Emergent Orders Are All Around Us, Especially in Cities

Lynne Kiesling

Ron Bailey’s Hit & Run post, Ant Hills=Brains=Cities, reminded me of some really important, fundamental ideas that tend to get lost as we natter about financial regulation, health care regulation, climate regulation …

Emergent orders abound, and occur at all sorts of different scales — molecular, cellular, all the way to complex social structures that were not deliberately designed through some central planning group or function. Ron cites the excellent Godel, Escher, Bach to introduce some new research arguing that cities are like brains in their emergent order construction for successful functioning. Ron quotes Mark Changizi, a neurobiology expert and assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:

… brains and cities, as they grow larger, have to be similarly densely interconnected to function optimally.

Interesting. Not surprising, especially if you’ve thought about emergent orders, and double-especially if you’ve read any of Jane Jacobs’ writing on cities. I recommend the Jacobs interview at Reason that Ron links, as well as other Jacobs sources linked in the various posts I’ve written invoking Jane Jacobs and her work over the past several years.

Given how much attention we are having to pay to imposed orders, and the increasing efforts to create more deeply imposed orders in finance, healthcare, etc., it’s important to remember how much of the social life of individuals is a web of emergent orders, and that the biggest and best value creation and thriving and innovation that we have seen in human history arises when individuals can choose and take action in emergent orders.

2 thoughts on “Emergent Orders Are All Around Us, Especially in Cities

  1. There has been a lot of buzz about self-organizing energy load shaping based upon autonomous agents in the last few weeks. In particular, there is a concern that top-down control-oriented signals from utilities may actually prevent emergent profiles of energy use that are potentially much better for the grid.

    I wrote about it this morning, was reaching for an economics term to finish the post, and came over here to find emergent behaviors here as well…


    Now if one of you can tell me the economic term I lack…

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