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Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities

Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.

Complexity and Emergence

Drawing by Rachel Grobstein

"Emergence is increasingly "in fashion" (Resnick, 1994; Holland, 1999; Johnson, 2001; Keller, 2003), as was complexity fifteen years ago (Waldrop, 1992) and systems theory (von Bertalanffy, 1968), cybernetics (Wiener, 1948), and unified science (Reisch, 2005) among other things before that (cf. Clayton, 2006)..."

From Complexity to Emergence and Beyond (2008)


From its birth in 1994, Serendip has been committed to exploring and creating "less wrong" ways of making sense of the world. Itself an exploration into the potentials of relatively undirected evolutionary systems in which chance plays a significant role, Serendip necessarily changes over time. Hence what was originally a major Serendip section on "complexity" has become in 2008 one on "complexity and emergence." This change mirrors wider changes in alternative intellectual perspectives: an increasing awareness that making sense of complexity requires not only an acknowledgment of its existence and the development of tools to analyze it but also an appreciation an important historical dimension. Complexity increasingly seems to be not "designed" but rather to emerge over time from from a relatively undirected evolutionary process beginning with simpler entities.Comments on and suggestions for additions are welcome in the associated on-line forum.


The Basics | The Brain | Social Organization | Biology and Evolution | Miscellaneous


= interactive exhibits; = includes on-line public forum

The basics: From deterministic to non-deterministic processes
On beyond Newton ... , from simple rules to stability, fluctuation and chaos, interactive (requires Java).

The Game of Life Does order necessarily require a planner? (requires Java).

The World of Langton's Ant An exhibit investigating "purpose" and "purposeful behavior" with models (requires Java).

Cellular Automata In Progress

From Random Motion to Order: Diffusion and Some of It's Implications An interactive exhibit with models (requires Java).

Chance in Life and the World Can order be derived from noise and randomness? An interactive exhibit (requires Java).

The Magic Sierpinski Triangle Order dependent on randomness (requires Java).

From Complexity to Emergence and Beyond: Towards Empirical Non-Foundationalism as a Guide to Inquiry A published paper (Word file).

Emergence 361 An undergraduate course and blog.

Emergent Systems: A Discussion

From the Head to the Heart An article on levels of organization, variability, and information.

Insights from Complex Systems An informal outline.


The Brain
Pattern Detection and Serendipity Can you find Serendip?

Simple Networks, Simple Rules: Learning and Creating Categories, interactive (requires Java).

Tricks of the Eye, Wisdom of the Brain An example of distributed processing in action, with a lateral inhibition network simulator (requires Java).

Chosing Futures: The Brain's Way Notes from a talk.


Social Organization
Ant Colonies An exhibit using models that investigates whether you can have social organization without a director (requires Java).

Thinking About Segregation and Integration An experiment implementing Thomas C. Schelling's model of patterns of segregation and integration (requires Java).

Interdisciplinarity, Transdisciplinarity, and Beyond: The Brain, Story Sharing, and Social Organization A published paper on parallels between brain and social organization.

Some Thoughts on Academic Structure (and Socio-Political Structures Generally): A Biological Metaphor as an Aternative to Both State's Rights and Federalism at Bryn Mawr College (and Elsewhere) A case study.

Emergence and Contingency/Purpose/Agency: An Exploration of an Intersection Between History and Biology/Neurobiology A case study.

A Paradigm Shift From Lines To Circles: Twelve Characteristics of a Family System A case study.

Coordination without a leader: flocking An interactive exhibit.


Biology and Evolution
Evolution/Science: Inverting the Relationship Between Randomness and Meaning An essay and on-line forum.

Life and the Second Law A diagram from course notes.

Evolution as Reproduction with Variability An interactive exhibit that highlights the role of randomness and variation in driving evolution.


External links on emergence, complex systems, and computer science


"Computers have made it possible to explore the consequences of of relatively simple interactions of relatively simple things in a way never before possible ... this new capability for observations makes possible significant insights into phenomena long felt to be complex for serious analysis."


"It makes me so happy. To be at the beginning again, knowing almost nothing. People were talking about the end of physics. Relativity and quantum mechanics looked as if they were going to clean out the whole problem between them. A theory of everything. But they only explained the very big and the very small. The universe, the elementary particles. The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about - clouds - daffodils - waterfalls - ... these things are full of mystery, as mysterious to us as the heavens were to the Greeks. Because the problem turns out to be different. ... A door like this has cracked open five or six times since we got up on our hind legs. It's the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong."

Arcadia, by Tom Stoppard

"Simple things interacting in simple ways can yield surprisingly complex outcomes ... Brains too consist of relatively simple things interacting in relatively simple ways"

"For two thousand years people have believed that the sun and all the stars of heaven rotate around mankind. Pope, cardinals, princes, professors, captains, merchants, fishwives and schoolkids thought they were sitting motionless inside this crystal sphere. But now we are breaking out of it, Andrea, at full speed. ... The old idea was always that the stars were fixed to a crystal vault to stop them falling down. Today we have found the courage to let them soar through space without support ... And the earth is rolling cheerfully around the sun, and the fishwives, merchants, princes, and cardinals, and even the Pope are rolling with it ... The universe has lost its centre overnight, and woken up to find it has countless centres. So that each one can now be seen as the centre, or none at all."

Life of Galileo, by Bertold Brecht

"Each of us now can be seen as the center ... so its worth thinking about what all this means ..."

Updated 9 Dec 2008 by Paul Grobstein and Laura Cyckowski.

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