hierarchical context. I have developed a more definitive concept of a hierarchy that can be used to inspect the phenomenon of emergence in a new and detailed manner. A hierarchy is held together by descending constraints and new features can arise when an upper level entity restrains its components in new combinations that are not expected when viewing these components alone. Examples of emergent features are (i) matching anticodons and amino acids by aminoacetyl-tRNA synthetase enzymes appearing early among the first forms of life, (ii) negative feedback in end-product inhibition first occurring in microbes, (iii) memory in animals and (iv) apical cells in plants. Until recently, life was considered only in terms of physics and chemistry, but now it is known to have a third aspect of information that along with the descendant constraints in its hierarchical organization makes emergentism possible within a reductionist’s framework.


emergence emergentism hierarchy life 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyBellarmine UniversityLouisvilleUSA

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