Different types of emergence?

Regarding the questions of emergence, Ken
has a very interesting and powerful distinction between ‘individual
‘ and ‘social holons‘. Each of them clearly illustrate 2
different types of emergence.

Here is what he says in an interview:

Briefly: individual holons are holons with
a subjective interior (prehension, awareness, consciousness); they have a
defining pattern (code, agency, regime) that emerges spontaneously from within
(autopoietic); and they have four drives (agency, communion, eros, agape).
Examples of individual holons (or compound individuals) include quarks, atoms,
molecules, cells, organisms….

Social holons emerge when individual holons
commune; they also have a defining pattern (agency or regime), but they do
not have a subjective consciousness; instead, they have distributed or intersubjective
consciousness. Examples include galaxies, planets, crystals, ecosystems, families,
tribes, communities…. Both individual and social are holons, and they both
follow the twenty tenets. Actually, individual and social holons are not different
entities, but different aspects of all holons, since all holons have an interior
and an exterior in singular and plural forms (the four quadrants), but they
are indeed different aspects that cannot be merely equated.

Now, artifacts are any products made by an
individual or social holon. A bird’s nest, an anthill, a automobile, a house,
a piece of clothing, an airplane, the internet–these are all artifacts. An
artifact’s defining pattern does not come from itself, but rather is imposed
or imprinted on it by the agency or intelligence of an individual or social


social holons are sentient holons; but
they possess consciousness as intersubjective or distributed; there is no
central subject of awareness. Groups have no subjective prehension or single
agency, simply because their "parts" are members, not subservient
elements. (There is, for example, a "group ego," but that ego is
not a single entity that controls all the members in the group in the same
way that my ego controls the voluntary movement of my arms. The group ego–or
intersubjective consciousness, or cultural background, or Lower-Left quadrant–exerts
its influence in more diffuse and subtle ways, creating a background or intersubjective
space in which individual subjects and objects arise, but within which individual
subjects are relatively free to move as they like. Put differently, the regnant
nexi of individual and social holons are different in degree and in kind.)

Whole and Part –Social holons contain individual
holons, artifacts, and heaps, but the individual holons are "parts"
of a society, not as constituent elements of the whole, but as members of
the whole. That is, for individual holons, "part" means ingredient
or constituent element; but for social holons, "part" means member,
co-partner, fellow, participant. The difference is obvious, but to spell it
out: constituent elements have their agency subsumed by senior individual
holons, but members retain a much larger degree of relative autonomy within
the social holon. For example, when I raise my arm, 100% of the cells in my
arm move upward. My will, as dominant monad, subsumes and overrides the will
of the cells. When I move my arm, no cell can decide not to move with it.
But there is no society where 100% of its members do exactly what the leader
of the society says. Even in a powerful dictatorship, you can choose to disagree
with the regime; you might get shot, but you can disagree. The reason is that
social holons do not have a single dominant monad or regnant nexus (because
they possess no single subject of consciousness, only an intersubjective distribution),
and therefore the leader, ruler, king, president, or governing body has intrinsically
limited powers. In fact, we generally condemn societies where one person or
one ruling body attempts to dominate and control the society, because what
that really means is that the controlling person is trying to treat the social
holon as if it were an individual holon … and the ruler its autocratic dominant
monad ("L’etat, c’est moi"–"I am the State"–is the archetypal
formula for totalitarian oppression, and that oppression comes precisely from
treating social holons as if they were individual holons.)

Now that confusion of individual and social holons
is quite common with systems theory and most forms of eco-theories. They construct
their nested hierarchies by treating individual and social holons as if they
were on the same ontological axis, with one being simply bigger than the other,
failing to realize the significant ontological divide between them. Thus the
typical eco/systems theory holarchy is: an atom is part of a molecule which
is part of a cell which is part of an organism which is part of an ecosystem
which is part of the biosphere which is part of the universe. Total nightmare.

The first half of that holarchy is of individual holons;
the second half is of social holons. "Whole" and "part"
mean something very different in both of them (namely, constituent element
with its agency largely subsumed by the senior, versus member whose
agency is a co-partner with other members in society). To make any individual
holon–from a cell to a wolf to an ape to a human–a constituent "part"
of a social holon is to make it merely a mindless cog in a machine that robs
its of its relative autonomy. It is not only that this would be a morally
reprehensible act, it is an ontological impossibility as well (although dictators–political
or ecological–never cease trying).

Now social holons, from ecosystems to the State, for
example, are indeed sentient holons, and as sentient holons, they have certain
rights (all sentient wholes have agency and all agency has natural rights,
just as all communions have natural responsibilities, and all sentient holons
have both agency and communion, or both rights and responsibilities; see Brief
History ). Among other things, the State has the right to curtail the rights
of its individual holons or members, if those individual rights so threaten
the welfare of other individual holons that it threatens the very existence
of the State. And the State, by whatever name, is not a superfluous entity
that we would do well without. All sentient holons have four quadrants, and
the sociocultural quadrants (LL and LR), which include political dimensions,
are unavoidable. What is avoidable is having the State exercise too many rights
over individuals, on the one hand, or having individuals exercise so many
individual rights that the communions and fabric of society come unraveled.
How to draw this delicate line–between State right and individual right–is
the ongoing saga of political action. But what we do not want to do, in any
case, is confuse individual and social holons and treat them as the same type
of entity (one being merely bigger than the other, instead of being different
in kind), because that results in fascism (too much State or social agency)
or communism (too much social communion), whether that be political fascism
or eco-fascism, the latter resulting from treating individual holons as if
they were only parts in the web-of-life, instead of members in extensive social

full interview

Wilber’s theory, no matter whether we agree with it or not, emphasizes the fact
there must be different kinds of emergence whereas our natural tendency might
be to put everything in the same basket.

For instance I recently asked myself whether a group of wise individual would
emerge and act as a wise group. Or to put it in a more general frame, can a
group benefit from the individual "social qualities" of its participants?
My first reply was « yes », since we naturally advocate
that if we want a group to have such or such quality, individuals need to get
these qualities first. Then the second reply that came to my mind was: "maybe
not", look at the nature of the water molecule, nothing in its structure
and in its individual properties allow to anticipate the properties of water
as a whole. Water’s properties belong to another paradigm and today no one can
really explain what happens in this meta-system transition. Shouldn’t this dramatic
shift occur the same way with a population of individuals? But wait, I am making
here a confusion between individual and social holons as Wilber
points it. In the social perspective, it is more likely that wise individual
are wise because they have an awareness of the whole. This means there might
be some sort of scale invariance that transcends the complexity levels. Compassion,
wisdom, ethics seem to be about it. They are relational and multilevel, they
exist because of a strong sense of "wholeness". From this perspective,
YES, the individual and group properties are probably not that far, and we can
have an influence on it.

On a more practical perspective, is it possible to envision emerging properties
as the result of the mastering of these properties at an individual level? Do
these properties have to be value-oriented? Will a group of wise individuals
turn into a wise group or can it turn in a global mess with umpredictable side

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1 Response to Different types of emergence?

  1. How do value memes affect the emergence of CI

    “Will a group of wise individuals turn into a wise group or can it turn in a global mess with umpredictable side effects?”


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