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Emergent Phenomena Research Group

This is the homepage for the Bryn Mawr Emergent Phenomena Research Group, affiliated with the  Emergent Systems Working Group of the Bryn Mawr College  Center for Science in Society. We are actively exploring emergence in science and society and its underlying mechanisms, and maintain this wiki site as a tool for collective authorship of web materials related to emergence.

This semster, Spring 2004, we meet every Thursday morning at 8am sharp in Park 230, the Emergent Intelligence Laboratory. Coffee and muffins start the meeting off, followed by some kind of discussion or presentation. See EmergentSchedule for details.

Relevant materials located elsewhere:

Emergent Topics

Emergence Research Group Documents

News Items

New Cambridge Center Emerges

"Emergence" ---the idea that things are more than the sum of their parts--- is "one of the most compelling new concepts in science," according to the John Templeton Foundation in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. It's used to explain everything from the coalescence of dust into stars to the rise of intelligent organisms.

So the foundation is supporting a new group at Cambridge University, the Cambridge Templeton Consortium,which starting this summer plans to hand out $3 million in grants for research on the emergence of complex systems in three areas: biochemistry, evolution, and cognition.

Inspired by the idea that the universe would have been a nonstarter if fundamental physical constants were slightly different, the consortium wants to look for similar fine-tuning in biology. "I am convinced that there are deep structures in biology, and evolution navigates over them," says paleontologist Simon Conway Morris, the consortium's director. If such structures exist, he holds, humans might still emerge if evolution had to start over again on Earth, and life on other planets could be much like ours.

Molecular biologist Steven Benner of the University of Florida, Gainesville, applauds the initiative. "There is a strong need in the biomolecular sciences" to address questions such as "Why is life the way that it is?" he says. Others are skeptical. "I don't think that a scientific-theological-philosophical melange is going to make a significant contribution" to scientific knowledge, says paleobiologist Doug Erwin of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington,D.C. It's worth a shot, though, argues Conway Morris: "This is very much an experiment."

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