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Agents come into, and go out of, existence. For centuries philosophers grappled with a problem: how to distinguish simple ("quantitative") changes from the cases where something really "new" emerges. What does it mean to be "new", to emerge? In our theory this intuitive notion is formalized as the coming of a new agent into existence. An action can lead to an emergence of new agents.

Take, once again, radioactive decay. A neutron suddenly chooses to break down into a proton, electron and neutrino. We saw one agent: the neutron. Now it disappeared, but we see three new agents which will meet their fate independently. This is an emergence.

In the case of complex actions, such as the birth of a baby, we can argue about the exact time of the event, because we have more than one reference system in which to describe actions. As a member of society, the baby emerges at birth. As an object of embryology it emerges at the moment of egg fertilization.

Copyright© 1991 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

V. Turchin,

Sep 1991


Metasystem Transition Theory



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