An image of emergence—i.e. that emergent properties, wetness, “emerge” at the holism or system level, that cannot be explained by looking at reductive atomic methods—often used as a tool, along with self-organization, by anti-reductionists to bring, using evasive and subtle methods, spirituality and religion back into science or nature. [6]
In science, emergent property refers to a property, often hypothetical, e.g. "consciousness" or "life", of system that appears, i.e. "emerges", as a result of the interaction or combination of the subcomponents of the system, typically atoms, but is not a property of the individual components themselves. [1]

“A benzene molecule is made of six carbon atoms arranged symmetrically in a ring, to each carbon atom. Apart from its mass, the properties of a benzene molecule are not in any sense the simple arithmetical sum of the properties of its twelve constituent atoms. Nevertheless, the behavior of benzene, such as its chemical reactivity and its absorption of light, can be calculated if we know how these parts interact, although we need quantum mechanics to tell us how to do this. It is curious that nobody derives some kind of mystical satisfaction by saying ‘the benzene molecule is more than the sum of its parts’, whereas too many people are happy to make such statements about the brain and nod their head wisely as they do so.”
Francis Crick (1994), The Astonishing Hypothesis: the Scientific Search for the Soul [11]

The concept of “emergence”, i.e. the view of nature as a series of “emergent levels” rather than a succession of rearrangements of the same elements”, arose sometime in the late 20th-century; though, said to have existed in earlier forms, e.g. Aristotle’s “coming-to-be of what is not.” (Ѻ)

Early usages
The argument that "liquidity" is an emergent property of water, not found in the individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms, has become a classic example in consciousness research circles; who tend to argue that, on this basis, consciousness is an “emergent property” of the brain, not found in the neuroanatomy and or neurochemicals of the brain, or something along these lines. [3] The person who originated this liquid emergence theory, however, is a bit difficult to track down? The following are a few noted historical precursory "emergent property" types of arguments:

In 1843, English philosopher John Mill, in his A System of Logic, according to American anthropological neuroscientist Terrence Deacon, is said to give the first proto-outline of the emergence argument that the "neutral" properties of acid-base reacted compounds, table salt in particular, differ substantially from the acidic/basic toxic nature of the individual compounds. [7]

In circa 1869, French engineer Francois Massieu, in his effort to explain or understand the perceived dualism issue, in his day, of soul vs body or living vs non-living, discussed the idea of splitting apart the water molecule H_2 0 \,into oxygen O_2 \,and hydrogen H_2 \,to see if this answers anything.

In the 1920s, according to Austrian-born American physicist Fritjof Capra, the term "emergent properties", referring to those properties that emerge at a certain level of complexity but do not exist at lower levels, was coined by English science philosopher Charlie Broad (1887–1971). [9] To exemplify, Broad, in his 1925 The Mind and its Place in Nature, spoke of the characteristic properties of silver chloride as being emergent properties:

“No doubt the properties of silver chloride AgCl \,are completely determined by those of silver Ag \,and of chlorine Cl \,; in the sense that whenever you have a whole composed of these two elements in certain proportions and relations you have something which the characteristic properties of silver chloride.”

In 1930, English physicist Oliver Lodge, in his Beyond Physics, of the emergent property argument, which he employed as follows: [10]

“It is proved that neither an atom of hydrogen nor an atom of oxygen has any of the properties of water. The separate atoms acquire those properties in combination. Hence a molecule has properties denied to an atom, and so also an organized assemblage of a large number of molecules; and if the molecular compounds are sufficiently complicated and sufficiently numerous so as to be organized into a portion of protoplasm, then further properties makes it appearance.”

Here, Lodge seems to be alluding to the premise that life (and or spirit) is an emergent property found in or past the protoplasm level of molecular complexity.
Soul (emergent property)
A 2013 depiction of the soul as an emergent property, i.e. a property emerging in the embryo at some day or second in development, according to American priest Nate Bostian and his agnostic science teacher friend. (Ѻ)

Soul | Emergent property
Nearly all emergent properties arguments are attempts to substantiate metaphysical religio-mythology concepts such as: life, soul, consciousness, etc., in semi-scientific sounding guise.

Liquidness as an emergent property of atoms
In 1980, German-born American psychologist Karl Pribram stated: [5]

“Mind so defined, is an emergent property of information processing by the brain much as wetness is an emergent property of the appropriate organization of hydrogen and oxygen into water, and gravity is an emergent property of the organization of matter into interacting masses.”

This statement is somewhat cogent, but one that gives way to the view that "emergent property" is nothing but a plug term, used in place of a more discerning explanation.

American psychologist Richard Lerner, in his 2001 Concepts and Theories of Human Development, gives the over-typical regurgitated method in which the liquid property emergence theory is used to explain various anthropocentric ideologies: [4]

“Knowledge of the functioning of the various subsystems that make up an organism does not lead to an understanding of the whole organism. Water, for example, has an emergent quality (its liquidness) that cannot be understood by reducing water to its constitute (and gaseous) elements (hydrogen and oxygen). Similarly, human beings have unique characteristics (or qualities), such as being able to love, being governed by abstract principles of moral and ethnical conduct, or showing high levels of ‘need achievement’, that emerge as ontogenetically distinct (qualitatively discontinuous) features and cannot be understood by mere reduction to underlying neural, hormonal, and muscular processes.”

The idiocy of this sesquipedalian statement is tremendous, yet one over-typical of those who are anti-reductionists (see: debate). The inane notion that the liquidness of water cannot be understood by studying atoms typically comes from people who have never studies chemistry or physics.
Life as emergent property
A rather hilarious—nearly childlike attempt, from thwink.org (Ѻ), to render a visualization of “life” as an emergent property of the parts of a cell. The opposite of this being the cell-as-molecule model, which jettisons life as a defunct concept.

Life as an emergent property of atoms
In 1872, English physiologist Henry Bastian, in his The Beginnings of Life, outlined a mixture of conservation of energy, vitalism, and emergence of living matter arising from atoms and molecules as follows: [2]

“We know that the molecules of elementary or mineral substances combine to form acids and bases by virtue of their own 'inherent' tendencies; that these acids and bases unite so as to produce salts, which, in their turn, will often again combine and give rise to 'double salts.' And at each stage in this series of ascending molecular complexities, we find the products endowed with properties wholly different from those of their constituents. Similarly, amongst the carbon compounds there is abundance of evidence to prove the existence of internal tendencies or molecular properties, which may and do lead to the evolution of more and more complex chemical compounds. And it is such synthetic processes, occurring amongst the molecules of colloidal and allied substances, which seem so often to engender or give 'origin' to a kind of matter possessing that subtle combination of properties to which we are accustomed to apply the epithet 'living'.”

This, however, is no different that the famous incorrigible molecular “liquidness” is an emergent property of the atoms hydrogen and oxygen combined in the molecular form as H_2 0 \,, which does not exist in the atoms singly, but only "emerges" in the upper level molecular state argument, such as summarized above.

Temperature as an emergent property
See also: Single particle thermodynamics (emergent concepts)
The so-called "temperature" is an "emergent" property premise, i.e. something conceptualized as arising from the holism action of large number of moving particles (or atoms), but not something existing in the individual particle (atom), stems from ideas of Austrian-born English philosopher Karl Popper and his so-called anti-reductionist "disciples", namely: Agassi Joseph (1966, 1976), in particular, along with Paul Feyerabend (1970) and Imre Lakatos (1968), in residual effect. [14]

In 1966, Popper, in his Objective Knowledge, chapter section: “Realism and Pluralism: Reduction versus Emergence”, attempted to solve the seeming “life from non-life puzzle” by positing that life is an emergent property of matter, as follows—with a seeming, to note, indirect assertion that chemistry emerges out of physics, with a certain “temperature” range: [13]

Man produces not only scientific theories but many other ideas—for example, religious or poetical myths or, say, plots for stories. Take physics and chemistry for example; sciences which make assertions about all physical things and physical states, including living organisms. Physics and chemistry are not very different, and there seems to be no great difference in the kind of things to which they apply, except that chemistry, as it is usually understood, becomes inapplicable at very high temperatures and also, perhaps, at very low ones. It therefore would not be very surprising if the hopes, held for a long time, that chemistry can be reduced to physics, were to come true, as indeed they seem to be doing.

Here we have a real paradigm case of a ‘reduction’; by a reduction I mean, of course, that all the findings of chemistry can be fully explained by (that is to say, deduced from) the principles of physics. Although such a reduction would not be very surprising, it would be a very great scientific success. It would not only be an exercise in unification, but a real advance in understanding the world. Let us assume that this reduction has been carried out completely. This might give us some hope that we may also reduce one day all the biological sciences to physics. Now this would be a spectacular success, far greater than the reduction of chemistry to physics. Why? Because the kind of things to which physics and chemistry apply are really very similar from the start. Only think how difficult it would be to say whether the atomic theory is a physical or a chemical theory. In fact, for a long time it was both; and it is this common bond which provides the link which may lead, or perhaps has led, to their unification.

With living organisms the situation is different. They are, no doubt, subject to all kinds of physical and biological laws. Yet there appears to be some prima facie difference [see: unbridgeable gap] between living organisms and non-living things. Admittedly, we learn from science that there are transitory or intermediate stages, and also intermediate systems; and this gives us hope that a reduction might be achieved one day. Moreover, it seems not at all improbable that recent tentative theories about the origin of life on earth might be successfully put to the test, and that we might be able to create primitive living organisms artificially. But even this would not necessarily mean a complete reduction. This is shown by the fact that chemists were able to create all sorts of chemicals, inorganic and organic, before understanding even their chemical composition, to say nothing about their physical structure. Thus even the control of chemical processes by purely physical means is not as such equivalent to a reduction of chemistry to physics. Reduction means much more. It means theoretical understanding: the theoretical penetration of the new field by the old field.

Thus we might find a recipe for creating some primitive forms of life from non-living matter without understanding, theoretically, what we were doing. Admittedly, this would be a tremendous encouragement to all those who seek for a reduction, and rightly so. But the way to a reduction might still be long; and we could not know whether it was not even impassable: there may be no theoretical reduction of biology to physics, just as there seems to be neither a theoretical reduction of mechanics to electrodynamics, nor a theoretical reduction the other way round.

If the situation is such that, on the one hand, living organisms may originate by a natural process from non-living systems, and that, on the other hand, there is no complete theoretical understanding of life possible in physical terms, then we might speak of life as an emergent property of physical bodies, or of matter. Now I want to make it quite clear that as a rationalist I wish and hope to understand the world and that I wish and hope for a reduction. At the same time, I think it quite likely that there may be no reduction possible; it is conceivable that life is an emergent property of physical bodies.”

In 1975, e.g., in the Popper-cited essay collection Analysis and Metaphysics, written by students of American metaphysics philosopher Roderick Chisholm, we find: [15]

“For example, it seems reasonable to postulate temperature as a property that groups of basic particles have, but no individual particles have. Similarly, sensing redly might be postulated as an emergent property that a group of basic particles...”

Prior to this, to note, there is NO published discussion of “temperature”—technically a “tension associated with entropy, following from the zeroth law of thermodynamics” (Pierre Perrot, 1998); understood to be a quantity measureable, on the absolute temperature scale, for every body and or system in the universe.

In 1975, Popper's graduate student Israeli philosopher Agassi Joseph, in his “On the Philosophy of Technology”, directly asks the following: [12]

Is temperature an emergent property? The movement of molecules in a gas is related to the temperature of a gas. It would seem impossible to predict that a change in velocity of a set of individuals could result in a temperature change of a population made up of those individuals.”

In 1976, James Franklin, in his General Systems, was citing Popper’s “life is an emergent property” in conjunction temperature described as an emergent property, to give the argument seeming support: (Ѻ)

“… dynamics is not able to explain even thermodynamics, for which the emergent properties described ‘temperature’ and ... it is conceivable that life is an emergent property property of physical bodies. And later in the same article adds: So I would ..”

On this basis, in the years 1976-1999, the same argument kept getting repeated ad nauseum, as a platform to justify whatever “agenda” one was arguing, e.g. complexity theory (Yaneer Bar-Yam, 1997), machine biology theory (Kevin Kelly, 1994), neurophilosophy (Paul Churchland, 1989), linguistic rules (Susan Lima,1994), etc. (Ѻ) A rather humorous spinoff of this is the assertion that “gravity is an emergent property of matter” in order to lend seeming scientific support for an altruism theory of consciousness. (Ѻ)

In 1996, Austrian-born American physicist Fritjof Capra, cites the Charles Broad (1925) silver chloride example, but then goes on to inanely claim that temperature is an emergent property that does not exist at the atomic level: [8]

“There exist different levels of complexity with different kinds of laws operating at each level. At each level of complexity the observed phenomena exhibit properties that do not exist at the lower level. For example, the concept of temperature, which is central to thermodynamics, is meaningless at the level of individual atoms, where the laws of quantum theory operate.”

This is incorrect logic. Temperature exists everywhere. In fact, the third law of thermodynamics explains that it is impossible to reach absolute zero of temperature, even for a one atom system, because it would take an infinite amount of energy to reach that point, hence the concept of temperature never becomes “meaningless” as Capra would seem to believe.

Sweetness as an emergent property of atoms
Likewise, in his 1996 book The Web of Life, and again in his 2002 book The Hidden Connections, he employs the classic emergent property argument to make his point to argue that sweetness is an "emergent" property of the synthesized sugar molecule not found in the individual atoms: [8]

“When carbon (C), oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) atoms bond in a certain way to form sugar [e.g. glucose  C_6H_{12}O_6 \,], the resulting compound has a sweet taste. The sweetness resides neither in the C, nor in the O, nor in the H; it resides in the pattern that emerges from their interaction. It is an emergent property. Moreover, strictly speaking, is not a property of the chemical bonds. It is a sensory experience that arises when the sugar molecules interact with the chemistry of our taste buds, which in turns causes a set of neurons to fire in a certain way. The experience of sweetness emerges from that neural activity.”

This, of course, is but a smoke and mirrors argument, generally done to give a scientific appearance to various arguments of the proposed existence of things, such as: mind, consciousness, life, mysticism (one of Capra's favorite terms), among others.

Reductionist holism | Atheism
The following is a 2006 "reduced" holism statement by American atheism advocate and philosopher Alexander Rosenberg: [16]

“The whole has properties which no individual part has: the property of wetness that water has is not a property that any H20 molecule has. But this is no reason to deny that reducibility of wetness to properties of H20 molecules. Wetness is identical to the weak adhesion of these molecules tone another, owing to the polar bonds between the molecules; and these bonds are the result of the distribution of electrons in the outer shell of the constituent atoms of the H20 molecules.”

The above but goes to show that nearly all "emergent property" pro arguments are religious-based in underlying nature. American physicist Victor Stenger elaborates on Rosenberg’s derision as follows: [17]

“The whole, in other words, still results from the interaction of the parts. Try as they might, the anti-reductionists have been unable to find any evidence to support their distaste for atomism. Now special holistic forces have been shown to come into play with the aggregation of large numbers of parts; just new properties develop, or, in the common parlance of today, ‘emerge’ from the interaction of the parts.”


1. Gray, Richard M. (1996). Archetypal Explorations: an Integrative Approach to Human Behavior (pg. 33). Psychological Press.
2. (a) Bastian, Henry C. (1969). The Beginnings of Life: Volume 1. Appleton.
(b) Bastian, Henry C. (1969). The Beginnings of Life: Volume 2. Appleton.
3. Raggett, Simon. (2012). Consciousness, Biology, and Fundamental Physics (pg. 4). AuthorHouse.
4. Lerner, Richard M. (2001). Concepts and Theories of Human Development (pg. 60). Psychological Press.
5. Guidano, Vittorio F. (1987). Complexity of the Self (pg. 8). Guilford Press.
6. Bownds, Deric. (2008). “Can ‘Emergence’ Put Spirituality Back into Nature?”, MindBlog.net, Jun 24.
7. (a) Mill, John S. (1843). A System of Logic, Ratiocination and Inductive: Being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation (salt, pg. 110, 294-95, 340). Harper & Brothers, 1904.
(b) Deacon, Terrence W. (2011). Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (pg. 148, 199-200). W.W. Norton & Co.
8. (a) Capra, Fritjof. (2002). The Hidden Connections: A Science for Sustainable Living (sugar, pgs. 41-42). Anchor Books.
(b) Fritjof Capra (quotes) – TodayInScience.com.
9. Capra, Fritjof. (1996). The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (pg. 28). Anchor books.
10. (a) Lodge, Oliver. (1930). Beyond Physics: or The Idealization of Mechanism (properties of water, pgs. 150-51). G. Allen & Unwin.
(b) Zucker, Morris. (1945). The Philosophy of American History: The Historical Field Theory. Arnold-Howard Publishing Co.
11. Crick, Francis. (1994). The Astonishing Hypothesis: the Scientific Search for the Soul (pg. 11). Simon and Schuster.
12. (a) Joseph, Agassi. (1976). “On the Philosophy of Technology” (pg. 59), Methodology and Science, 9-10:41-84.
(b) Joseph Agassi – Wikipedia.
13. (a) Popper, Karl. (1966). Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach (§: A Realist View of Logic, Physics, and History, pgs. #) (Ѻ). Clarendon Press, 1972.
(b) King, John E. (2012). The Microfoundations of Delusion: Metaphor and Dogma in the History of Macroeconomics (pgs. 48-49). Edward Elgar Publishing.
14. Dewan, E.M. (1976). “Consciousness as an Emergent Causal Agent in the Context of Control System Theory”, in: Consciousness and the Brain: a Scientific and Philosophical Inquiry (editors: Gordon Globus, Grover Maxwell, and Irwin Savodnik) (§7:179-98; esp. pg. 187) (Popper and his disciples [pg. 19]: Agassi, 1966; Feyerabend, 1970, Lakatos, 1968; Popper, 1959, 1963, 1972). Publisher.
15. (a) Author. (1975). “Article”, in: Analysis and Metaphysics: Essays in Honor of R.M. Chisholm (editor: Keith Lehrere) (pg. 22). D. Reidel Pub. Co.
(b) Roderick Chisholm – Wikipedia.
16. (a) Rosenberg, Alex. (2006). Darwinian reductionism: How to Stop Worrking and Love Molecular Biology (pg. 12). University of Chicago Press.
(b) Stenger, Victor J. (2013). God and the Atom: from Democritus to the Higgs Boson: the Story of a Triumphant Idea (pg. 22). Prometheus Books.
17. Stenger, Victor J. (2013). God and the Atom: from Democritus to the Higgs Boson: the Story of a Triumphant Idea (pg. 23). Prometheus Books.

External links
Emergent properties – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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