InterJournal Complex Systems, 1815
Status: Accepted
Manuscript Number: [1815]
Submission Date: 2006
Developing a conceptual model for exploring emergence
Author(s): Diane McDonald ,George Weir

Subject(s): CX.1

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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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