I'm in the camp that thinks that emergent systems are real phenomena, and
that eventually, objective criteria would be able to be established that would
allow us to say definitively whether an emerged system existed in some
time and place in the universe.

I think the criteria would have to do with factors such as:

1. There is something systematic in evidence

There is simplicity and regularity of structure and/or behaviour, when some
view (with some granularity level and some inclusion/exclusion of aspects
of the phenomenon) is taken of the system.

Aside: Note that although the taking of the abstracted view of the system is a
modelling/representation task, the fact that the real system conforms
to (yields experimental observations consistent with) some simple abstract
and systematic model is not a model-domain phenomenon; it is a real
phenomenon. If it were not, we could not expect the real system to behave
according to the model. If the real system does behave according to the model,
then clearly it does have some of its real properties which correspond exactly to the
abstract model properties.

2. The systematic aspects of the phenomenon emerged.

The system emerged from configurations of subsystems or constituent parts, which
having so configured themselves, give rise to the systematic form or behviour of
the whole.

3. The simple, regular, and systematic form or behaviour of the whole, having so emerged,
is generic and self-defining, in terms of simplicities, regularities etc, and so could,
theoretically at least,
have emerged from other constituents, by other means, in other contexts.

Some of the interesting related questions are:

Why do higher-level systems emerge in our universe? Is there something about
some systems that allows the system and its constituent parts to out-compete
alternative configurations of matter and energy?

For self-reproducing, evolving life systems, the answer seems clearly to be
yes. But is it really only the genes that are selected for by natural selection,
or is it also the organism as a whole system, or even whole groups of organisms
which function well together. The fact that humans have outcompeted other
animals of our size by 100s and 1000fold population factors on Earth may suggest that
our complex co-operative systematic group behaviours, themselves, may be both
a means and a subject of evolutionary success. Maybe it is because humans are
so well suited to creating emergent systems (technologies, adaptive cultural behaviours)
at will that we (the constituent parts of those systems) have outcompeted
our competitors. (Yes, I know we're messing things up royally as we go too,
but that may come home to roost and is a topic for another day and another forum.)

Are high-level phenomena such as cultural memes and technological developments
also systems which are selected for in a competitive evolutionary process?

But is natural selection also true of any other non-living emerged systems?

In some cases, the basic forces and properties of matter seem to produce
emergent systems (galaxies, solar systems) which don't so much "out-compete"
alternative configurations of matter and energy, but are "the only possible"
configurations of matter and energy, given the rules. Nevertheless, it is still
somewhat interesting that they form systems which have obvious simplicities
about their form and behaviour at macro levels. Why should that be so? Any

Just a random collection of thoughts on the topic.

In summary:

- Properties of being systematic, simple, regular are absolute, logical properties,
just as the property of being one thing versus being two things is an absolute logical
property. However, just because these are logical properties does not mean that the
things which manifest those properties (have isomorphic correspondences to those
properties, assuming some consistent, regular individuating rules and representation rules)
are not real.

- Emergence of high-level systems is real (and may then
be modelled and experimentally verified).

- Emergent systems may have evolutionary advantages
over non-systematic configurations of matter and energy,
which may be one explanation for their prevalence.

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