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20 February 2023

Recommended Innovation Articles (and Commentary) 12: ‘Types and Forms of Emergence’ by Jochen Fromm (no pay wall!)

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Original post can be found here: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/recommended-innovation-articles-and-commentary-12-types-and-forms-of-emergence-by-jochen-fromm-a6031a5bb1d5

This article and the medium blog commentary is on emergence. If there is a single concept more foundational to complex security contexts, and also the one concept most lacking in modern military decision-making, strategy and campaign design (and also most misunderstood by the military)- it is emergence. Everything we do in our decision-making methodologies such as the Joint Planning Process, Campaign planning, and operational plans (and all service related or NATO variations) is linear-causal, systematic and reverse-engineered with the ends-ways-means configuration. We completely ignore emergence because the ‘problem-solution’ construct that stems from ancient Greek philosophy (and reinforced through natural science Newtonian styling) insists on a single, preconfigured goal set in a normative future that we must then design toward. That logic removes complexity theory and emergence outright by insisting on a Newtonian Styled reality for war… even if our doctrine writers cunningly assimilate buzz terms from complexity theory to sound like there might be complexity in our frame. Just as the Borg roamed the galaxy sucking individuality and culture out of societies to assimilate them into their one, overarching, uncompromising “Borg purpose”, our institutions that enforce a single military paradigm will encounter alien disciplines (Quantum Theory, Complexity Theory, Chaos Theory, Postmodernism, Eastern Philosophy, Social Paradigm Theory, and so-on) and strip away the theories and models so that select terms might be hammered into the overarching, unchanging war paradigm of the host. Emergence is quite possibly the most important concept lacking in modern military practice, and likely the reason is it not included is because emergence dismantles and deconstructs most all of how Newtonian military logic functions.

Okay, I have beat up on modern military institutional thinking long enough. Let’s get to the article. First, it has no pay-wall! Click below to download this. It is more of an academic primer article and ideally a great source for military faculty wanting to get smart on this key element of complexity theory. It could be used in advanced classroom settings, particularly in a complexity theory or systems thinking (those are not the same, by the way) module. I happen to use this often at the war college level when I am asked to provide their complexity theory modules or to come lecture on this topic and more. However, this is a fairly easy-to-read article and could be powerful at the cadet and entry-level military educational period too.

Click the article below to gain access:

https://arxiv.org/pdf/nlin/0506028.pdf

In this 23 page paper, you will find a very useful taxonomy of emergence. I recommend readers skip to the 5th page, Section 4 and start there- as the first five pages just are not written well and a big confusing organizationally. Things get going nicely from p.5 forward. As you move through different types of emergence set within different sorts of system contexts, consider how militaries function and why we might oversimplify ‘emergence’ into a standardized, Newtonian-styled definition with an inappropriate “one size fits all” terminology. This is what we typically do, and it fails us because emergence is a very tricky concept that exercises and manifests differently depending on the system and context. Some initial thoughts to carry into the reading:

Type 1 emergence might be how a mechanical watch will arrange the parts to show an ever-novel time and date to the viewer- this becomes “emergent” in the most simplistic, fixed and closed-system manner. Weak emergence at the next level can be found in a school of fish- we can predict broad patterns for school movements in principle- but no super computer can predict school movement in any useful detail. Nor can we predict sand pile collapses, snowflake formation, or other forms of simple emergence.

Moving up to multiple and strong emergence– this is where humans wage war, and where our planning lexicon and war paradigms are entirely ill-prepared for us to even discuss these types of emergence beyond crude, often poorly correlated metaphors such as Sun Tzu and later Clausewitzian remarks on ‘fog and friction’… an example of ‘strong emergence’ could be the weaponization of a military AI that accomplishes superintelligence and forms a ‘singleton’ capable of overtaking all defense needs of human civilization (more on that in the weeks to come), or the arrival of entirely immersive metaverse cyber reality where human users cannot distinguish between that world and reality… and how war within such a new plane of human existence would change from contemporary terrestrial/physical warfare over the last 40 centuries.

Again, if curious military thinkers were to ask me what one concept above all others is most desperately needed in our military education today, I think I would say ‘emergence’- and offer them this article.

If you liked this commentary and the article recommendation, be sure to check out the previous 11 blogs in this series, as I offer up some great suggestions on quantum, AI, ethics, eastern war theory, innovation in the military, design, and much more. This last one was on measures of performance/effectiveness and why the modern military struggles with understanding change, systemic versus analytical thinking, and how we ignore our core belief systems and values so that we go about doing what we want to do instead of considering what we ought to do differently.

https://benzweibelson.medium.com/recommended-innovation-articles-and-commentary-11-on-the-use-of-models-in-corporate-planning-b620b8b57437

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