• Ypan1944
    27
    Since Mark Bedau's article on "Weak emergence" (1997) a lot of confusing articles have been published about the meaning of emergence as a scientific-philosophical concept. Let's summarize some definitions:
    • Emergence occurs when different components together generate a new phenomenon with properties that cannot be found in the individual components. Emergent properties are therefore characteristics of the collective and not of their parts. “The whole is more than the parts.”]
    • With weak emergence the different components remain independent of each other; if the interaction between those components disappears, the emergent phenomenon (e.g. a school of fish, a flight of starlings, the surface tension of water) disappears also. In most cases the emergent phenomenon is reproducible by computer simulation. This is a deterministic proces, notwithstanding the final result can be unpredictable (f.i. weather forecasts)
    • With strong emergence, the components lose their independence and a new ontological entity with new properties emerges. Since almost all objects in everyday life are composed of multiple parts, which together generate new properties of the whole (e.g. all artifacts), this means that almost all objects you encounter in daily life are strongly emergent. These properties, though dependent of their constituting parts, are new and not reducible to properties of their parts (like weak emergency) and you need a new theory to describe this phenomenon (f.i. chemical laws, biological laws, economic laws)
    Bedau disputes this because, according to him, a strongly emergent (ontologically new) phenomenon has properties that are not reducible/derivable from already known physics and are therefore "magical" in his view. In my opinion, this addition by Bedau is superfluous: you do can actually describe the properties of an emergent phenomenon with "normal" physics, where its substructure is usually irrelevant, so a form of "coarse graining" will happen (f.i. with Bohr's atomic model the substructure of the atomic nucleus is irrelevant, only the electric charge of the nucleus plays a role; and you need a new theory (namely quantum mechanics) to describe that phenomenon). Moreover, Bedau adds that a strong emergent phenomenon would cause "downward causation" on its components.

    What is "Downward causation"? At least not the reversal of cause and effect. In complex systems, "downward causation" occurs as a form of feedback in which the initial cause is modified by the resulting effect in a roundabout way, leading to a new end result. F.i. if a cook adds more salt after tasting the sauce he need. However, there is a possibility of confusion here with the concept of "supervenience".
    • A property A is called supervenient over a (subvenient) property B if a change in B has direct consequences for A. This does not mean that B is the direct cause of A (several factors may play a role), but it is a crucial part. For example, phenotypic characteristics are supervenient over certain characteristics of the genotype. Lorenz's butterfly effect, which can cause a tornado elsewhere in the world, is another example.
    Supervenience is therefore completely different from "downward causation". Supervenience is a typical characteristic of strong emergence: after all, the properties of the constituent parts are crucial for the emergence of the strong emergent phenomenon. For example, the characteristics of a water molecule are completely different from its constituent parts (hydrogen and oxygen), but exchanging one of its building blocks with a different type of atom produces a completely different molecule. It may therefore be that Bedau is confusing "downward causation" with "supervenience".

    Jaegwon Kim further increases the confusion by considering the Cartesian mental domain as an example of strong emergence, where non-physical properties come into play. He then shows that this automatically leads to overdetermination with underlying physical factors. However, if you consider the brain as a physically complex system, with "consciousness" as a (weak) emergent phenomenon, then there is nothing to worry about.
  • ucarr
    1.1k


    ...if you consider the brain as a physically complex system, with "consciousness" as a (weak) emergent phenomenon, then there is nothing to worry about.Ypan1944

    Do you think your description of weak emergence the closest fit for: a) sentience; b) reason as mental emergences from the brain? If so, why?

    I ask this question because I think strong emergence the closet fit for: a) sentience; b) reason as mental emergences from the brain. I think this because: a) the human brain is the most networked system imaginable; b) the supervenience of sentience and reason is so strong that minor changes in brain tissue can radically alter practice of sentience and reason.
  • Pantagruel
    3.2k
    b) the supervenience of sentience and reason is so strong that minor changes in brain tissue can radically alter practice of sentience and reason.ucarr

    Conversely, the brain is also damage tolerant and in some cases is able to rewire itself to compensate for damage. So perhaps there is both supervenience and some form of strong emergence?
  • ucarr
    1.1k


    Conversely, the brain is also damage tolerant and in some cases is able to rewire itself to compensate for damage. So perhaps there is both supervenience and some form of strong emergence?Pantagruel

    Yes.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.3k

    "Strong emergency" in the title is very eye-catching. I thought it was going to be a thread about the relationship between down-ward causation and global climate change, as an example of a strong emergency.

    In my opinion, this addition by Bedau is superfluous: you do can actually describe the properties of an emergent phenomenon with "normal" physics, where its substructure is usually irrelevant, so a form of "coarse graining" will happen (f.i. with Bohr's atomic model the substructure of the atomic nucleus is irrelevant, only the electric charge of the nucleus plays a role; and you need a new theory (namely quantum mechanics) to describe that phenomenon)Ypan1944

    I don't think this is correct. The strong force of the atom's nucleus is not understood by physics. And since the negative charge of the electrons is balanced by the positive charge of the nucleus, separation of the electrons from the nucleus is not possible. There would no longer be electrons if separation occurs, but free energy as photons. So the electron's "electric charge" is dependent on the atom's nucleus for explanation, and the nucleus cannot be left irrelevant.

    Supervenience is therefore completely different from "downward causation".Ypan1944

    I find you have not provided a good explanation of "downward causation", only giving a general outline, and stating distinctly what downward causation is not.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    To argue that our consciousness is highly emergent you must show that the features of our consciousness are supervenient over the underlying complex structure of neurons. This would mean that any damage to the brain has consequences for consciousness. I didn't think this is the case. But I admit that the distinction between weak and strong emergence is not a strong one.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    I don't agree with you. The features of an atom are totally dependent on the electron configuration of the atom, which you can describe with quantummechanics (harmonic oscillator etc.). The internal structure of the nucleus is irrelevant. You only need to know the electric charge of the nucleus.
    Also in chemical reactions, only the electron configuration of the participating atoms or molecules is important.
    I agree that there is a lot of confusion and mystification about the meaning of "downward causation". I opt for a "simple" definition here.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    The same problem arises if you consider the behavior of a bee or ant colony as strong or weak? emergent. Are those bees really independent of each other? After all, they are doomed to death on their own. The same problem arises with your neurons who are dynamically connected with each other.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.3k
    I don't agree with you. The features of an atom are totally dependent on the electron configuration of the atom, which you can describe with quantummechanics (harmonic oscillator etc.). The internal structure of the nucleus is irrelevant. You only need to know the electric charge of the nucleus.Ypan1944

    I believe 99.999 per cent of an atom's mass is in the nucleus. And you claim the internal structure is irrelevant to "emergent phenomenon". I think you've unnecessarily restricted your definition of "emergent phenomenon" to include only the activity of electrons.

    Also in chemical reactions, only the electron configuration of the participating atoms or molecules is important.Ypan1944

    What about nuclear reactions though, as we find in the sun and other stars? On the scale of the universe as a whole, nuclear reactions are more significant than chemical reactions.
  • Pantagruel
    3.2k
    To argue that our consciousness is highly emergent you must show that the features of our consciousness are supervenient over the underlying complex structure of neurons.Ypan1944

    Doesn't the strength of emergence tend to contra-indicate supervenience.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    Nuclear reactions have nothing to do with the features of an atom or molecule. For reactions between atoms or molecules, only the "outside" of an atom (i.e. the outermost electrons of the atom) plays a role. The emergent feature of an atom or molecule depends only on its outermost electron configuration.
  • wonderer1
    1.5k
    For reactions between atoms or molecules, only the "outside" of an atom (i.e. the outermost electrons of the atom) plays a role.Ypan1944

    It seems that you were taught a simplistic version of chemistry.

    Deuterium oxide, also known as “heavy water” or “deuterium water”, is the compound of oxygen and the heavy isotope of hydrogen, namely deuterium. It is called heavy water because its density is greater than H₂O and its chemical formula is D₂O. Deuterium contains a neutron and proton in its nucleus, which makes it twice as heavy as protium (hydrogen), which contains only one proton. Deuterium oxide is colorless and odorless liquid in normal temperature and pressure. Compared to ordinary water, its chemical characteristic is relatively inactive with specific gravity of 1.10775 (25 ℃), melting/freezing point of 3.82 ℃, and boiling point of 101.42 ℃. The hydrogen bond strength and degree of association between heavy water molecules are both stronger than that of ordinary water molecules...
    https://www.isowater.com/what-is-deuterium-oxide-heavy-water/
  • Ypan1944
    27
    I think just the opposite is true: strong emergency and supervenience are strongly connected. With weak emergency supervenience sometimes happens (like Lorenz butterfly effect) but several other effects on components doesn't have this effect. F.i. throwing a stone in an emergent whirlpool doesn't disturb the water movement in general.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.3k
    Nuclear reactions have nothing to do with the features of an atom or molecule. For reactions between atoms or molecules, only the "outside" of an atom (i.e. the outermost electrons of the atom) plays a role. The emergent feature of an atom or molecule depends only on its outermost electron configuration.Ypan1944

    So I assume you are restricting the concept of "emergence" so that the products of nuclear reactions are not included as forms of emergence. How would you classify this activity then? Surely it's not downward causation. What type of causation is it?
  • Ypan1944
    27
    Yes, you are right, but the chemical features of "heavy water" are exactly the same as "normal" water. The features you mentioned are just physical, not chemical. These physical aspects are not emergent (they are the direct result of the fact that it is a heavier atomic nucleus). The chemical features are indeed emergent, depending on the specific electron configuration.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    Of course: nuclear reactions have emergent aspects by themselves, but you should distinguish these from emergent chemical features.
    You can of course lump everything together and say that the universe, with everything in it, is emergent as a whole. But that means that the various properties of the universe are obscured.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    12.3k
    Of course: nuclear reactions have emergent aspects by themselves, but you should distinguish these from emergent chemical features.
    You can of course lump everything together and say that the universe, with everything in it, is emergent as a whole. But that means that the various properties of the universe are obscured.
    Ypan1944

    Well, I think if we're talking about emergency, we ought to consider the whole category, not just "emergent chemical features". If the reality of the situation is "that the various properties of the universe are obscured", then we need to respect that, rather than trying to obscure that fact by hiding it or denying it.
  • Pantagruel
    3.2k
    Supervenience is indicative of a dependence of a higher order entity on its constituent components. Strong emergence, on the other hand, is defined precisely in terms of non-reducibility (the whole is more than the sum of its parts). So, for example, if a man was able to build a neural computer, and transfer his consciousness to that computer, his consciousness would definitively be strongly emergent and not supervenient. This would also be an example of downward causation.

    Here is a paper about meditation causing structural changes in the brain, for example.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    For a good summary of the aforementioned problems, see: the article of Mariusz Tabaczek
  • Ypan1944
    27
    Supervenience is indicative of a dependence of a higher order entity on its constituent components. Strong emergence, on the other hand, is defined precisely in terms of non-reducibility (the whole is more than the sum of its parts). So, for example, if a man was able to build a neural computer, and transfer his consciousness to that computer, his consciousness would definitively be strongly emergent and not supervenient. This would also be an example of downward causation.Pantagruel

    Again: "supervenience" has nothing to do (in my opinion) with "downward causation" Supervenience is upward causation, not downward. To be strong emergent every component has a subvenient causal effect on a supervenient resulting emergent feature but not "downward".
    Nevertheless "downward causation" in the sense of "feedback" is of course important: that is the learning capacity of your brain.
    I doubt if our consciousness is strong emergent: it seems too rigid in my opinion.

    See also: Michele Paolini Paoletti and Francesco Orilia (to disturb you).
  • wonderer1
    1.5k
    Yes, you are right, but the chemical features of "heavy water" are exactly the same as "normal" water. The features you mentioned are just physical, not chemical. These physical aspects are not emergent (they are the direct result of the fact that it is a heavier atomic nucleus). The chemical features are indeed emergent, depending on the specific electron configuration.Ypan1944

    No the chemical properties are not exactly the same. For example, the pH of heavy water is 7.44 instead of 7.0.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_water
  • Ypan1944
    27
    No the chemical properties are not exactly the same. For example, the pH of heavy water is 7.44 instead of 7.0.wonderer1

    I should say that pH is a physical feature of the ion-concentration of a solution. Chemics - in my opinion - is more about the characteristics of a reaction between different molecules. But I don't bother about more refinement of definitions about physics versus chemistry
  • wonderer1
    1.5k
    But I don't bother about more refinement of definitions about physics versus chemistryYpan1944

    Seems important to bother with, in serious consideration of emergence.
  • ucarr
    1.1k


    To argue that our consciousness is highly emergent you must show that the features of our consciousness are supervenient over the underlying complex structure of neurons. This would mean that any damage to the brain has consequences for consciousness.Ypan1944

    Do you accept selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- SSRIs -- an established medication treatment for major depressive disorder -- as an example of the deep interweave of mind and brain via supervenience? SSRIs can greatly relieve long-term depression, a state of consciousness embedded in the empirical experience of some individuals. They achieve their effect by increasing the volume of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between neurons.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    Do you accept selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- SSRIs -- an established medication treatment for major depressive disorder -- as an example of the deep interweave of mind and brain via supervenience? SSRIs can greatly relieve long-term depression, a state of consciousness embedded in the empirical experience of some individuals. They achieve their effect by increasing the volume of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between neurons.ucarr

    In my opinion this is certainly a case of supervenience. But supervenience can both exist in weak and strong emergency.
  • ucarr
    1.1k


    To argue that our consciousness is highly emergent you must show that the features of our consciousness are supervenient over the underlying complex structure of neurons. This would mean that any damage to the brain has consequences for consciousness. I didn't think this is the case. But I admit that the distinction between weak and strong emergence is not a strong one.Ypan1944

    Do you accept selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors -- SSRIs -- an established medication treatment for major depressive disorder -- as an example of the deep interweave of mind and brain via supervenience? SSRIs can greatly relieve long-term depression, a state of consciousness embedded in the empirical experience of some individuals. They achieve their effect by increasing the volume of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between neurons.ucarr

    In my opinion this is certainly a case of supervenience. But supervenience can both exist in weak and strong emergency.Ypan1944

    You say if damage to the brain has consequences for consciousness, then this is evidence consciousness is highly emergent, with supervenience over neurons.

    So, I provide a well-documented example of deficient serotonin levels in persons with clinical depression. This deficiency is tied to brain malfunction that in turn causes strong negativity of personal experiences in the mind of the afflicted person. This evidence meets your standards of supervenience over neuronal activity with gross changes in consciousness.

    You say you don't believe damage to the brain has consequences for consciousness.

    You emphasize the strong versus weak emergence distinction, saying there's little difference, thus implying strong emergence is only slightly stronger than weak emergence.

    Since supervenience -- whether strong or weak -- evidences emergence of mind, you presumably accept it as fact. Is your goal in this conversation denial of strong emergency?
  • Ypan1944
    27
    You emphasize the strong versus weak emergence distinction, saying there's little difference, thus implying strong emergence is only slightly stronger than weak emergence.

    Since supervenience -- whether strong or weak -- evidences emergence of mind, you presumably accept it as fact. Is your goal in this conversation denial of strong emergency?
    ucarr

    My goals are:
    * Explain the difference between weak and strong emergency
    * Explain the difference between "downward causation" and "supervenience"
    * Show that there is a close connection between "strong emergency" and "supervenience" (and not with "downward causation") in the sense that every constituting component is crucial for the emergent event is happening.

    In the case of consciousness: not every neuron in your brain is crucial for your consciousness (in fact, a lot of neurons die as you get older). In the case of Alzheimer disease, you can show that some neurons or combination of neurons are essential (subvenient) for your consciousness. So you can say that the whole working of your brain is weak emergent and some parts of it perhaps strong emergent.
  • Gnomon
    3.5k
    With strong emergence, the components lose their independence and a new ontological entity with new properties emerges.Ypan1944
    To some, Strong Emergence seems to imply a violation of Determinism, and Downward Causation implies a violation of physical Cause & Effect. Is this seemingly "magical" appearance of novelty the crux of your OP?

    In his seminal work, Incomplete Nature, Terrence Deacon addresses both of those controversial topics. Yet, the Information Philosopher goes into even more detail, and both use the language of Information Theory to explain how the "magic" works. Are you familiar with these authors? :smile:


    Emergence : A term used to designate an apparently discontinuous transition from one mode of causal properties to another of a higher rank, typically associated with an increase in scale in which lower-order component interactions contribute to the lower-order interactions. The term has a long and diverse history, but throughout this history it has been used to describe the way that living and mental processes depend upon chemical and physical processes, yet exhibit collective properties exhibited by living and non-mental processes, and in many cases appear to violate the ubiquitous tendencies exhibited by these component interactions
    https://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/scientists/deacon/

    Emergence :
    Information philosophy explains the reality of emergence, because what emerges is new information.

    Emergent Dualism :
    Reductionist physicalists like Jaegwon Kim argue for the causal closure of the world. Causal closure is the idea that everything that is caused to happen in the world is caused by (earlier) physical events in the world. This eliminates the possibility of a "non-reductive" physicalism, in which higher level emergence properties and capabilities are not reducible to purely physical causes. Closure under physical causes denies the emergence of levels, in particular a non-reducible mental level, capable of downward causation.
    https://www.informationphilosopher.com/knowledge/emergent_dualism.html
  • Ypan1944
    27
    To some, Strong Emergence seems to imply a violation of Determinism, and Downward Causation implies a violation of physical Cause & Effect. Is this seemingly "magical" appearance of novelty the crux of your OP?Gnomon

    I think there is a lot of confusion about definition and features of (weak/strong) emergency. I am a physicalist, so a belief that all phenomena (even mental phenomena) are in principle reducible to known physical interactions. However that doesn't mean that - the other way round - all phenomena are predictable, because of deterministic physical laws. This is especially true for the collective features of complex systems (magnets, superconductors, soap bubbles, chemical systems, biological systems, etc.). These features are more or less easier described by macroscopic features by means of "course graining". You don't need to go down to a lower (sub)atomic level to achieve a satisfactory explanation for this collective behavior. It is called emergent behavior for it is new because it is unpredictable.
    Therefore I like also to call artifacts emergent (even strong emergent): they need an inventor or artist to construct them, and they are in essence unpredictable.
    I dislike the self-evidence of Bedau's connection between (strong)emergence and "downward causation". Roger Sperry's example of a rolling wheel has nothing to do with downward causation and is not even emergent. In my opinion with "downward causation" is always ment: "feedback". This is a very common feature of complex systems and requires always a suitable context where such a feature can happen (f.i. condensation, crystallization, self-organizing systems, evolution, leading to entropy reduction). In the case of artifacts feedback is leading to improvements and correcting errors. However feedback is never self-evident: it only happens under special conditions.
    On the other hand is supervenience strongly connected with emergence. In the case of strong emergence every component is subvenient to the apparent emergent behavior. In the case of weak emergency there are only some subvenient component who are crucial for the emergent behavior.

    I do know your valuable links to informationphilosopher.com, however I think that most philosophers are not up to date about developments in complex systems theory of the last 20 year. See for recent achievements f.i. https://www.d-iep.org .
  • Ypan1944
    27
    In his seminal work, Incomplete Nature, Terrence Deacon addresses both of those controversial topics. Yet, the Information Philosopher goes into even more detail, and both use the language of Information Theory to explain how the "magic" works. Are you familiar with these authors? :smile:Gnomon

    Thanks for your link to Terrence Deacon.
  • Gnomon
    3.5k
    Therefore I like also to call artifacts emergent (even strong emergent): they need an inventor or artist to construct them, and they are in essence unpredictable.Ypan1944
    Cognitive & computer scientist Douglas Hofstadter, in Godel, Escher, Bach. argued that the fortuitous evolutionary emergence of Life & Mind was due to "strange loops" (feedback cycles) in physical processes. Thus, the "creativity" of an otherwise deterministic system is caused by a "glitch in the matrix". Classical physics had no explanation for novelty in evolution. But Quantum Physics discovered a possible gap in cause & effect determinism in the Uncertainty Principle, which makes sub-atomic processes somewhat unpredictable.

    Ironically, the looping "glitch" itself is unexpected in classical deterministic physics. Which suggests the logical necessity for "an inventor or artist to construct them". But natural or supernatural creativity of any kind is abhorrent to most scientific worldviews, that are based on the predictability of nature. So, how else can we explain the appearance of Strong Emergence in the world, without assuming either sporadic Divine Intervention, or at least a hypothetical intelligent First Cause, to design or program a dynamic system capable of creating radical novelty, such as self-referencing "featherless bipeds" with big brains, who ask recursive questions about their own origins? :brow:
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