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International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2006)

Developing a conceptual model for exploring emergence

Diane McDonald
IRD, University of Strathclyde

George Weir
CIS, University of Strathclyde

     Full text: PDF
     Last modified: May 30, 2006

Abstract
The concept of emergence is increasingly used to describe phenomena
which arise from non-linear interactions within complex systems and
has been identified throughout complex physical, biological and
social systems. While some examples of emergence have been well
documented, emergence is however still not fully understood in all
its manifestations. Theoretical understanding of emergence is still
incomplete, so the Complexity Science vision of seeking out
generalisations based on the well-researched instances of emergence
and using those understandings to make sense of these less researched
complex phenomena cannot yet be fully applied. Current conceptual
models of emergence are too simplistic to be useful when examining
real life social systems or do not encompass the full range of
possibilities. Much of the language currently used to describe
emergence is discipline-centric and there is presently no agreed
definition. If understanding of emergence is to be improved then a
theory or model of emergence should build on cross-disciplinary
commonalities, take cognisance of the fact that various types of
emergent phenomena exist, and enable theorising on why such phenomena occur.

This paper describes our approach to developing a new
conceptual model of emergence, based on synthesis of existing
accounts from physical, biological and social systems. The resultant
conceptual model provides a framework for investigation of emergence
in real complex systems. This paper discusses the rationale for such
a conceptual modelling approach and details the development of the
conceptual model of emergence from the initial synthesis of ideas
through a plausibility testing phase to its application to real
complex systems. Via this real life application, we tested the
validity of the conceptual model and its merits as a framework for
investigating emergence.




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