Reality Blind - Vol. 1

as a consequence of the shape of a water molecule, but the dynamics of a snow avalanche could not; that’s emergent on a different scale and from additional forces. Emergent effects in ecology are especially complex - scientists are largely unable to predict what will happen when an ecosystem is altered in some way. Some emergent effects self-assemble: stars are emergent fusion reactors. Hurricanes are emergent shapes from energy flow, gravity, and planetary rotation. The shape of bird flocks is emergent from the sum total of all that went into their evolutionary story and existence. The emergent shape of a murmuration of starlings (shown above) is not something that could be predicted from knowing individual bird behavior. It turns out that when starlings follow 3 simple rules, a) birds that are close to other birds move further apart, b) birds align their speed and direction and c) outer birds move closer to others, an emergent – and beautiful - result of a murmuration ensues. Some emergent effects are possible although very difficult to achieve, such as fusion outside a star, forming ultra-heavy elements, cooking a meal with microwaves, evolving a brain with self-awareness, leaving tire tracks on the moon, and other things we don’t yet know about. Our intuition has evolved to deal with the level of emergent reality which presents itself to us at human size and time scales, but that is only a small slice of reality, and the universe is far stranger than our intuition and “feelings” can grasp. That is why science is necessary to get beyond a simplistic understanding of the world. TaaL: Emergence is a big deal. My species’ most respected scientist claims to have proven that this entire universe is emergent solely from the probabilistic nature of nonexistence, whatever the heck that means. However, Earth’s humans are immersed in emergent realities, and complexity delimited by boundary conditions at smaller scales. It remains to be seen what else may emerge from the human experiment. But new “emergent effects” are nothing to bet on for producing specific miracles on a tight timeline in the face of climatic tipping points. The way to discover them, appreciate them, and use them in the service of life is to survive a long time, because they are not obvious. You can never know what may occur at larger scales and in novel situations. You are in new territory. There may be some hope in the fact you’re in a no -analog situation. Yet by similar token, the death of Venus and Mars as water worlds was also emergent, so I wouldn’t get overly cocky.


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