What do you call the phenomena that occurs when smaller entities are observed to have properties the wider whole do not have, properties or behaviors which emerge only when only the constituents are studied? It's the opposite of emergence in that we note that smaller particles have different properties than bigger system they're part of. Does such a term exist and why?

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    If, after reading the answers, you come to the conclusion there is no term for the opposite of emergence, and your studies would benefit from one, and "vanish" does not quite capture the meaning, might I suggest demergence? "When the three points of a triangle move to lie on a line, the incenter and circumcenter points demerge."
    – Jens
    Apr 29, 2021 at 12:24
  • From the question I would think 'dissolution' as in the emergent properties dissolved and you could only look at the component parts. I don't think you need an 'opposite' term to define the properties of individual components. Either you are talking about the properties of the components or the emergent properties that appear when the components act together as a whole, right? Apr 29, 2021 at 17:37
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    This is not really the opposite of emergence, and there is no term for it because its meaning seems very unclear. Emergence comes up in the context of reduction. We try to reduce operation of the whole to that of its parts + interactions, and when some aspect cannot be so reduced we say that it emerges on top of it. But there is no "reducing" operation of the parts to that of the whole (I am not even sure what that would mean exactly), and so there is nothing there to "demerge" on top (bottom?) of. That properties of parts do not always transfer to the whole is just routine.
    – Conifold
    Apr 29, 2021 at 23:22
  • 'Particularity' is a term used by some nondual teachers.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 30, 2023 at 22:45

6 Answers 6


Emergence isn't necessarily about smaller to bigger, although it is a property of groups or interactions. It is something that happens in intermediate states between absolutely chaotic behaviour and rigidly ordered systems. It can occur from very small scales, like whirlpools/vortices, or crystal nuclei, or ripples, beginning with half a dozen molecules, but also capable of scaling.

In general, reductionism is very successful. We can use the simplest effective elements of a system, to predict it's behaviours. Units of crystal lattices, or kinetics of gas molecules, can predict bulk properties. Sometimes though, we find feedbacks that cause dynamic states to stabilise, eg chemical buffering, where pH is stabilised by equilibria between compounds - this can occur with just one set of the molecules involved, though it also scales up to a bulk property.

Emergentism is a mode of explanation, in terms of group or system properties. So it's opposite is the reductionist mode of explanation. They both concern bulk properties of systems where there there are groups of similar constituents, ie science.

It sounds like you might be asking about uniqueness, or idiosyncrasy. Or maybe how degrees of freedom of constituents can be suppressed in group behaviour, like how superconductivity occurs below a certain temperature when the thermal motion stops it affecting bulk properties (electrons stop coupling to phonons).

It is very common for large groups of objects to be predictable, even when an individual element is not. An example is modelling traffic as though it was a gas. This is kind of the opposite of emergent behaviour, where elements known to behave completely unpredictably, operate within constraints (roads) and have limited interactions (communication limited to vehicle position, indicators, lights). Uniqueness or unpredictability is then suppressed, resulting in ordered behaviour.

What motivated your question?

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    Great answer to the somewhat confusing question. Sometimes, driving is a gas.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 30, 2023 at 22:52

The features that a system exhibits, which are not present on individual constituent subsystems, are called emergent.

For example, any point in a group of points that define a simple geometric form, like a square or a triangle, can't have a dimension. But a set of points can. So, dimensions are an emergent property of systems made by points. Equivalent features can be found for non-living parts and living entities made of such parts, etc.

Notice that features are subjective. That is, they are (using the Kant's jargon) impressions, that doesn't necessary exist as noumena, they only exist as phenomena. Points and shapes, or life or gravity are just ideas that only exist inside of the head of an individual. Outside of our heads, there's only atoms interacting (and most probably, not even that!). We interpret patterns and give them names. Patterns only exist within our heads.

Therefore, emergence is not a formal subject of study of the systems theory, it is usually a matter that is studied along with some specific type of system. For example, biological emergence is a widespread subject: the study of the biological emergent features of non-living systems.

Now, for your question, evidently, the parts might have properties than the whole doesn't have.

For example, the ability to make coffee is an artificially-developed emergent property of a coffee machine. A single pipe --which would be a part of a coffee machine-- doesn't have the ability to make coffee. In the same way, the coffee machine doesn't have the ability to avoid liquid spills, which a single pipe would have.

As you see, emergence is quite a subjective topic, so there are no agreements or a formal background. Therefore, there are no common names for such properties.

For example, we can come up with a concept there: if a feature of a part is not part of the whole, the feature can be considered a divergent or a declined feature of the whole.

  • I thought of 'divergence' also. Would make a great movie title...
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 30, 2023 at 22:56

It sounds like Haecceity may be a philosophical term for your concern:

Haecceity is a term from medieval scholastic philosophy, first coined by followers of Duns Scotus to denote a concept that he seems to have originated: the discrete qualities, properties or characteristics of a thing that make it a particular thing. Haecceity is a person's or object's thisness, the individualising difference between the concept "a man" and the concept "Socrates" (i.e., a specific person).

So a tire as a whole has elastic property while when you zoom-in about its hard steel frame component a new hardness property emerged which the whole doesn't possess functionally. But this hard steel component idiosyncratically constitutes and defines a tire.

  • The most pertinent answer.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 30, 2023 at 22:58

You mean like, how subatomic particles have quantum properties that disappear at the macroscopic scale? That's also emergence. Specifically, the classical properties emerge from the quantum ones.

See the composition fallacy.

  • But isn't emergence smaller to bigger?
    – Sayaman
    Apr 29, 2021 at 1:12
  • @Sayaman yes, the "disappearance" of the quantum properties can be looked at another way, as the emergence of classical properties.
    – causative
    Apr 29, 2021 at 1:51
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    Doesn't this kind of dodge the question as it asks whether there is a term for the other direction specifically?
    – Philip Klöcking
    Apr 29, 2021 at 8:31
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    @PhilipKlöcking there is no other direction. The behavior of large things results from the behavior of small things, not the other way around. That's my point: the apparent "reversal" of emergence he describes is not one.
    – causative
    Apr 29, 2021 at 16:09
  • Ah, ok, you should have made it more clear.
    – Sayaman
    Apr 29, 2021 at 22:33

"In philosophy, supervenience refers to a relation between sets of properties or sets of facts. X is said to supervene on Y if and only if some difference in Y is necessary for any difference in X to be possible. Here are some examples:

  1. Whether there is a table in the living room supervenes on the positions of molecules in the living room.
  2. The truth value of (A) supervenes on the truth value of (¬A).
  3. Molecular properties supervene on atomic properties. One's moral character supervenes on one's action(s)."



If you think EMERGENCE as a "flowing into" concept, you can view the opposite concept as a submergence

If you think as an EMERGENCY you can thik it as a concentration in order

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