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Emergence can be seen part of a continuing history of progressively increasing sophistication at inquiry, scientific and otherwise. Here I use my own career path as a way of showing how the emergence framework grew from and extended the earlier complex systems perspective, and how it in turn can be further developed in the direction of “non-foundational empiricism,” a form of inquiry in which one can explore and develop new ideas about inquiry itself by taking advantage of the story telling features of the human brain. The latter are themselves a product of emergence but make it possible for intention to influence future developments.
Emergence is increasingly “in fashion”, as was complexity fifteen years ago and systems theory, cybernetics, and unified science among other things before that. In the case of emergence, as with its predecessors, different people are drawn for different reasons to a something that isn’t exactly the same for each person but instead reflects to varying degrees varying senses of dissatisfaction with existing paradigms for asking and answering questions. In this important sense, emergence exists because of emergence – because of inquiry as an emergent process — and so has a somewhat different shape and character for different people and different more or less agreed on characteristics at different times.
This essay is about my own evolution as an inquirer and about how discussions of first complexity and then emergence both contributed to that evolution and suggested a path for its further development. As I hope will be clear by the end of this piece, I adopt this autobiographical approach not because I think there is anything particularly important about myself or my own experiences but rather because the story I have to tell itself implies that both the historical and the personal play much more significant roles in inquiry – and understanding — than has yet to be fully appreciated. From this emergence perspective, my task is not to tell a completed story but rather to provide from my own experiences material that others can use to further evolve their own trajectories of inquiry. I hope that the story of “empirical non-foundationalism” serves that function.