Emergence and Human Individuality

I find it very interesting that Individuality is glorified as a modern virtue, when everything in nature tells us the opposite. We humans are experts in categorizing, probably to cope with our brains’ limited capacity, and one area I would like to focus on is natural life and more precisely the hierarchical ordering of organisms and life.

What is clear is that there is an organizational ranking in life somewhat defined in science. We can start with DNA and move to proteins, the cell, the tissue, the organ, the organism, the species, the ecosystem, and may be the biosphere. I may have missed a few at the bottom and in between and who knows may be many more at the top, but you get the idea.

There is a pattern which is apparent to me and that is the interdependence of these levels to each other both horizontally and vertically. By this I mean, if we take the kidney as an organ, it both depends on other organs like the heart, brain, the lungs and others to survive (horizontal dependency) and also very much depends on the cells its made of and the organism it maintains (vertical dependency).

If we accept we are part of this, then we can postulate from there, that not only we are NOT at the top, but also we are an intricate part of a system which we can call the whole. So how can we reconcile this with the modern world adoration toward individuality, self-determination, freedom and liberty.

Either we have got it wrong, which wouldn’t surprise me, or there is another natural mechanism at work, which brings together those apparently contradictory perspectives of autonomy and dependence.

I’d like to think the second of these is correct, where autonomous agents, not under the control of any central authority, following certain rules in a complex system come together and become functionally larger than its parts, through a natural phenomena called Emergence. Simple examples can be seen in ant colonies, flocks or birds, schools of fish.

Major traits of this interaction, are 1. No central authority and 2. The apparent rise of a “Whole”, undeniably different in its behavior from the sum of its parts (the agents), and through evolution is able to function better through the aggregate. Can society as we have developed it function without a central authority, and what do you see emerging?

Please let me know your thoughts, both on the general topic of emergence, and specifically on how it pertains to us humans, who have the ability to think and make choices, and are now endowed with connectivity via the Internet. Where do we fit, and where are we going?

One response to “Emergence and Human Individuality

  1. Pingback: Absolute Knowledge v Absolute Ignorance | SWARM VERDICT·

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