Alison Doane
Curator of Astronomical Photographs at the 
Harvard College Observatory
Star Patterns 1880
The Harvard Glass Plate Observatory


Mark Jacobson
digital photograph

Emergence is the process of coming into being.

Emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of the state of being made. A complex system could be made of shapes, people, bacteria or even snowflakes. Each are interrelated and interdependent and cycle while changing and adapting over time. Everything living cycles which is how the earth renews itself. Life is perpetually emerging as new compositions of whatever they are made of initially.

A work of art functions as a system in this way in that it emerges new compositions which derive from the relationships between its parts such as its scale with its context, shapes, forms, values and textures. This dynamic is synergistic, generating “emergent properties” and new possibilities, which are not predictable from the character of the separate parts. For example Duckweed (lemnaceae, water lentils) family are the smallest flowering plants and probably the fastest growing plant, capable of doubling its weight in 24 hours. As it grows, Duckweed absorbs nutrients from the water. Thus it has a useful role in controlling the growth of algae, both by removing nutrients and by shutting out sunlight as the Duckweed covers the water surface. This tiny aquatic plant has tremendous potential for cleaning up pollution, combating global warming and feeding the world.

Stars are born within the clouds of dust and scattered throughout most galaxies. Turbulence deep within these clouds initiates a collapse under its own gravitational attraction. The material at the center begins to heat up collapsing the cloud that will one day become a star. During this process called fusion, a star emits light produced in its interior by nuclear burning whereas a planet only shines by reflected light. There seem to be an enormous number of stars that are visible to the naked-eye yet the human eye can only see about two thousand stars in the sky at one time.