From AnthroWiki
Revision as of 15:08, 30 January 2022 by Odyssee (talk | contribs)
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

Emergence (from Latinemergere "to appear, to come forth, to show itself") is the term used today to describe the phenomenon that some spontaneously and unpredictably occurring properties of a structured system cannot be explained by its parts alone. The Austrian behavioural biologist Konrad Lorenz had instead proposed the term fulguration (from Latinfulgur "lightning") to clearly indicate that in this process, not already existing but previously hidden properties "emerge", as the German translation of the word emergence suggests, but actually spontaneously emerge completely new.

The supersummativity, according to which the whole is more than its parts, was first pointed out in philosophical clarity by Aristotle:

„That which is so composed of constituent parts as to form a unified whole is not after the manner of a heap, but like a syllable, that is evidently more than merely the sum of its parts. A syllable is not the sum of its sounds: ba is not the same as b plus a, and flesh is not the same as fire plus earth.“

Aristotle: Metaphysics, Book 8.6. 1045a: 8-10.

The emergence theory was developed by the British philosophers Samuel Alexander (1859-1938) and Conwy Lloyd Morgan (1852-1936), who regarded the formation of consciousness as an evolutionary phenomenon that could not be adequately explained biologically. Another important representative of emergence philosophy or emergentism, whose findings are again attracting increasing attention in the philosophy of mind today, is C. D. Broad (1887-1971).

However, the phenomenon of emergence is much broader than this and is not limited to the emergence of consciousness.

„Among the most puzzling and yet fundamental phenomena of the universe is emergence: the appearance of new properties at each higher level of complexity that could not have been foreseen at the preceding level. An example: the characteristics of life cannot be derived from inanimate matter. Regardless of how far one pushes research in physics and chemistry, one will never be able to predict the specific behaviour of living organisms in this way. It seems to be a universal principle that the (more complex) whole cannot be traced back to its (simpler) parts. No level of increasing complexity is exempt from this. At the level of atoms: When the hydrogen and oxygen atoms are considered in isolation, nothing points to the properties of a water molecule. Or at the end of the scale: The characteristics of consciousness do not result from the extrapolation of behaviour.“ (Lit.: Kiefer, p. 33)

Carl Gustav Hempel and Paul Oppenheim, in their article Studies in the Logic of Explanation[1] published in 1948, characterise emergence according to their deductive-nomological model as follows:

„Generally speaking, the concept of emergence has been used to characterize certain phenomena as "novel", and this not merely in the psychological sense of being unexpected, but in the theoretical sense of being unexplainable, or unpredictable, on the basis of information concerning the spatial parts or other constituents of the systems in which the phenomena occur, and which in this context are often referred to as wholes. Thus, e.g., such characteristics of water as its transparence and liquidity at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, or its ability to quench thirst have been considered as emergent on the ground that they could not possibly have been predicted from a knowledge of the properties of its chemical constituents, hydrogen and oxygen. The weight of the compound, on the contrary, has been said not to be emergent because it is a mere "resultant" of its components and could have been predicted by simple addition even before the compound had been formed.“

Hempel, Oppenheim: Studies in the Logic of Explanation, p. 147


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: verlag@steinerverlag.com URL: www.steinerverlag.com.
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold
steinerbooks.org - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.


  1. Carl Gustav Hempel, Paul Oppenheim: Studies in the Logic of Explanation, in: Philosophy of Science 15 (1948), 135–175; reproduced in Hempel: Aspects of Scientific Explanation; pdf