• Gnomon
    3.7k
    Thanks for your link to Terrence Deacon.Ypan1944
    In another thread on this forum*1, we have been discussing Deacon's seminal concept of Constitutive or Causal Absence, as it relates to a Materialistic worldview. As you might expect, we have been going around in strange-loop circles on how to make sense of a creative causal gap*2 in the chain of Determinism*3, from the perspective that inert Matter is the fundamental element of reality.

    For Deacon, that Constitutive Absence is similar to Hofstadter's Strange Loop, as an explanation for the emergence of new links, such as animated matter, in the chain of physical Necessity. One aspect of his theory is Downward Causation*4. Although the thread is currently spinning its wheels, the paradoxical notion of Absential Materialism may be obliquely relevant to your own OP. :smile:


    *1. Absential Materialism : https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/14931/absential-materialism/p1

    *2. Absential : The paradoxical intrinsic property of existing with respect to something missing, separate, and possibly nonexistent. Although this property is irrelevant when it comes to inanimate things, it is a defining property of life and mind; elsewhere (Deacon 2005) described as a constitutive absence
    https://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/scientists/deacon/

    *3. Scientific determinism is the belief that whatever happens has physically determinate causes and is the predictable result of these causes.
    https://www.jstor.org/stable/27759319

    *4. The Metaphysics of Downward Causation :
    Deacon’s approach is similar. He lists four Aristotelian causes and describes the process of a slow erosion of the plural notion of causality in the history of philosophy and science.
    https://philarchive.org/archive/TABTMO
  • Gnomon
    3.7k
    Emergent properties are therefore characteristics of the collective and not of their parts. “The whole is more than the parts.”Ypan1944
    This sounds like a description of Holism, as a metaphysical concept relevant to physical things & processes. But you didn't use that controversial term. Was that ententional?

    The original title of this thread was spelled "emergency". That may have been a typo, but "Emergence" and "Emergency" are related concepts. "Emergence" usually refers to the gradual evolution of novelty within a system. But "Emergency" suggests a radical break in the chain of causation that requires special treatment. One kind of philosophically important "strong" emergence is the transition from a collection of parts to an integrated system with new properties of its own, such as the evolutionary appearance of self-animated matter, and self-referencing minds in the world. Is that what this thread is about? :smile:

    PS___Bedau seems to be trying to avoid the metaphysical implications*2 of Strong Emergence, since it appears to violate the deterministic presumptions of Materialism. Are you defending an alternative metaphysic?

    *1. emergence and emergency despite their common origin “are now completely differentiated, emergence meaning emerging or coming into notice, and emergency meaning a juncture that has arisen, especially one that calls for prompt measures”.
    https://jazzmigration.com/language/en/emergence-emergency/

    *2. I will argue that weak emergence (defined below) meets these three goals: it is metaphysically innocent, consistent with materialism,
    http://people.reed.edu/~mab/papers/weak.emergence.pdf
  • SophistiCat
    2.2k
    A property A is called supervenient over a (subvenient) property B if a change in B has direct consequences for A.Ypan1944

    This is an incorrect definition of supervenience: the relationship goes in the opposite direction. And you go on to make an incorrect argument from it:

    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

    A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties. In slogan form, “there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference”.SEP

    Thus, supervenience admits underdetermination of supervenient properties by subvenient properties. If consciousness is supervenient upon the structure of neurons, what follows is that any difference in conscious states must be accompanied (not to say "caused") by a difference in the brain structure. Conversely, a difference in the brain structure, such as minor brain damage, but also any number of harmless variations, does not necessarily bear consequences for consciousness.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    A property A is called supervenient over a (subvenient) property B if a change in B has direct consequences for A.
    — Ypan1944

    This is an incorrect definition of supervenience: the relationship goes in the opposite direction. And you go on to make an incorrect argument from it:
    SophistiCat

    Sorry, but look at Wikipedia for this definition:
    "In philosophy, supervenience refers to a relation between sets of properties or sets of facts. X is said to supervene on Y if and only if some difference in Y is necessary for any difference in X to be possible."
    This has nothing to do with your "downward causation" conception
  • Ypan1944
    27
    This sounds like a description of Holism, as a metaphysical concept relevant to physical things & processes. But you didn't use that controversial term. Was that ententional?Gnomon

    I am not a "holist" : holism denies reductionism and I don't do that. Nevertheless despite the deterministic physical laws who are not linear but exponential in time, not all phenomena are predictable. (f.i. the three-body-problem). At a certain complexity level new features appear who are characteristic of the collective. To describe these (emergent) features you don't need to go down to the atomic level. You need only some qualifiers which are characteristic of the macroscopic level of the meant emergent phenomenon.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    The original title of this thread was spelled "emergency". That may have been a typo, but "Emergence" and "Emergency" are related concepts. "Emergence" usually refers to the gradual evolution of novelty within a system. But "Emergency" suggests a radical break in the chain of causation that requires special treatment. One kind of philosophically important "strong" emergence is the transition from a collection of parts to an integrated system with new properties of its own, such as the evolutionary appearance of self-animated matter, and self-referencing minds in the world. Is that what this thread is about? :smile:Gnomon

    I didn't realize the difference between "emergent" and "emergency" because I am not a native speaker. I am not convinced about the "radical causal break" you mentioned. Sure, strong emergent phenomena has an ontological meaning of their own, but that doesn't mean that such phenomena are "unphysical".
    In my opinion (strong) emergent phenomena are very common in daily life and certainly not "unphysical".
    An exception is perhaps the notion of qualia. Whatever physical analysis you possibly can make, you can never explain what it is to see the colour RED, because this is a typical subjective emergent phenomenon and therefore you can never give a objective explanation. I think the same is at hand with "consciousness" .
  • Ypan1944
    27
    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?Gnomon

    I am not a supporter of the "Theory of everything" because such a theory can never predict the occurrence of (strong) emergent phenomena. Only some simple (weak) emergent phenomena are more or less capable to predict by mean of computer simulation. But unpredictability does't mean that you need a "Divine Inventor". Just accept that the world in essence is unpredictable!
  • SophistiCat
    2.2k
    Sorry, but look at Wikipedia for this definition:
    "In philosophy, supervenience refers to a relation between sets of properties or sets of facts. X is said to supervene on Y if and only if some difference in Y is necessary for any difference in X to be possible."
    This has nothing to do with your "downward causation" conception
    Ypan1944

    Yes, this is almost identical to the definition that I quoted in my post, and it is the opposite of what you stated and then used to argue that consciousness cannot supervene on brain properties.

    I said nothing about downward causation, but emergence and supervenience are closely related concepts, so it is important to get the basics right in a discussion about them.
  • Gnomon
    3.7k
    I am not a "holist" : holism denies reductionism and I don't do that.Ypan1944
    Actually, the perspective of Holism does not deny Reductionism, it just offers a different (complementary)*1 way of looking at the world. Some scientists dismiss Holism as a New Age religious belief. But the term originally referred to a systematic approach to understanding the complex interactions of Evolution*2.

    Your OP discussion of Strong Emergence sounds to me like a description of a holistic process, in which the unpredictable "emergence" of novel properties is a primary feature*3. But if you want to avoid the prejudicial "pseudoscience" associations with the term*4, you can just call it "Systems Theory", which is now widely used in various sciences studying complexity*5 : Biology, Economics, Ecology, etc. The Santa Fe Institute for the study of Complex Systems --- founded by physicist Murray Gell-Mann, among others --- is a prominent scientific think tank utilizing holistic Systems Theory.

    Personally, I don't have a problem with the word "Holism", because I have actually read the book that introduced the term*1. And it had nothing to do with New Age religion. But if your personal experience has biased you against it, please feel free to use alternative terminology, such as "Integrated Whole Systems", to explain how metaphysical functions, such as Consciousness, could emerge from physical systems and biological organisms. :smile:

    PS___ "Metaphysical" also has pseudoscience associations, due to its use by Catholic theologians. But the conceptual distinction originated in Aristotle's book on Nature, and referred to holistic comprehension of general principles, instead of reductive knowledge about specific things : "Since we are investigating this kind of knowledge, we must consider what these causes and principles are whose knowledge is Wisdom." http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:abo:tlg,0086,025:1


    *1. Reductionistic and Holistic Science :
    Reductionism and holism are in fact interdependent and complementary.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3067528/

    *2. Holism and Evolution :
    Holism and Evolution is a 1926 book by South African statesman Jan Smuts, in which he coined the word "holism", although Smuts' meaning differs from the modern concept of holism. Smuts defined holism as the "fundamental factor operative towards the creation of wholes in the universe.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holism_and_Evolution

    *3. Holism and Emergence :
    The concept of holism informs the methodology for a broad array of scientific fields and lifestyle practices. When applications of holism are said to reveal properties of a whole system beyond those of its parts, these qualities are referred to as emergent properties of that system.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holism

    *4. Systems Theory/Holism :
    It (General System Theory) was criticized as pseudoscience and said to be nothing more than an admonishment to attend to things in a holistic way. Such criticisms would have lost their point had it been recognized that von Bertalanffy's general system theory is a perspective or paradigm, and that such basic conceptual frameworks play a key role in the development of exact scientific theory.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_theory

    *5. Emergence, (Self)Organization, and Complexity :
    Many complex systems exhibit emergence: properties at one scale that are not present at another scale. Self-organization can be described when the components of a system interact to produce a global pattern or behavior, without a leader or external controller. Complexity is characterized by interactions. These interactions can generate novel information that is not present in initial nor boundary conditions, limiting prediction.
    https://www.santafe.edu/events/emergence-selforganization-and-complexity
  • Ypan1944
    27
    Yes, this is almost identical to the definition that I quoted in my post, and it is the opposite of what you stated and then used to argue that consciousness cannot supervene on brain properties.SophistiCat

    Sorry if you misunderstood my post, but I really meant that my definition has the same meaning as Wikipedia 's definition. I am absolutely not reversing cause and effect. In the case of consciousness: this is certainly emergent and my remark that some parts of the brain are crucial for consciousness indicates that there is at least some form of supervenience.
  • SophistiCat
    2.2k
    Sorry if you misunderstood my post, but I really meant that my definition has the same meaning as Wikipedia 's definition.Ypan1944

    It is not. Just reread the definitions and pay attention to the placing of the terms. This is essential to understand in a discussion of emergence.

    Your definition:

    A property A is called supervenient over a (subvenient) property B if a change in B has direct consequences for A.Ypan1944

    In slogan form, “there cannot be a B-difference without an A-difference”.

    SEP/Wiki definition:

    A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties.SEP

    In slogan form, “there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference”.

    In the case of consciousness: this is certainly emergent and my remark that some parts of the brain are crucial for consciousness indicates that there is at least some form of supervenience.Ypan1944

    This contradicts what you said earlier, which would indeed follow from your personal definition of supervenience, but not from the standard definition:

    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
  • Ypan1944
    27
    A property A is called supervenient over a (subvenient) property B if a change in B has direct consequences for A.
    — Ypan1944
    SophistiCat

    It's amazing how you can misinterpret my definition! After all, the only correct slogan that you can connect with my definition is:
    “there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference”

    So we agree with this last slogan. My remark that “a change in B has direct consequences for A" is just a symmetric formulation, stipulating the causal connection between B and A.
    But let's stop with nitpicking in this discussion please!
  • Count Timothy von Icarus
    2.3k
    I don't want to sound like a broken record, but my reading on emergence has caused me to question if the concept might be fundamentally broken. It takes as its starting point a substance metaphysics of things as primary (substance in Aristotle's use of the term, where primary substances are individual objects). Due to problems highlighted by Hume re extrinsic "laws of nature," and Kripke's widely popular essentialist response to these issues, we end up with a starting point where the universe is a collection of individual things that "do what they do because of what they are."

    If you start from this position, and allow for the empirical finding that larger things appear to be "made up of," or "composed of," smaller things, then you're going to have problems explaining emergence. It is a problem not unlike Hume's Guillotine. Strong emergence of the sort that would seem to resolve all the problems posed by consciousness seems to be precluded by our starting axioms.

    In general, I think the empirical support for reductionism is weak, and this should make us question starting points that would seem to lead us to posit it as essential. For example, chemistry is a mature science, but it has yet to be reduced. There all all sorts of questions about "what actually constitutes reduction," but in general it seems that actual reductions are quite rare. Unifications seem far more common, but unifications point in the other direction. They represent the ability to explain disparate phenomena in terms of more general and universal principles, rather than in terms of component parts. Often, such general principles act on multiple levels of scale in a sort of fractal recurrence, and the presupposition that the smaller scale in more ontologically primary seems unwarranted.

    There is no prima facie reason why wholes must be definable in terms of parts rather than vice versa. Emergence presupposes that it is exactly this sort of explanation that is required though, that the parts must explain the behavior of the whole, even if the properties of the whole cannot be known from the parts. Is this setting us up for faliure? Can one declare that we must find a means of describing how it is that wholes can have properties entirely missing from parts, and then hope for success in finding an explanation where an analysis of parts explains this phenomena?

    Grand unification is normally thought of in terms of leaving us with "one type of thing." But it seems like it could as well be thought of as getting us to just "one thing." It's the difference between "things act as they do because of what they are," and "the entire world does what it does because of what it is."

    If we ever get down to a unification where there can be said to only be one "type of stuff," then things doing what they do because of "what they are," ceases to do any explanatory lifting. All explanation ends up coming from change — process — and empirically, all process appears to bleed across the defining lines of "things." This, to my mind, would reveal "parts" to be abstractions, and thinking of properties as "emerging from parts," to simply be a misleading paradigm, a bad starting point. It might be more correct to say that "parts emerge from abstraction," and the thing to explain is how we lose properties as we chop things up, how deficit emerges, not new properties.
  • Pierre-Normand
    2.3k
    So we agree with this last slogan. My remark that “a change in B has direct consequences for A" is just a symmetric formulation, stipulating the causal connection between B and A.
    But let's stop with nitpicking in this discussion please!
    Ypan1944

    Your formulation is indeed a misstatement of the concept of supervenience, as Sophisticat pointed out. A paradigmatic case of supervenience is the relationship that holds between the mental and the physical. It is important to notice that this relation is consistent with multiple realizability. If Jane and Sue are physically identical, it can not be the case that they have distinct mental properties. Therefore, if they differ mentally, they must also differ physically (which is the opposite entailment to what your formulation expresses). Due to the multiple realizability of mental properties into physical states, it is still possible that Sue and Jane could share the same mental states (either some of them or all of them) in spite of them differing physically. In that case, a change in B (the physical) need not have any consequence on A (the mental), in spite of the supervenient relation of A over B holding true.
  • flannel jesus
    1.7k
    Yes, this is almost identical to the definition that I quoted in my postSophistiCat

    You're right, of course. Reading through this thread as someone who has been deeply fascinated by Emergence over the past couple years has been a ... frustrating experience.
  • Ypan1944
    27
    Please look at Mariusz Tabaczek overview article about The Metaphysics of Downward Causation: Rediscovering The Formal Cause
    "Jaegwon Kim notices that this characteristic of EM is related to the concept of supervenience (SUP), which simply states that the higher-level properties of a system occur only if appropriate conditions are realized on the lower-level."
  • Gnomon
    3.7k
    Sorry, but look at Wikipedia for this definition:
    "In philosophy, supervenience refers to a relation between sets of properties or sets of facts. X is said to supervene on Y if and only if some difference in Y is necessary for any difference in X to be possible."
    This has nothing to do with your "downward causation" conception
    Ypan1944
    Yes. "Supervenience" is a technical logical term, and does not necessarily entail "downward causation". But some thinkers have used the notion of logical priority to infer physical order of causation. In that case, like Holism, it appears to conflict with the typical scientific method of Reductionism from a whole system to its constituent parts. But Nature seems to be able to work both ways, especially in its mental functions. If you don't like the term "Holism", does "non-reductive physicalism" make sense in your worldview? :smile:


    Property Emergence, Supervenience, and Downward Causation :
    Downward causation (DC) is the key notion in emergentist philosophy, as shown by the tension between the aspects of dependence and nonreducibility in the concept of supervenience, preferred by many philosophers to emergence as a basis for nonreductive physicalism.
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S143176130470018X


    According to NONREDUCTIVE PHYSICALISM, “mental properties, along with other “higher-level” properties, constitute an autonomous domain that resists reduction to the physical domain”
    http://www.csun.edu/~tab2595/14_Reductive_Nonreductive_Physicalism.pdf
    Note --- I wouldn't say "autonomous", but merely place Mind in a special philosophical category from Matter. You can't dissect Ideas with a scalpel, but with Reason.
  • SophistiCat
    2.2k
    Although emergence is often sloganized in terms of wholes vs. parts, it doesn't necessarily boil down to mereology, nor to substances. (Also, emergence should not be identified with reduction - another notoriously muddled concept.) There have been many takes on emergence with no common agreement forthcoming: just searching publication titles, you will find several titled "What is Emergence?", "Making Sense of Emergence", and so on. That doesn't mean that the idea is hopeless though - rather the opposite I would think. And just because there are disagreements, doesn't mean that every party is equally wrong.
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