The podcast is back. Click the buttons above to have this article read or speedread to you.

Meg, a single woman in San Francisco had her habits and routines. She did yoga after work pretty much every day. Some nights she got together with friends; other nights she stayed home and watched DVDs or read.

Her friends introduced her to Mark, a single guy from Oakland about ten miles away. Like Meg he enjoyed spending some nights out, but he insisted on practicing guitar every night.

They dated and time together felt good.  They liked being out as a couple among friends.  They liked cuddling at one or the other’s apartment watching DVDs or reading.  When one was feeling down the other was usually up so they balanced each other’s spirits nicely. Each felt stronger with the other.

Now they’ve been together about four years. Mark moved into Meg’s place and now pays half the rent. They have a new dog, Beano. They never wonder whether they belong together, but of course there are incompatibilities.  Meg likes Mark’s guitar playing, but sometimes they stay home so he can practice when she would rather go out. Mark is glad Meg is so fit but sort of wishes she didn’t insist on going to yoga after work because it means he has to come home right away to walk Beano.  “Love takes work,” Mark says, “but it’s worth it.”

Freud said “Love and work…work and love, that’s all there is…love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” The pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles said that love and strife were the primary moving factors not just for humans but also for the whole universe.

I’m single again and dating, thinking about what it takes to make a couple. And I’m also still part of a research team working on the emergence of life from non-life (the field is simply called “emergence.”).

Between these two activities I find myself agreeing with Freud and Empedocles.   Love and work are the cornerstones of humanness but they’re universal too.  If you’ll work with me, I think I can explain the connection.

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup

Things, living and otherwise have their habits, the behaviors they spontaneously produce. A billiard ball on a table will just keep sitting there.  A ball rolling down an incline will keep rolling.  As singles, Meg does yoga after work; Mark practices guitar at night. Those are their habits independent of new outside influences. In Meg and Mark’s case we’d say they do those things because they love them.

In our emergence research we’re calling this “orthograde” behavior.  Ortho- means straight and -grade means incline. It’s what things are inclined to do if they do what is normal or “straight” for them.  Orthograde behavior is spontaneous or internally-generated behavior.

Things with different spontaneous habits or orthogrades come into contact.  The rolling ball hits the stationary ball. Meg and Mark meet and move in with each other.

In interaction the balls change each other’s behavior.  The formerly-stationary ball moves; the rolling ball’s path changes.  Likewise, when Meg and Mark move in together, they change each other’s behavior too.  Behavior under a new influence is called “non-spontaneous.”  It’s not that it’s un-natural.  After all, interaction is natural.  But it’s non-spontaneous with respect to what the balls or people did before interaction.

We emergentists call the interaction between two orthogrades a “contragrade.” Contra-, of course means against. Contragrade interactions change behavior. In fact, that’s the physical science definition of work. Work shifts behavior from spontaneous to non-spontaneous, from what things would do on their own to what they do under each other’s influences.

If, one morning you noticed that your parked car had a new dent in it, you would not think that the car had spontaneously crumpled but rather that something external had worked on it, probably another car.

If your cynical, atheistic party-animal friend came to visit dressed in a suit, and, refusing a beer tried to convert you to Born-Again Christianity, you might likewise suspect some new outside influence. You’d ask “what got into you?” In other words, what external influence worked on you to shift your behavior from spontaneous to non-spontaneous?

Love and work, love and strife, orthograde and contragrade, spontaneous and non-spontaneous–these are parallel concepts.  They deal with the relationship between what happens independent of, and under an outside influence.

Of course, there’s a huge gap between the contragrade of two billiard balls working on each other and the contragrade of two partners like Meg and Mark working on each other. It’s a great enough gap that you might believe they’re entirely different. After all, the balls change each other’s behavior through direct physical contact, but Meg doesn’t physically work on Mark to make him come home to walk Beano.

Still, there has to be some way to bridge the gap between physical and mental work.  Physical work dates back to the beginning of our universe. And now we have the kind of mental work that people like Meg and Mark do on each other. It’s fair to say that our scientific accounts of behavior—of cause and effect itself– won’t be complete until we can say with precision how Meg and Mark’s interpersonal work emerges from physical work.  As the Nobel Prize winning Physicist Ilya Prigogine said, “”We must understand our world in such a way that it will not be absurd to claim that it has produced us”

To emergence researchers, the emergence of interpersonal or mental work from physical work happens by means of a hierarchy of steps or levels–from atoms, to molecules, to cells, to bodies to social systems–in other words from the kind of work (behavioral changes) analyzed in physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, and sociology.

We can say that higher-level work emerges from lower levels but until we can say just how this happens, the word “emergence” is just a space-holder for the question “How?”

One part of the answer is that all contragrades are the products of lower-level orthogrades.  The two billiard balls doing their own independent (orthograde) things come together. Their contragrade behavior makes a larger system.  Their larger system is short-lived, a billiard ball bump and that’s it. But in some cases the higher-level contragrade becomes a new orthograde that has staying power.

Like Meg and Mark — introduced by friends, they bumped into each other and now they’re a larger entity—a higher level “us” made of lower-level “he,” and “she.” As a couple, a new larger system—they have their new orthogrades, the things the couple itself does naturally.

They’re an organization of two acting, at least in part like one.  They love what they used to love (yoga; guitar), they work on each other (causing compromises and changes),they love each other and they love things together. They’re like a new organism.

And what exactly is an organism? It’s something that can evolve. Not everything can.  Still another question in emergence research is how evolution gets started. Apparently something happens in the emergent transition from molecules to cells, chemistry to biology.

Natural selection isn’t the whole of evolution. Natural selection is really a name for the fact that things fall apart at different rates, so there’s “differential survival.” You could say survival of the fittest applies to billiard balls too. If you subject two billiard balls to the weather for millenia, one will fall apart faster than the other and yet billiard balls don’t evolve.

No, the real remaining evolutionary mystery is how self-regenerating forms come into being, those unusual kinds of things we call organisms that, when acted upon by natural selection do, in fact evolve over generations (self-regenerations).

To the emergence research team I work with, the simplest self-regenerating form is two parts (or sub-systems) that rebuild each other.  The philosopher Immanuel Kant nailed it saying that “an organic body is… a body, every part of which is there for the sake of the other, reciprocally as end, and at the same time, means.”

Reciprocal means and ends:  You’re stomach helps regenerate your liver, your liver helps regenerate your stomach. Organisms are organizations in which every part works on every other, regenerating each other and sustaining the whole.

What’s true of organisms is true of organizations too.  All parts are means and ends to each other, even at the office.  The HR department imposes constraints on the sales department, which imposes constraints on HR.  And the departments regenerate each other too. Sales pays HR’s salaries and HR hires to replenish the sales department.

If Freud and Empedocles don’t mind, to love and work, I’m going to add play.  By play all I mean here is their individual orthogrades or loves.  For Meg, yoga is her play. For Mark, guitar is his play.  As a larger system, they love each other; and as individuals they still love to play what they loved to play before they met each other.  Therein lies the sweet tension of love.   They accommodate each other’s independent loves.  Meg lets Mark’s play work on her—it changes her behavior keeping her home some nights she would otherwise go out.  And Mark let’s Meg’s play work on him—it changes his behavior getting him home to walk Beano when he otherwise might stay out.

The larger love they have for each other makes the give and take, the work and play they do for each other worth it.  Unlike billiard balls which simply bounce in and then out,these two stay together, organically, like an organization or an organism.