The Oak Tree is an Emergent Complex System

Let’s consider an oak tree — an example of a complex system where humans are not directing anything. An oak tree emerges from a seed – an acorn.  Well, really it emerges from the acorn and the ground the acorn is planted in.  And, if we know basic biology, the tree also emerges (we say “grows”) from the water it “drinks,” the air (carbon dioxide) it “breathes,” and the sunshine it uses for photosynthesis.

Since the acorn contained DNA passed down from a chain of more primitive plants that lived hundreds of thousands of years ago, the oak tree emerged from those ancestors as well.

The components of Earth, water, air, sunlight and encoded DNA instructions self-assembled, coming together to create the oak tree. They combine to make a Whole that is more than – and utterly different from — the sum of its parts.

The oak tree is more than the sum of its atoms. What has been added?  Not the atoms, they have just changed their positions and connections. Not energy, although energy certainly has to flow through the oak to create it and sustain it. What has been added is the pattern and organization of all the atoms.  The organization features specialization of tree tissues and cooperation among the cells and tissues.

The English language is also an emergent complex system. It emerged from the older languages spoken by the Angles, the Saxons, the Celts, Latin from the Romans, and from Norman French supplied by the Norman Conquest in 1066.

This kind of knowledge, rather than the myths found in religious texts, is the true Way to Meaning and Purpose of Life. For more, see my essays at They are free and carry no ads.