Tag Archive | Emergence

Levels of Organization

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What do you mean by levels of organization? How are they different from levels of magnification [<link; medium read]?

Levels of magnification are based on scale.
Levels of organization are based on systems.

Every aspect of reality can be thought of as a series of nested systems. Systems within systems within systems.

Like those matryoshka dolls?


The smallest elements combine to form larger elements, which combine to form larger elements, which themselves combine to form larger and larger and larger elements.

I call this process Chunking

Every level of organization can be metaphorically thought of as a ‘chunk‘. A chunk is an emergent higher-order level that contains all lower-order levels.

I call the capacity of the elements to combine and form new configurations of elements with emergent properties, Modularity.

Some elements make better combinations than others. We might think of them as having a connectivity potential. I call this potential, Synergy.

On Magic and Models 6

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are the most useful mental models you’ve learned from Magic the Gathering?”

“Two of them especially stand out: Modularity, and Synergy.”

“What is the essence of Modularity?”

“The basic elements that make up the game of Magic can be combined in a variety of ways. The fact that they can be combined can be thought of as an inherent property of those elements. I call this inherent property, Connectivity. I call the elements that have this property, modular-elements.

Some modular-elements can connect with more elements than others. We might say each modular-element has a certain connectivity-potential.

Now, imagine that you find some Magic cards without knowing the rules of the game. Would you be able to combine them?” 

“I guess not. The cards can be combined only within the context of the game.”

“Magic is a modular-system. The modular-elements that make up the system can be combined only within the system. I call these, contextual modular-elements.”

“Can you give some examples of modular systems?”

“One classic example is Lego. Another, less obvious example, is language. The most profound example is the Universe. Everything in the Universe is made up of combinations of the same basic building-blocks. The chemical elements are modular-elements. What we call “reality” is a modular-system.

“What is the essence of Synergy?”

“Modularity refers to a certain kind of elements – modular-elements.
Synergy refers to a certain kind of connections between those elements – I call these, synergistic-connections. In Magic terminology, a synergistic-connection is called a Combo.

The essence of synergistic-connections is Emergence. Two elements synergistically combined produce a higher-order structure or effect that is different than the sum of its parts. Viewed in terms of value, I call this, emergent-value.

We’ve talked a while ago about my love of playing with making connections between things – what I called the Connections Game [<link; short length]. We might say the essence of the Connections Game is the discovery of emergent-value.”

Systems Optimization

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize this (life-)system?”

“First, identify the components of the system. Make a list of them.

Second, identify the interconnections between the components. For instance you can actually draw lines between them, thus creating a network. This helps with evaluation.

The goal is to identify the 20% of components responsible for 80% of the output.

“How would you practically do that?”

“One way to think of it is by using the top-down/bottom-up model.

The top-down approach means removing components until you’re left with only the desired ones. This is highly inefficient, because you have to remove 80% of components. The more components the system has, the more work it entails. Moreover, removing things is psychologically difficult.

The bottom-up approach means removing all components, and adding them back in one by one. This prompts a fresh reevaluation of each component, and often results in the serendipitous creation of new essential connections, thus creating a new emergent pattern.

I like to do it by using two lists. One with the components of the system; the other a ‘blank slate‘ which I populate by adding items from the other list.”

“Do you do this with pencil and paper?”

“You can, but I prefer to do it digitally. I use Google Keep for this process.

The Optimization System

I have a section called ‘Optimization‘, in which there are two lists: one called ‘80‘, the other ‘20‘. I start by copying the contents of the system I’m working on in the 80-list. Then I start copying / moving items from the 80-list to the 20-list.”