Emergent or Just Unexpected?

  • Joyce Fortune
  • Diana White


Discussion within the systems movement about the nature of ‘emergence’ dates back at least as far as Ashby (1956) Ashby (1968) and Bertalanffy (1968) but the concept remains elusive. Over twenty years ago Checkland seemed to provide a more tangible way of viewing it when he linked it firmly to hierarchy and defined it by reference to different hierarchical levels of organization where each particular level is ‘characterised by emergent properties which do not exist at the lower [less complex] level’ (Checkland, 1981). Since then, however, the term has been given a whole new set of meanings. These almost always draw attention to the notion of interaction as a cause of emergence but they also emphasise changes over time and concepts such as unpredictability and counter-intuitiveness which are not specifically linked to the systems vocabulary. For example, Casti (1997) states:

Emergence is the overall system behaviour that comes out of the interaction of many participants. It is behaviour that cannot be predicted or even envisioned from a knowledge of what each component of a System does in isolation.


Emergent Property Safety Measure Seat Belt Risk Compensation Aldine Publishing Company 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joyce Fortune
    • 1
  • Diana White
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Complexity and ChangeThe Open UniversityWalton HallUK

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