Archive for May 30th, 2008


I was recently asked why I used the term “emergent” in a statement on development in the central nervous system. I thought it the right word in fit, form and function but preceded to look it up in several references works to hone in on it best use. What I found was something a bit different.

I had hoped that it would be an idea or strategy that was being tested or tried to see if explained behavior of things unexplained but, not so.

An emergent concept is a slight variation on consensus reality. That is, something that has become commonly used or accepted as plausible. It is thus, something relatively new to the user or audience that has come to be increasingly accepted as truth or plausible. Consensus realities have worked so well for the species, haven’t they? Their continued use throughout society is everywhere:

Ford vs. Chevy

Democrat vs. Republican

Absolute vs. relative knowledge

Texas vs. Texas A&M

PC vs. Mac

East vs. West

Black vs. White

Christians vs. everyone

Muslims vs. everyone

…you get the idea…

Clearly, it may or may not have anything to do with data at all if the concept is absorbed for common use. Furthermore, if the emerged idea is not found to be useful [read: true], its continual use will be established and difficult to remove from the lexicon of use, e.g., ego, phrenology, inheritance of sports skills, etc.

All this makes emergent ideas and concepts the bare bones basis of mores or morals in that there is a ‘revealed’ component to what has emerged based upon some empirical evidence or, more commonly, anecdotal example for the believer or society as a whole. All those examples in the short list above have this in them.

Like analogies, they work because on some level – superficially at least, they explain how one small segment of the world works. Ultimately, using these concepts lead to what I refer to as ‘pooling’ where people come to hang out literally or intellectually with those with similar views – some the emergent view, some not. Ethologists also refer to this as ‘flocking’ or herding. On occasion, friends find it important to ‘help’ you see the light and reveal their clarity for you so as assist you in your understanding. You do it too. We all do. Now you know. Go back to work.

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Phone rings. I pick up the phone without call identity.

A voice I don’t recognize asks for me. “This is John” I reply.

“Hi, this is Mike C…” The phone goes silent for a second or two that seems to be a lot longer. “Damn,” I respond, “it is good to hear your voice Mike, C… [repeating his name as if to reassure myself I heard it right] …Where the hell have you been?”

A little background:

We last saw each other in the early 70’s. We were raw, immortal, and passionate about everything. Bright guys who were luckily stupid or stupidly lucky…or both. We had nothing but everything in front of us and we saw clearly those who had a cloud around themselves and those that had the wind at their backs. We did things we weren’t suppose to do and we didn’t do what we should have done. He taught me early on to “go fast” – also our special word for our favorite controlled substance – and the value of ‘wishing’… “John, you can wish in one hand and spit in the other and you know which one will fill up first!” To this day my kids don’t use the term “wish” very much.

Then, for no apparent reason we went separate ways after an ice climbing experience where our friend slipped and fell several hundred feet down a razor runway of ice. We all laughed about it when we got back down but we all knew we had escaped another bullet.

Back on the phone we go back and forth to catch up on what has been 30 years of experiences. I had not seen or talked to him or his lovely wife Jane for a long time although I thought of him during that time on many occasions. We also had common friends around the country. I met people in business that knew Mike and just smiled when his name was mentioned, making sure that I knew him as well as they thought they knew him prior to sharing with me their ‘adventures’ with him. Our ice climbing friend in San Francisco recently sent his email over with his email address and I pinged Mike in the hopes of connecting again. It worked.

Jobs, adventures of my own, wives, divorces, remarriages and more adventures – both positive and those less so. We went down the check list of catch-up:

  • Children (mine, not theirs)
  • Home – past and present
  • Speed bumps encountered
  • Jobs – past and present
  • Common friends –
  • Current passions –

In all too short a time the call was over with commitments to exchange data on current locations, etc. and to keep in touch – probably with email due to his travels… Jane would follow up in the next few days while he was on his latest adventure.

I hung up and it started.

“What he hell just happened…?”

In the past we were connected in so many ways and now we were reminiscing. It was not getting older that rubbed me wrong… I was jealous that he was who he was right now… leaving me with some explaining to do to me on why that was so.

So here is the question set:

1. What was the reason for the jealousy?

2. What data was I processing that made me want to say more and listen less?

3. Did I really know him today or was he a figment of the past intense experiences?

So give me your answers…

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