This is hard to describe so please bear with me.

Is there a name for the condition of a 'meta property' that arises from some sorts of artifacts, becoming a governing, self-sustaining situation, but through insistence and not through some sort of evolutionary pruning-like process?

This could be for anything, in any arena.

Here are some examples:-

Traditions:- Artifacts here would be people's practices, for instance someone eating with their fork in their left hand becoming a situation where people believe that you now have to eat with your left hand, and if you don't, it's rude. E.g. there's nothing 'real' about eating with your left hand. It's just invented from thin air, but people see it as real.

In an abstract sense you could say that B depends on A e.g. the tradition B depends on A, the act of the majority, but the act, which may change at any time, does not depend on the tradition...unless the tradition enforces the act through complete and utter lack of logic.

Another example

Authority: People believe in other people's authority in some cases, so 'Authority' becomes a thing and enforces itself on the people who may have not accepted its justification for various reasons at another time.

B, authority depends on A, the faith in someone else, but somehow this gets twisted into now A depends on B, because B is being insisted upon A, like the traditions above.

Another example Sexual behaviour Women don't act as promiscuously as men (according to popularly accepted opinions in any event) this becomes 'a thing' and is even 'backed' by evolutionary psychological theory regarding mating habits thought to be most favoured by our ancestors and when women want to be more promiscuous they're prevented, because it's not 'woman-like'.

The reason for the question is because this type of structure is everywhere and causes problems in pretty much every situation. Whether it's Governments, B, arising as a useful mechanism created by people A, becoming enforcers of their own 'meta-existence'; B exerting force on A, then things inevitably go wrong. Furthermore, even when it doesn't cause great problems, it prevents change from happening organically, as an arbitrary situation is held static by some imagined meta-property whose very existence is predicated entirely on the situation that creates it.

  • Another fun example is the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexy_son_hypothesis. (If this is true) There are certain genetic traits that get bred for only because they are sexy, and are sexy only because many role models have them, but the role models have them only because they get bred for...
    – user9166
    Jun 2, 2016 at 23:26

4 Answers 4


You seem to be describing, possibly, simple emergence or emergentism? Your "meta property" is just an emergent property, from what you call "artifacts". The key characteristic seems to be just what you describe: once the phenomenon has emerged, it cannot be reduced back to what it came from. It "has a life of its own" now.




In cybernetics and control theory these things are called stable states of dynamic equilibrium, and the processes that maintain them are feedback loops. Within philosophy, especially postmodernism, these are rules in a 'game' in the sense of Wittgenstein. This idea of 'game' is usually seen in the combined form 'language-game' because technical language is the primary example of the positive effects of 'productive, negotiated, groundless arbitrariness maintained by flexible rules and interdependencies'.

But this is a case where we take the bad with the good. Most social norms maintained by feedback loops lead to order and maintain various aspects of our psychology and personal identity. The meaning of each individual word in a language, for example, is an instance of such an effect. There is no reason any one word can't just change at random, with very little ill effect. But they don't, mostly because other people feel silly when you do this. The context usually tells them exactly how you have changed the definition, but it is just not right in their head.

And to some degree, even the pointless instances may serve a secondary purpose. Having things that are defined as bad, but are really utterly harmless gives risk-takers opportunities to practice harmlessly with calculating how consequences play out. They learn to estimate how social risk works, and from that basis hone their broader skills at risk estimation. This is why it is adolescent girls who mess most productively with the meanings of words -- it is an extraordinarily safe way to play at showing disrespect, as it does not disrespect any individual in particular.

By some theories, this is one of the reasons why elite cliques that control a lot of resources often have more seemingly pointlessly intricate etiquette. It is not just about isolating themselves from the out-group. It is primarily about learning and practicing how to maintain perspective on risk, to be ready for the risk calculations intrinsic to the leadership positions they are likely to occupy.


'Normalization' might work. The process in which a certain behavior becomes the the de facto of how people are supposed to conduct themselves. Some good examples are Christianity, engagement rings, upgrading phones, and the like. No rational reason why these things should happen, but people have accepted them as a reality of modern life.


From physics, spontaneous symmetry breaking is analogous to some of the situations you've laid out.

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