Just like the physicalists and the vitalists argued about the sovereignty of interpretation of biological phenomena around the year 1900,

Rail journey to Lake Titicaca, Peru
Rail journey to Lake Titicaca, Peru

there is currently a dispute about the emergence of spiritual phenomena. Just like physics was around the year 1900, biology is now more highly regarded as an exact natural science than the social sciences and the humanities, which are often disputed.

Just like physics was around the year 1900, biology is now the leading science. But like the physicalists around the year 1900, biologists of today fail to describe the more complex level of existence because they do not include the emergence associated with the new complexity in their calculations.

The biological theory system is only marginally suitable for the description of mental phenomena.


The theory of emergence offered the solution.

Puno, Peru
Puno, Peru

In terms of the concept, Ernst Mayr writes:

Systems almost always have the peculiarity that properties of the whole cannot be derived (not even in theory) from even the most complete knowledge of the components, regardless of whether they are considered individually or in other partial combinations.

This emergence of new qualities in an entity is called emergence and is often used in an attempt to explain such difficult phenomena as life, mind and consciousness. In fact, emergence is no less typical of inorganic systems.
(Mayr 2002, p. 52)

Biological organisms are complex systems with new properties that require a new set of rules, namely an independent biological theory. Achim Stephan mentions four distinguishing features of emergent theories in his book on emergence (German: Emergenz, Paderborn, 3rd ed. 2007, pp. 14 – 25):

1. Naturalism: only natural factors play a role in evolution
2. Innovation: something genuinely new is created
3. Systemic properties
4. Hierarchy of the levels of existence: especially the areas of the material, the biological, and the spiritual.


Hypothesis 20


Old Town of Quito, Ecuador
Old Town of Quito, Ecuador

With the network, a new level of existence beyond the biological sphere can be achieved (emergence).

Just as biological facts cannot be adequately described with the theories of physics, mental or cultural facts cannot be adequately described with the body of rules applicable to biology.


At the end of the 19th century there was a conflict in the explanation of biological phenomena between physicalists, who wanted to describe all biological phenomena with the well-respected theories of physics, and the vitalists, who emphasised the inadequacy of physical theories in the description of biological processes and brought into play the idea of a sentient soul of organisms, which contradicted prevailing naturalistic principles.

Neither the physicalists nor the vitalists were able to prevail in the end. The vitalists failed in their non-naturalistic approach. But even the physicalists could not adequately describe biological phenomena. Since biological organisms were very complex systems that produced new characteristics, the extent to which the theories of physics could be applied was limited.


I have to introduce the term emergence at thispoint.

Parade, Cusco, Peru, 27. 8. 1989
Parade, Cusco, Peru, 27. 8. 1989

Complex systems cannot be explained by the mere description of their parts. Even the most precise knowledge of the individual parts cannot lead to an understanding of the system. This phenomenon is referred to as emergence i.e. the appearance of new properties that do not result from the properties of the subsystems.

The concept of emergence has played an important role in the question of whether biological systems, e.g. cells, can be explained with the theoretical framework of physics or chemistry. The answer: However important the understanding of physical and chemical processes in the cell may be for the overall understanding, the biological system alone cannot explain the cell.

There are emergent biological properties in cells that can only be explained using the theoretical framework of biology. The same applies to the spirit and culture of people; human beings and their culture are a highly complex system with characteristics that emerge from their biological parts.

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