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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

The Experience of Emergence Workshop

20th January 2015, 16:00 to 18:00, Seminar Room, Institute of Advanced Study, Bernard Stiegler, Gerald Moore and Gerhard Lauer

Speakers to include:

Bernard Stiegler - The Anthropocene and the crisis of the human

Gerald Moore - The emergence of a paradigm: humanities as Digital Studies

Gerhard Lauer - You are what you read. Cognitive approaches to
the emergent narrative self


Bernard Stiegler -

The Anthropocene and the crisis of the human


Thinking around the Anthropocene routinely focuses on the ways in which humans’ technological transformation of the environment has brought about a catastrophic disequilibrium in the self-regulating system that constitutes the planet’s climate, which will have dramatic consequences for our survival (Lovelock). Stiegler’s contribution to this debate has focused on the way in which this envisaged demise has been preceded and exacerbated by our spiritual demise, via a consumerist relationship with technology that has left us demotivated and short-termist, clinging to technological messiahs, at the very moment when we need to be making long-term sacrifices for the sake of the future. His argument resonates strongly with Susan Greenfield’s recent Mind Change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains (2014), which suggests that our current attitudes to screen media are jeopardising the complexity of consciousness that we identify with human thought. This seminar will discuss pre-circulated work by Greenfield and Stiegler, beginning with an introductory presentation by Gerald Moore.



In the sciences the concept of emergence has recently become a central focus of interest. Originally developed by natural philosophers (Lewes, Broad) in the context of evolutionary theory, it connotes paradoxical ‘downward’ causation in an autopoietic system. So-called resultant effects derive traceably – ‘upwardly’ – from the interaction of the parts of the system, generate a quantitative difference, are by definition predictable. Autopoietic systems by contrast generate emergent effects which manifest themselves quasi-irrationally as something more than the sum of the traceable interaction of the system’s constituent parts. They generate a qualitative difference, are by definition unpredictable. As such, ‘downward’ causation is often claimed to ‘explain’ adaptation and evolution in both organic and social systems (Maturana and Luhmann): the reorganisation and restabilisation of a perturbed system under new terms. Examples are the spontaneous behaviour of flocks of birds and shoals of fish under threat; the saltationist evolution of species (Eldredge and Gould); perhaps also the emergence of consciousness from the brain. 

In the last ten years emergence has also, increasingly, been seen as an explicatory factor in the humanities and social sciences. Emergence has variously been suggested to provide a model for the becoming of the soul in post-Darwinian Christian theology; for explaining the unstable behaviour of stock markets; for describing bewildering epochal shifts in aesthetic style. This project offers a programme of interdisciplinary research which will explore the patterns of emergence in humanities and social sciences, and so, in a scholarly environment dominated by scientism and positivism, make a positive contribution to the two cultures debate. The experience of emergence – something to be explored phenomenologically and in communicative media – is argued to be a contact zone of indeterminacy between human and natural science epistemologies. 

This programme offers a series of lectures and workshops by internationally distinguished colleagues from Durham and abroad, addressing the extent to which the experience of emergence contributes to interdisciplinary expansion of cognitive horizons, inter alia 

  • technical evolution and the emergence of social change
  • aesthetic communication and agency in systems theory
  • the relations of cognitive psychology and literature
  • the emergent experience of wonder and wellbeing
  • the ontology of emergence
  • the emergence and after-effects of social crisis
  • the experience of risk and adventure as catalysing the emergence of new cognitive horizons. 

The project team will explore these issues with the support of IAS Fellow Professor Katherine Hayles (Duke University). The IAS is also supporting a programme of fortnightly inter-departmental seminars and a conference, which will culminate in the publication of an edited volume. 

For more information contact Professor Nicholas Saul ( 

Contact for more information about this event.