Emergence and Hierarchy

Emergence has been described at many levels of the biological hierarchy. As argued above, the reason for emergence is to be found in the hierarchical organization of the system and the quantitative and qualitative characters of the 'linkages' within the structure. As biological structures are often complex, this makes it hard to determine the actual cause of emergence.

Hierarchy theory (see Hierarchy Theory in Ecology) states that middle-numbered systems - such as ecosystems - can be comprehended if they are investigated on different levels of integration. Broad scale levels can be assigned to high spatial extents, and low typical frequencies, filtering the signals from lower levels. These scale levels are spatially smaller and their typical frequencies are higher. They are not able to filter constraints from the higher levels, but their potentials and interactions are building up the material basis and the coordination functions of the higher level. Emergent properties are created by both types of nonlinear interactions. Therefore, the properties of specific levels can be termed 'hierarchical emergent properties'. Of course, the interesting question is how these properties emerge. Some examples might be helpful to illuminate this question.

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