Are the cells that make up your brain smart on their own accord? What about the proteins that make up those cells? Or the molecules that form those proteins? At what point does a group of neurons start to become “smart”?

Quite the thought, huh? This pattern of complexity arising from simplicity can be found in every corner of the universe, from the tiniest atom to the grandeur of space. So what makes this seemingly universal property so cool? Well, we’ll explore that a little today.

This property of small, individual things, coming together to form bigger things that have different properties than the sum of their parts is called emergence, and from music to ant colonies, cities to galaxies, we can see it crop up time and time again. Trust me, once you know that it’s out there you’ll begin to see it everywhere.

The topic can be a little difficult to wrap your mind around, but we found this great video from Kurzgesagt that explains the ins and outs of emergence and how all of our lives are shaped by this remarkable property of the universe.

Celebrating the complexities with emergence…

It’s fascinating to think about the point at which life becomes life. The moment at which atoms come together to form molecules, proteins, cells, and eventually us. How we gather together to form cultures, and how those cultures interact to shape global politics.

5 minutes

Fire Ants: The Material of the Future?

Did you know that a colony of fire ants can act as a liquid and a solid? We know, it sounds crazy, these little guys have a lot they can teach us!

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Honestly, I had never thought about the wonderful complexity of the world around me in terms of emergence. Yet it makes us who we are, and shapes nature, culture, and the forces of the universe.

When you start to break down life’s most complex systems, the simplicity they stem from is beautiful.

Knowing that emergence is here, and happening all around (and inside) of us, allows for a new appreciation to grow towards subjects that go even further than how an ant colony functions, or how termites manage to build some of the most complex skyscrapers in the animal kingdom.

7 minutes

Meet the Planet’s Most Remarkable Engineers

Imagine a world of natural air conditioning, vertical farming, and sky scrapers that rival our tallest buildings. You don't have to travel to the future to see any of this, all you have to do is turn to the insect world!

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I often find myself anxious about pondering the complexities of the universe. For me now, an understanding of emergence gives me a lens with which to look at those complexities and not see randomness or chaos beyond my realm of understanding, but instead the beauty in the individual layers that make the world around us so rich.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Yeah, emergence may seem a bit complicated, but it’s everywhere! 

So take a look at some of the beautiful parts of our natural world in this category, and see if you can spot how emergence may be at play!

Nature on EWC

And make sure you’re subscribed to us! You don’t want to miss your dose of optimism.

Notes:

  1. “Emergence – How Stupid Things Become Smart Together.” YouTube, Kurzgesagt, 16 Nov. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16W7c0mb-rE&feature=youtu.be.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO Ever Widening Circles

Liesl is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—yoga lover. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV