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this is an applied math question. I could have posted this under a biological stackexchange, but the idea of emergent behavior or emergent properties of a system seems more appropriate to an applied math audience.

The question is why bacterial or uni-cellular chemotaxis represents an "emergent" behavior? I have been reading the original Keller Segel (1971) papers on chemotaxis--the movement of these organisms in response to nutrient gradients in the organism's environment. But I was not sure why this is considered an "emergent" behavior? Emergent compared to what? Is chemotaxis an emergent behavior compared to brownian motion or some sort of straight-line path (f = ma)?

I know that there is no really agreed upon definition of emergent behavior, but any suggestions would be appreciated.

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  • $\begingroup$ Think that's just the word people decided to use in applied math/etc for systems where constituent parts are simple but overall behavior is interesting. Don't think there's any more detailed criterion than that for what would be considered "emergent". $\endgroup$ – Kai Sikorski Apr 6 '14 at 21:17
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It seems that that the term emergent might refer here to some behaviors or properties which appear when a number of simple entities (agents) operate in an environment, forming more complex behaviors as a collective than was expected in view of the simplicity of the mechanisms ruling them at an individual level.

An example of this perspective in the context of chemotaxis is in the paper Chemotaxis as an Emergent Property of a Swarm by Rion G. Taylor and Roy D. Welch.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks so much for the answer. I am looking at the paper now. $\endgroup$ – krishnab Apr 22 '14 at 8:12

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