I've been thinking about the relationships between systems, subsystems, and emergent properties, and I would appreciate your insights on this concept.

My notion is that subsystems can be viewed not merely as simpler segments of a larger system, but as critical explanatory frameworks for the emergent properties of the original system. In essence, while the original system (like quantum physics) sets the fundamental groundwork, the subsystems (such as chemistry, biology, etc.) emerge from this groundwork, providing practical and specific explanations for phenomena that the original system outlines in more general terms.

For example, consider quantum physics as the foundational system that describes the fundamental behaviors and properties of matter at the smallest scales. From this, subsystems like chemistry and biology emerge, each explaining specific emergent properties like molecular bonding or biological functions, which are themselves emergent from the interactions described by quantum physics.

My question is: Do you agree that subsystems could be effectively seen as emergent properties themselves, developed to explain and manage the complexity of the emergent properties arising from the original system? Is this a reasonable extension of reductionist thinking, or does it overlook important aspects of how emergent properties function within philosophical or scientific frameworks?

Thank you!

Clarification: I acknowledge that my use of terminology may not have been ideal. By "subsystem," I intended to refer to something of a higher order—a system that is based on another, more fundamental system. My perspective is that subsystems, such as chemistry and biology, emerge from a fundamental system—currently understood as quantum physics—and provide explanations for emergent properties (of a fundamental system) at a more detailed and practical level.

I propose that there exists a fundamental system that explains the behaviors and interactions of the smallest parts of our world, and that every other system (or subsystem) arises from the emergent properties of this fundamental system. For example, chemistry is the systematic study of the interactions of atoms. These interactions are governed by the laws of quantum physics, but for clarity and practicality, we categorize them under chemistry. What chemistry studies are, in fact, emergent properties of quantum physics, thereby making it a "subsystem."

  • Yes, more or less I agree with what you are saying. But the problem is, what is a subsystem? And what is a system, as well? We need a general mathematical formalism for what these things are, before we can seriously attack the problem from this direction.
    – causative
    Commented Apr 20 at 18:18
  • @Gleb What you call system and subsystem are scientific theories. They live on different levels, and reduction means to reduce a theory to a sublevel, e.g., to reduce chemistry to physics. Apparently this reduction is not always possible. Each level may have its own specific technical concepts, adapted to this level. Sometimes it is not useful or not possible to resolve these concepts to concepts of a lower level, e.g., biological concepts to terms from quantum mechanics. - Please clarify and define your principle of emergence in the above context of reduction of theories.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Apr 20 at 18:28
  • You are not using "system" and "subsystem" in their usual sense. A molecule is a subsystem of a compound, chemistry is not a subsystem of physics. In fact, the relationship between chemistry and physics is conceptually complicated and its nature is controversial, see quantum chemistry. It is true that natural sciences, like chemistry, study emergent properties of compounds whose components are studied by physics, but saying that they are the properties they study does not make much sense.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 21 at 3:56
  • I updated the post with clarification. Please let me know if this answers your questions.
    – Gleb
    Commented Apr 21 at 18:22
  • @causative Thank you for your suggestion. But I must admit that I am not sure how to create a mathematical formalism. Please feel free to ask more specific questions, and I'll do my best to respond based on my understanding.
    – Gleb
    Commented Apr 21 at 18:31


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