Emergence

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 5th, 2015, 9:23 am 

This thread is an extension on an earlier thread on separability found here:
viewtopic.php?f=10&t=28460

I wanted to write up something about emergence to discuss. Reviewing things I read over the years, I looked around for something more recent. I found a new paper by Dequet et al. that I thought was interesting. From the abstract:

… Our goal in this paper is to give a broad survey of emergence definitions, to extract a shared definition structure and to discuss some of the remaining issues. We do not know of any comparable surveys about the emergence concept. …


I thought that was very inceitful actually and I’ll piggyback on that thought for this thread. I’m not going to follow Dequet’s paper, I’ll jump over the discussion about the “notion of detection”. I didn’t see that as particularly interesting. However, two slightly different conceptualizations of emergence that Dequet identified are:
1) Weak versus strong emergence
2) Levels of nature

I’ll add a third which I’ll touch on here.
3) Nonlinear or dynamical systems

Bedau is a philosopher at Reed college and has written extensively on emergence. Here’s what he says about trying to define emergence:

There are a variety of notions of emergence, and they are contested. We can provide some order to this controversy by distinguishing two hallmarks of how macro-level emergent phenomena are related to their micro-level bases:
(1) Emergent phenomena are dependent on underlying processes.
(2) Emergent phenomena are autonomous from underlying
processes.
These two hallmarks are vague. There are many ways in which phenomena might be dependent on underlying processes, and there are also many ways in which phenomena might be autonomous from underlying processes. Any way of simultaneously meeting both hallmarks is a candidate notion of emergence.


For the term emergence to be useful, we must relate the concept to what we believe occurs in nature. When we use the word emergence as an adjective to describe something such as emergent levels of nature, what we generally mean is that there’s something about a phenomenon that we can’t express by simply talking about the underlying processes. The question then is, “What makes a phenomenon emergent?” That question isn’t one about numbers of angels dancing on pin heads. The language used to describe emergence has to reflect what is happening in nature. The concepts of weak and strong emergence describe something that is happening in nature and they provide a conceptual framework that limits what we believe can and can not happen.

Levels of nature can be either weakly or strongly emergent, but weakly or strongly emergent phenomena need not be levels of nature. Dynamical or nonlinear physical systems are other examples of how some folks have categorized emergent systems. I think the right way to look at emergence however, is to categorize concepts of levels of nature and concepts of dynamical systems as being concepts that display either weak emergence or strong emergence.

Bedau describes weak emergence as follows. I’ve tried to boil it down to the bare minimum. For brevity, it might be best to skip the long quote and come back to it:

The system's global behavior derives just from the operation of micro-level processes, but the microlevel interactions are interwoven in such a complicated network that the global behavior has no simple explanation. The central idea behind weak emergence is that emergent causal powers can be derived from micro-level information but only in a certain complex way. As Herbert Simon puts it, given the properties of the parts and the laws of their interaction, it is not a trivial matter to infer the properties of the whole (1996, p. 184). ...

The strengths and weaknesses of weak emergence are both due to the fact that weak emergent phenomena can be derived from full knowledge of the micro facts. Weak emergence attributes the apparent underivability of emergent phenomena to the complex consequences of myriad non-linear and contextdependent micro-level interactions. These are exactly the kind of micro-level interactions at work in natural systems that exhibit apparent emergent phenomena, so weak emergence has a natural explanation for these apparent emergent phenomena. Weak emergence also has a simple explanation for the two hallmarks of emergence. Weakly emergent macro phenomena clearly depend on their underlying micro phenomena. So weak emergent phenomena are ontologically dependent on and reducible to micro phenomena; their existence consists in nothing more than the coordinated existence of certain micro phenomena. Furthermore, weakly emergent causal powers can be explained by means of the composition of contextdependent micro causal powers. So weakly emergent phenomena are also causally dependent on and reducible to their underlying phenomena; weak emergence presumes causal fundamentalism. (More on this below.) At the same time, weakly emergent macro phenomena are autonomous in the sense that they can be derived only in a certain non-trivial way. In other words, they have explanatory autonomy and irreducibility, due to the complex way in which the iteration and aggregation of context-dependent micro interactions generate the macro phenomena. …

The fundamental micro-level causal dynamics of the system - its “physics” - is captured in a set of explicit rules for how the state of a micro entity changes as a function of its current state and the current states of its local neighboring entities. Macro entities and their states are wholly constituted by the states and locations of their constituent micro entities, so the causal dynamics involving macro objects is wholly determined by the underlying micro dynamics. Thus, causal fundamentalism reigns in such a system; macro causal powers are wholly constituted and determined by micro causal powers. The micro dynamics is context sensitive since a micro entity's state depends on the states of its micro-level neighbors. The context sensitivity of the system's underlying causal dynamics entails that understanding how a micro entity behaves in isolation or in certain simple contexts does not enable one to understand how that entity will behave in all contexts, especially those that are more complicated. Locally reducible systems are those that meet all the conditions spelled out in this paragraph.

The notion of weak emergence concerns the way in which a system's micro facts determine its macro facts. A system's micro facts at a given time consist of its micro dynamic and the states and locations of all its micro elements at that time. If the system is open, then its micro facts include the flux of micro entities that enter or leave the system at that time. Its micro facts also include the micro-level accidents at that time, if the system's micro dynamics is nondeterministic. Since causal fundamentalism applies to locally reducible systems, the micro facts in such systems determine the system's subsequent evolution at all levels. Given all the system's micro facts, an explicit simulation could step through the changes of state and location of each micro element in the system, mirroring the system's micro-level causal dynamics. Since macro entities and states are constituted by the locations and states of their constituent micro entities, this explicit simulation would reflect the evolution over time of the system's macro facts. Such an explicit simulation amounts to a special kind of derivation of the system's macro properties from its micro facts. It is an especially “long-winded” derivation because it mirrors each individual step in the system's micro-level causal dynamics. A locally reducible system's macro properties are always derivable from the micro facts by a simulation. However, in some situations it is possible to construct a quite different “short-cut” derivation of a system's macro properties, perhaps using a simple mathematical formula for the evolution of certain macro properties arbitrarily far into the future. Such short-cut derivations are the bread and butter of conventional scientific explanations. They reveal the future behavior of a system without explicitly simulating it.

It is now easy to define weak emergence. Assume that P is a nominally emergent property possessed by some locally reducible system S. Then P is weakly emergent if and only if P is derivable from all of S's micro facts but only by simulation. …

A core concept of weak emergence concerns properties that in principle are underivable except by finite feasible simulation. A slightly weaker notion of emergence concerns properties that in principle are derivable without simulation, but in practice must be simulated. A slightly stronger notion of emergence concerns properties that are underivable except by simulation, but the requisite simulation is unfeasible or infinite. …

It is important to recognize that my notion of weak emergence concerns how something can be derived, not whether it has been derived. It concerns which derivations exist (in the Platonic sense), not which have been discovered. Perhaps nobody has ever worked through a short-cut derivation of some macro property. Nevertheless, if there is such a derivation, then the macro property is not weakly emergent.

Bedau is focused on the following points regarding weak emergence. Weakly emergent phenomena are characterized as follows:
1. Macro level properties of the system are derivable from the micro-level facts (ie: physical states). So the macro level is derivable from the micro-level.
2. The micro-level causal dynamics of the system are governed by an explicit set of rules.
3. The rules governing the micro-level causal dynamics are based on local interactions between micro-level ‘parts’.
4. I would add that because rules governing the behavior of parts are local in nature, the interactions between parts can only propogate at some rate dictated by some rate of propogation.

When talking about the “micro-level”, Bedau only means some physical level which is smaller than the larger “macro-level”. If the macro-level is that of a neuron, the micro level could be the compartments of axons or dendrites. If the macro-level is that of a brain, the micro-level might be the entire neuron. If the macro-level is that of a galaxy, the micro-level might be that of a solar system.

Another feature of weak emergence is that these micro-level parts only interact locally. Weak emergence does not allow for non-local interactions between the parts.

This conception is very similar to, and in complete agreement with, separability.
Although Bedau doesn’t actually state that weak emergence only applies to phenomena that can be described at the level of classical physics, and although I don’t know if Bedau means for it to only apply at that level, it would seem fairly obvious that weak emergence is only applicable to classical physics. At least for classical physics, weak emergence is a perfectly valid conception.

Notice that Bedau goes off in another direction that may not be obvious. He mentions the following:
1. Weakly emergent phenomena are underivable and can only be predicted by simulation.
2. Many phenomena today are not yet derivable except by simulation, but future work might create a “short cut” suitable derivation. Such phenomena are not weakly emergent.

By derivation, I believe he means that you will find many examples in the sciences of equations and methods of analysis that can predict a phenomenon at some macro-level without needing to analyze everything that is happening at some lower micro-level. A good example might be what happens to a gas when subjected to work or heat. The macro-level in this case regards the thermodynamic descriptions of gas properties such as temperature, pressure, internal energy, entropy, etc… The micro-level in this case would be the individual gas molecules which might have properties of mass and some distribution of momentum. The thermodynamics of a gas would NOT be weakly emergent from molecular properties as near as I can tell. Another quick example might be one dimensional pressure loss due to flow through pipe as calculated by using the Hagen-Poiseuille equation which can be derived from the more general, three dimensional Navier-Stokes equations. So pressure loss through a piping network is not weakly emergent since we can predict the macro-phenomenon without resorting to simulation of the underlying micro-level parts. Note that Bedau also suggests that if some time in the future, some new derivation between micro and macro levels arise, that phenomenon would not be considered weakly emergent. We might call these phenomenon emergent, perhaps nominally emergent, but when a simulation is not require, the phenomenon won’t be weakly emergent.

I wonder if Bedau has bridge laws in mind when refering to these short cut derivations. We’re highly unlikely to find bridge laws for example between economics and the underlying physics, so perhaps all of economics is weakly emergent. The same could be said for most of the higher level sciences such as psychology, sociology, and other sciences relating to human behaviors but not necessarily to the sciences that study large scale phenomenon such as meteorology or cosmology. I suspect Bedau simply wants to stay away from bridge laws and the controversy associated with them, but I don’t know.

The concept of simulation seems to refer to the development of software in the past roughly 50 to 60 years which relies on finite elements. Bedau talks about the Game of Life extensively which is essentially a 2 dimensional system of finite elements. Finite element analysis (FEA) as used in the sciences however, takes some small volume of space which Bedau might call the micro-level. FEA assumes the essential properties in that element are finite as opposed to varying, and linearizes otherwise nonlinear equations that describe the element properties. By doing this, a numerical analysis can be performed on the system (ie: macro-level). This basic philosophy of how systems can be broken down into their micro-level constituents has been used for phenomena as small as tiny portions of a neuron’s dendritic tree to phenomena as large as weather systems. The same basic philosophy allows interactions between different types of phenomena such as heat transfer, fluid motion, stresses in solid bodies, electromagnetic interactions and many others. Such software is often called multi-physics software because of its ability to integrate widely disparate causal influences. So the concept of simulation as defined by weak emergence is widely used, well understood, and follows from the basic concept of separability of classical physics.

Bedau and others have suggested that the alternative to weak emergence is strong emergence which is characterized by downward causation.

The most stringent conception of emergence, which I call strong emergence, adds the requirement that emergent properties are supervenient properties with irreducible causal powers. These macro-causal powers have effects at both the macro and micro-levels, and macro-to-micro effects are termed “downward” causation. We saw above that micro determination of the macro is one of the hallmarks of emergence, and supervenience is a popular contemporary interpretation of this determination. Supervenience explains the sense in which emergent properties depend on their underlying bases, and irreducible macro-causal power explains the sense in which they are autonomous from their underlying bases. These irreducible causal powers give emergent properties the dramatic form of ontological novelty that many people associate with the most puzzling kinds of emergent phenomena, such as qualia and consciousness. In fact, most of the contemporary interest in strong emergence (e.g., O'Conner 1994, Kim 1992, 1997, 1999, Chalmers 1996) arises out of concerns to account for those aspects of mental life like the qualitative aspects of consciousness that most resist reductionistic analysis.

The supervenient causal powers that characterize strong emergence are the source of its most pressing problems. One problem is the so-called exclusion argument emphasized by Kim (1992, 1997, 1999). This is the worry that emergent macro-causal powers would compete with micro-causal powers for causal influence over micro events, and that the more fundamental micro-causal powers would always win this competition. … The exclusion argument aside, the very notion of strong emergent causal powers is problematic to some people. By definition, such causal powers cannot be explained in terms of the aggregation of the micro-level potentialities; they are primitive or brute natural powers that arise inexplicably with the existence of certain macro-level entities. … strong emergence should be embraced if it has compelling enough supporting evidence. But this is where the final problem with strong emergence arises. All the evidence today suggests that strong emergence is scientifically irrelevant. Virtually all attempts to provide scientific evidence for strong emergence focus on one isolated moribund example: Sperry's explanation of consciousness from over thirty years ago (e.g., Sperry 1969). There is no evidence that strong emergence plays any role in contemporary science. The scientific irrelevance of strong emergence is easy to understand, given that strong emergent causal powers must be brute natural phenomena. Even if there were such causal powers, they could at best play a primitive role in science. Strong emergence starts where scientific explanation ends.


Note that in defining strong emergence and downward causation, Bedau and others do so in reference to parts. Whether they are micro-level parts or the parts go by some other name, the conception is first that of a system made of parts. In fact, there’s an unwritten axiom which must be inferred; a strongly emergent system must have clearly definable parts. To do that, the parts must be separable. If the parts are not separable, we can’t define the system as having distinct parts.

Strong emergence makes sense when we consider phenomena which supervene on systems which can be defined by classical physics because those systems are separable and thus have clearly defined parts. For those phenomena, strong emergence is a concept that simply doesn’t fit because of the role downward causation must play. Imagine for example, a neuron that does not react to inputs from its immediate neighbors but instead, reacts because of some overall physical state that the brain is in. Neurons change state due to local inputs to the neuron which are fully sufficient to define how the neuron will change state, so per causal exclusion, any emergent property of the brain would be a macro causal power which would have to compete for causal influence over micro-level causal powers but it would be the micro-level causal powers which would clearly win that battle each and every time.

The problem of causal exclusion is a serious issue but in addition, problems such as violations of conservation of energy, violations of conservation of mass or momentum and other seemingly ‘magic’ phenomena might appear due to downward causation. There actually are a few papers that try to defend against this second problem with downward causation by appealing to points of “bifurcation”. However, these arguments only deserve a passing glance as the authors appear utterly devoid of an understanding of the natural sciences.

Strong emergence however, would not apply to nonseparable systems since they have no distinct parts. We wouldn’t for example, suggest that a pair of entangled photons have clearly defined states. They are not clearly defined parts. When the state of one photon is observed, the second photon will collapse to a physical state dictated by the first photon’s state. Any quantum mechanical system which exhibits nonseparability will similarly not be definable in terms of strong or weak emergence because there are no distinct parts. The concept of strong emergence as it applies to quantum mechanics however seems a poor choice in my opinion, primarily because it takes as it’s basis the concept of parts as discussed earlier.

Per Dequet, another conception of emergence regards levels of nature, so I’m going to switch gears here and go down this road for a moment. There’s been quite a bit of discussion around levels of nature being emergent but I think it still boils down to whether or not levels of nature are weakly emergent or strongly emergent.

Imagine some higher level phenomenon such as economics depending on underlying physical processes but in some way being autonomous from those processes. We talk about things in economics such as the law of supply and demand or Gresham’s law for example that help define how economic systems work. In some way, it would seem economics is independent of underlying physical processes. It’s hard to imagine how the value of money and the resulting monetary exchanges depend on quantum mechanics. This type of nonreductionism is pervasive to the point that Kim says:
Expressions like “reduction,” “reductionism,” “reductionist theory,” and “reductionist explanation” have become pejoratives not only in philosophy, on both sides of the Atlantic, but also in the general intellectual culture of today. They have become common epithets thrown at one’s critical targets to tarnish them with intellectual naivete and backwardness. To call someone “a reductionist,” in high-culture press if not in serious philosophy, goes beyond mere criticism or expression of doctrinal disagreement; it is to put a person down, to heap scorn on him and his work.

Kim of course, is a reductionist who I generally agree with. Looking at levels of nature as being emergent in any way that is more than weak is, in my opinion, only to attempt an explanation per strong emergence.

Kim claims emergentism is now commonly called “nonreductive materialism” and that in the past few decades, the concept has been that there are emergent levels in nature that are autonomous in some way. I think that’s a very big part of it. Consider some of the lower level physical sciences such as chemistry, thermodynamics and fluid mechanics. In those cases, it might be relatively easy to see phenomena described at those levels being dependent on the underlying physics such as quantum mechanics. But going up a level to biology, the underlying physics becomes a bit more tricky. By the time we get up to psychology, sociology or economics, it may take a leap of faith that phenomena seen at these levels are completely determined by the lower level physics, especially quantum mechanics. I would however contend that these higher levels of science are weakly emergent on the lower levels.

There are some brilliant physicists, especially condensed matter physicists such as Anderson and Laughlin, who point out that some phenomena such as superconductivity, “like the fractional quantum Hall effect, is an emergent phenomenon – a low-energy collective effect of huge numbers of particles that cannot be deduced from the microscopic equations of motion in a rigorous way and that disappears completely when the system is taken apart.” I have no quarrel with that. The examples you’ll find are all nonseparable. But to extend the concept of emergence as these brilliant physicists have done to higher levels of nature is a mistake. Once the phenomena in question have risen above the borderline where classical physics can take over from quantum mechanics, we have separable systems that can no longer exhibit strong emergence nor any kind of downward causation.

Summary:
The concept of emergence has 2 basic forms, weak and strong. These concepts can be applied to levels in nature and also to dynamical systems, so the concept of weak and strong emergence is more fundamental than the concept of emergent levels of nature or emergence as it applies to dynamical systems. However, weak and strong emergence are only applicable to classical physics as they require clearly defined micro-level parts and those parts must be seprable. Nonseparable systems are not weakly emergent but they are not really strongly emergent either. There is a clear lack of philosophical discussion around nonseparability as it pertains to emergence. However, for separable systems, it seems clear that we can apply those concepts of weak and strong emergence.

Anderson, P. W. (1972). More is different. Science, 177(4047), 393-396.
https://www.tkm.kit.edu/downloads/TKM1_ ... nt_PWA.pdf

Bedau, M. (2002). Downward causation and the autonomy of weak emergence. Principia: an international journal of epistemology, 6(1), 5-50.
https://periodicos.ufsc.br/index.php/pr ... 7003/15556

Deguet, J., Demazeau, Y., & Magnin, L. (2006). Elements about the emergence issue: A survey of emergence definitions. Complexus, 3(1), 24-31.
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/do ... 1&type=pdf

Laughlin, R. B. (1999). Nobel lecture: fractional quantization. Reviews of Modern Physics, 71(4), 863-874.
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/ ... ecture.pdf
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Re: Emergence

Postby Rilx on April 7th, 2015, 1:05 pm 

Hi Dave,

I became interested in strong emergence about ten years ago and made a lot of search to find something which would at least look like a definition. Finally I found a paper which presented a mathematical definition:

Nils A Baas and Claus Emmeche: On Emergence and Explanation
B&E wrote:In the recent years the notion of emergence has been studied extensively, but often without making precise what emergence means. We will here use emergence in the general sense defined by Baas (*). The crucial point in this definition is the notion of an observer - in a very general sense, which makes it very flexible.

(*) Baas, N. A. : "Emergence, Hierarchies, and Hyperstructures", p. 515-537 in: C. G. Langton, ed., Artificial Life III, Santa Fe Studies in the Sciences of Complexity, Proc. Volume XVII, Addison-Wesley, Redwood City, Calif.
Hyperstructures are high-level emergent structures. The concept is used especially in AI-oriented works.


The authors called strong emergence observational emergence, recognizing observation as a source of new properties in strong emergent phenomena. The idea seems both to wipe out mystical appearances of new phenomena and to explain the non-reducibility of high-level phenomena to low-level domain. I tried to follow this path but didn't found anything which would have developed the idea further.

One problem is that during the history of the concept emergence it has had a plethora of intuitive definitions and consequently many kinds of "emergent" phenomena. That's true also in B&E's paper. There are examples whose "emergenceness" is at least controversial; not that the authors supported them but because they appeared in most traditional lists of emergent phenomena.

A representative sample of a "traditional emergent phenomenon" is the wetness of water - is it really an emergent phenomenon? I think not, no more than redness is an emergent phenomenon of a rose. Wetness is a subjective experience of an observer/experiencer: a quale.

I agree with B&E's idea: observation is a necessary and characteristic element of strong emergence, as is its structural counterpart: downward causation. Moreover, I don't see any reason why this definition wouldn't define consciousness in its most general system level.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 7th, 2015, 9:44 pm 

Hi Rilx. Thanks for the post. I appreciate you including reference material. That was very helpful.

Let me ask you – why do you equate “strong emergence” with “observational emergence”? You mentioned that observation is a source of new properties. Perhaps by that you mean that our observations of some phenomenon is a means of recognizing these higher level causes?

Also, I’m a bit confused by the mathematical definition. I’m not a philosopher and I recognize that there is a formal logic system with its own symbology but unfortunately, I’ve never studied it.

Here’s my take on Baas after a brief read. Baas is actually mentioned by the Dequet paper under the heading 2.2, The Emergence Test. It seems more like a way of defining emergence as opposed to the distinction that's made between weak and strong emergence which makes predictions about how nature will behave. The term “strong emergence” is a well established concept in philosophy which requires downward causation. I read through the Baas paper and I’m familiar with Emmeche and I don’t see anything in there which claims the authors are supporting strong emergence or downward causation. In fact, Emmeche clearly rejects what he calls “strong downward causation” in his paper, “Levels, Emergence, and Three Versions of Downward Causation”. Nevertheless, it seems Baas and Emmeche are sympathetic to emergence and look for some ‘useful work’ that emergence could do.

One final question – what is your opinion of weak and strong emergence? Is that something you feel like you understand well?

Emmeche et al, "Levels, Emergence, and Three Versions of Downward Causation "
http://www.nbi.dk/~emmeche/coPubl/2000d.le3DC.v4b.html
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Re: Emergence

Postby Eclogite on April 8th, 2015, 2:40 am 

Rilx » Tue Apr 07, 2015 12:05 pm wrote:A representative sample of a "traditional emergent phenomenon" is the wetness of water - is it really an emergent phenomenon? I think not, no more than redness is an emergent phenomenon of a rose. Wetness is a subjective experience of an observer/experiencer: a quale.
I do not have an opinion on whether wetness is, or is not an emergent phenomenon, but it is certainly an objective one. Wetness is a property of liquids in contact with surfaces. In general, if the contact angle is greater than 90 degrees we consider that the liquid is wetting the surface. On our hands water is wet, mercury is not.
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Re: Emergence

Postby TheVat on April 8th, 2015, 10:06 am 

Wetness seems like emergence in a trivial sense, like saying that "dries out cellphones" is an emergent property of white rice. One grain won't have the property, but a thousand will.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Rilx on April 8th, 2015, 11:01 am 

Dave_C » 08 Apr 2015 03:44 wrote:Let me ask you – why do you equate “strong emergence” with “observational emergence”? You mentioned that observation is a source of new properties. Perhaps by that you mean that our observations of some phenomenon is a means of recognizing these higher level causes?

Instead of weak and strong emergence Baas&Emmeche used deducible or computational and observational emergence. I inferred that terms corresponded each other well enough even though B&E's approach was primarily mathematical. But first of all I like the term because it points to the nature of the phenomenon.

Observation means that the (non-emergent) basic system must have an observation mechanism; a sensor, receptor or something which can receive external information and store it in some form notwithstanding what kind of immediate response the system produces. Observed information gradually effects the system, finally changing its response: an emergent property is born.

N.B. The description above is only to explain the meaning of the concept observational emergence, definitely not to explain emergent processes.
Also, I’m a bit confused by the mathematical definition. I’m not a philosopher and I recognize that there is a formal logic system with its own symbology but unfortunately, I’ve never studied it
.
I don't think that the matter is essentially mathematical. It's just one approach to emergence, kind of basic work to continue towards artificial intelligence. Besides, practically all articles seems to be behind a paywall, if available at all.
One final question – what is your opinion of weak and strong emergence? Is that something you feel like you understand well?

TBH, I haven't been much interested in weak emergence. I've found it kind of too large and disorganized area. There are lots of phenomena which some call "emergent" only because they don't understand them. Strong emergence instead is in this sense better defined with less borderline cases. I'm not ready to subscribe Chalmers' opinion that consciousness is the only strong emergent phenomenon, but I don't exclude it either.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Rilx on April 8th, 2015, 11:04 am 

Eclogite » 08 Apr 2015 08:40 wrote:I do not have an opinion on whether wetness is, or is not an emergent phenomenon, but it is certainly an objective one. Wetness is a property of liquids in contact with surfaces. In general, if the contact angle is greater than 90 degrees we consider that the liquid is wetting the surface. On our hands water is wet, mercury is not.

Similarly we can define "red" as an objective property of light wavelengths ~ 625 to 740 nm. But it's circular definition: red light is called "red" because we experience it red, not because there were anything "objectively red" in the external nature. As you say, on our hands water is wet.
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Re: Emergence

Postby TheVat on April 8th, 2015, 11:33 am 

Good point, Rilx. When we speak of wetness, we speak of the phenomenal aspect of water, not an external objective nature. Objectively, we might say that water dissolves salts - an objective account can be given of how an aqueous solution forms, how atoms interact and how bonds form - but wetness is a feel, a quale.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 8th, 2015, 12:25 pm 

The emergence of wetness strikes me as being poorly defined. I'm not sure if that relates to how it feels for water to be wet or if it has something to do with surface tension. Simply saying wetness isn't a property of single water molecules seems trivial.

I think you could however, ask if surface tension is a weakly emergent phenomenon.
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Re: Unphased by Particles

Postby Faradave on April 8th, 2015, 12:49 pm 

One might approach "wetness" as a property of "liquids".

A gas could be a collection (at least two) particles bound either gravitationally or by a container. Pressure in the static (non flowing) case is equal in all directions.

A liquid would consist of a collection of particles bound by additional forces, EM forces in the case of polar water molecules, yet still exhibiting a degree of mobility which defies any specific structural lattice. Density would be another way of distinguishing liquid from gas or solid. Pressure increases toward the most influential center of gravity.

A solid would be a collection of particles bound by (EM) forces so tightly that a crystalline lattice is recognizable. There is often a unique density, in addition to (X-ray) diffraction patterns, associated with each lattice type. Two cold particles bound by non-covalent* bonds but having an orientation angle within a fixed range might be considered solid. Solids exhibit resistance to deformation (alteration of the lattice structure).

*If bound by covalent bonds, I would consider it a single molecular particle. Some might understandably consider a huge single molecule such as some polymers to constitute a solid.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Eclogite on April 8th, 2015, 6:30 pm 

Braininvat » Wed Apr 08, 2015 10:33 am wrote:Good point, Rilx. When we speak of wetness, we speak of the phenomenal aspect of water, not an external objective nature. Objectively, we might say that water dissolves salts - an objective account can be given of how an aqueous solution forms, how atoms interact and how bonds form - but wetness is a feel, a quale.
If no humans existed to "feel" wetness, the property of water that creates that "feel" would still exist. It is a quantifiable, physical reality. If we were not capable of measuring it and modifying it the gas you put in your car, or the aviation fuel that carries you on your vacation to Cancun would cost a darn sight more.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 8th, 2015, 7:34 pm 

Eclogite » April 8th, 2015, 5:30 pm wrote:If no humans existed to "feel" wetness, the property of water that creates that "feel" would still exist. It is a quantifiable, physical reality. If we were not capable of measuring it and modifying it the gas you put in your car, or the aviation fuel that carries you on your vacation to Cancun would cost a darn sight more.

You won't find a physical property called "wetness" in steam tables. Perhaps you mean something else? BiV's point regards the phenomenal sensation which won't exist unless there's someone there to feel it.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 8th, 2015, 8:21 pm 

Hi Rilx,
Rilx » April 8th, 2015, 10:01 am wrote: …. But first of all I like the term because it points to the nature of the phenomenon.

Observation means that the (non-emergent) basic system must have an observation mechanism; a sensor, receptor or something which can receive external information and store it in some form notwithstanding what kind of immediate response the system produces. Observed information gradually effects the system, finally changing its response: an emergent property is born.

Sorry, but I’m still trying to grasp what you’re saying. I think you’re suggesting here that we might have a non-emergent system which has the ability to observe its environment such as through the use of sensors. Sensors might include cameras to detect light, microphones to detect sound waves, temperature sensors, sensors to tell it which way is up, how much load is on an artificial leg, etc… The non-emergent system may be a computer system set up to ‘learn’ about its surroundings. I’ve seen systems for example that have to ‘learn’ how to walk. They fumble around for a while before starting to walk, during which time they are running algorithms which restructure the program so that it is better able to use artificial legs and to walk. I think you're suggesting that as this system continues to take in new information through sensors and changing the system's programming, then over time you're saying the phenomenon of consciousness (observation?) emerges in the system and that's what Baas means by "observational emergence". Did I get that correct? Is that what you understand Baas is saying?

TBH, I haven't been much interested in weak emergence. I've found it kind of too large and disorganized area. There are lots of phenomena which some call "emergent" only because they don't understand them. Strong emergence instead is in this sense better defined with less borderline cases. I'm not ready to subscribe Chalmers' opinion that consciousness is the only strong emergent phenomenon, but I don't exclude it either.

I can appreciate why you may say emergence is a “large and disorganized area” but I think it’s a lot less disorganized than you may appreciate. It’s a very difficult subject to get a grasp of, but I think you’ll find there are teams and players just like the major sports. And just as some sports seem disorganized when you watch a dozen or more people running around on a grassy field chasing a ball, I think you’ll find that once you understand the rules, it becomes obvious why folks are doing (ie: saying) what they are about emergence.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Eclogite on April 9th, 2015, 7:47 am 

Dave_C » Wed Apr 08, 2015 6:34 pm wrote:You won't find a physical property called "wetness" in steam tables.
So what? You won't find a physical property called temperature in compositional analysis of plagioclase.

Are you disputing that there is a physical property that creates the feeling of wetness and that, as wetability, is measurable? Reservoir engineers around the world will be amused.

[quote="[url=http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=279013#p279013]Perhaps you mean something else? BiV's point regards the phenomenal sensation which won't exist unless there's someone there to feel it.[/quote]The sensation would also not exist without the absolute physical property. If wetness is an emergent property it is such as a quantifiable, physical property first. The sensation is secondary and incidental.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 9th, 2015, 8:34 am 

Eclogite » April 9th, 2015, 6:47 am wrote:So what? You won't find a physical property called temperature in compositional analysis of plagioclase.

Are you disputing that there is a physical property that creates the feeling of wetness and that, as wetability, is measurable? Reservoir engineers around the world will be amused.

The sensation would also not exist without the absolute physical property. If wetness is an emergent property it is such as a quantifiable, physical property first. The sensation is secondary and incidental.

So what? Eclogite, your post sounds antagonistic.

The point being made regards phenomenal sensations. Wetness is a poor choice of words that belongs to people who don’t know any better. You elude to physical properties and I've already mentioned surface tension. But that’s just one aspect of what people mean by wetness. Another includes thermal conductivity. To feel wet, it generally must conduct heat away. There are others such as temperature, specific heat, density, etc... that are all needed in some quantity for something to feel wet, but those don't define wetness in a physical way and they don't define wetness phenomenally.

Let's agree that we don’t agree on something and talk about emergence instead.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Rilx on April 10th, 2015, 4:21 pm 

Dave_C » 09 Apr 2015 02:21 wrote:Sorry, but I’m still trying to grasp what you’re saying. I think you’re suggesting here that we might have a non-emergent system which has the ability to observe its environment such as through the use of sensors. Sensors might include cameras to detect light, microphones to detect sound waves, temperature sensors, sensors to tell it which way is up, how much load is on an artificial leg, etc… The non-emergent system may be a computer system set up to ‘learn’ about its surroundings. I’ve seen systems for example that have to ‘learn’ how to walk. They fumble around for a while before starting to walk, during which time they are running algorithms which restructure the program so that it is better able to use artificial legs and to walk. I think you're suggesting that as this system continues to take in new information through sensors and changing the system's programming, then over time you're saying the phenomenon of consciousness (observation?) emerges in the system and that's what Baas means by "observational emergence". Did I get that correct? Is that what you understand Baas is saying?

Baas seems to have biological and social systems in the centre of his thinking, obviously because in those systems observation is easily understandable. He ponders other natural (molecular, thermodynamical) systems as well as artificial ones but don't give well-explained examples. I think you have understood both me and Baas quite well. I can't imagine (actually I haven't much thought) what kind of system an appropriate artificial observation mechanism could be.

I can appreciate why you may say emergence is a “large and disorganized area” but I think it’s a lot less disorganized than you may appreciate. It’s a very difficult subject to get a grasp of, but I think you’ll find there are teams and players just like the major sports. And just as some sports seem disorganized when you watch a dozen or more people running around on a grassy field chasing a ball, I think you’ll find that once you understand the rules, it becomes obvious why folks are doing (ie: saying) what they are about emergence.

I admit that I haven't studied weak emergence in that extent which would organize the area better. Your OP with Bedeau quotes explains well what kind of jungle one should pass thru: categories, definitions, types of phenomena, even apparent emergent phenomena. I'm not totally ignorant of the matter though. ;)

If we say that weak emergence happens characteristically due to micro-level (subsystem) interactions, wouldn't we still need some "attractor", i.e. criteria which halt or change interaction processes when a new property has emerged?
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Re: Emergence

Postby Eclogite on April 13th, 2015, 8:50 am 

Dave_C » Thu Apr 09, 2015 7:34 am wrote:So what? Eclogite, your post sounds antagonistic.
In my experience the phrase "so what?" is routinely used to indicate that the assertion it is a response to is considered to be irrelevant. Phrased as a question it seeks supporting evidence for that assertion, while doubting such evidence will be forthcoming. That was how I used it in my post.

Dave_C » Thu Apr 09, 2015 7:34 am wrote:The point being made regards phenomenal sensations. Wetness is a poor choice of words that belongs to people who don’t know any better..
I don't recall any instance in which a laypersons understanding of wetness was in conflict with the scientific definition. Who are these people you feel do not know any better?

Dave_C » Thu Apr 09, 2015 7:34 am wrote: You elude to physical properties and I've already mentioned surface tension. But that’s just one aspect of what people mean by wetness. Another includes thermal conductivity. To feel wet, it generally must conduct heat away. .
Incorrect. Please provide a citation to support this claim.

Dave_C » Thu Apr 09, 2015 7:34 am wrote: There are others such as temperature, specific heat, density, etc... that are all needed in some quantity for something to feel wet, but those don't define wetness in a physical way and they don't define wetness phenomenally.
Again, incorrect.


[quote="[url=http://www.sciencechatforum.com/viewtopic.php?p=279029#p279029]Let's agree that we don’t agree on something and talk about emergence instead.[/quote]The disagreement revolves around the fact that your understanding of wetness is flawed. Until and unless that is resolved there is little point in discussing wetness in relation to emergence. So, I'll just remove myself from the discussion.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 16th, 2015, 10:12 pm 

Hi Rilx,
Sorry for the delay, been away on business for a while. I wanted to get back to you regarding Baas and what he has in mind regarding emergence as I don’t think what he’s suggesting is what I had said above. I only intended to try and understand what you believed Baas was trying to say. I think I understand what you mean now so I want to go back and discuss Baas.

As near as I can tell, Baas talks about observation in the context of how to explain emergent phenomena. I don’t think he’s trying to equate the word observation with consciousness though I can see why you may say that. He says for example, “New observers may also emerge in the system” which is confusing. The paper I gave in the OP by Deguet also trys to explain Baas so I’ll try and explain what I see in his paper.

First, Deguet talks about the ability to detect emergence in a way he calls an “emergence test” where he references Baas. Deguet puts Baas into a category with a number of other philosophers of emergence. In section 2.2.1, Deguet says:
This emergence test involves a system designer and a system observer (both of whom can in fact be one and the same). Then if the following three conditions hold, the emergence tag is conferred:

Design: The system has been constructed by the designer by describing the local elementary interactions between components in a language L1.

Observation: The observer is fully aware of the design, but describes global behaviour and properties of the running system, over a period of time, using a language L2.

Surprise: The language of design L1 and the language of observation L2 are distinct, and the causal link between the elementary interactions programmed in L1 and the behaviours observed in L2 is non-obvious to the observer, who therefore experiences surprise. In other words, there is a cognitive dissonance between the observer’s mental image of the system’s design stated in L1 and his contemporaneous observation of the system’s behaviour stated in L2.

Here, L2 is a level higher than level L1. Level L1 interactions create this perception of a higher level, L2 and it is this higher level that we observe as being emergent. But there’s a bit more to it I think.

To me it seems Baas is also arguing that the explanations themselves are emergent. In other words, our explanations about levels in nature are somehow emergent. He says,
Can the emergence of real new properties in complex systems really be explained? If the sciences of complexity offer important new insights, theories, and methodologies for dealing with complex, higher-order phenomena (as we think they do), and if the traditional view of explanation cannot account for the explanatory strategies we find here, we should look for other accounts of scientific explanation. Perhaps the very idea of scientific explanation as a strictly deductive argument should be reinterpreted and explanations seen in a more dynamic and context-dependent setting, eventually themselves being emergent structures, "emergent explanations". We will show below how this intuitive idea can be made precise and explicated formally. Questioning traditional notions of explanation may lead to a more general view of what constitute genuine scientific understanding of complicated phenomena. We suggest to pay attention to a new general framework for description of higher-order structures (hyperstructures) which includes the mechanisms of observation, and which eventually allows for self-generation in such systems of new observational frames.

These scientific explanations of hyperstructures are what he’s calling “emergent explanations”. What seems to fascinate Baas is that someone (an observer) can even come up with emergent explanations. That is, how does someone observing this system recognize the higher level (L2) patterns and create connections that are above the descriptions given at the lower level L1? Some observer of this emergent system has to understand and detect this emergent behaviour. That’s what he’s referring to when he talks about emergence. Note what he says here:
.. when it comes to such questions as the very generation of explanations, the discovery of new structures or principles, the appearance of new insights to the inquiring mind - i.e., the emergence of structures that can be said to explain a phenomenon - very little has been said. The feeling of having explained a phenomenon cannot simply reduce to the fulfilment of some algorithmic procedure by which - given a general law and some initial or boundary conditions - you can arrive at the phenomenon to be explained by executing this procedure.

He’s concerned that there are no algorithms or any step by step process that we can undertake that will give us this cookbook recipe for explaining higher order phenomena. If there was, if there was an algorithm (Baas calls a “deductional computational process") that could be used to explain the higher level emergent laws, then Baas defines this as “Deducible or Computational Emergence”. He compares this deducible/computational emergence with observational emergence when he says, “If P is an emergent property, but cannot be deduced [then this is defined as Observational Emergence].” So observational emergence is to mean that one can't, even in principal, discover the emergent law through the use of any kind of algorithm or procedure.

Baas makes no reference to strong emergence or downward causation. He’s not suggesting these higher levels are emergent in that way. He’s only concerned about how it is anyone can observe an emergent system and know that there are higher level laws. So Baas is not in disagreement with Bedau or weak emergence. In fact, I think Baas would agree with Bedau. Baas simply looks at how we can possibly recognize these emergent levels and is trying to create definitions around this observation.

Regarding attractors, these are not generally believed to be some sort of phenomena that can alter lower level physical laws. There is a small group of individuals including Evan Thompson, Robert Bishop, Alicia Juarrero and some others that feel these “attractors” and similar emergent properties are in fact responsible for downward causation. But for there to be downwardly causal affects, there would need to be a violation of the lower level laws. One phenomenon commonly used by both sides in the downward causation debate is called Rayleigh-Benard convection. The downward causation crowd will say that the lower level physical laws such as the Navier Stokes equations or even lower level such as van der Waals forces are somehow controlled (constrained) by the higher level system such that they are necessary but insufficient to describe the emergent system. In this view, the “self organizing” law is a higher level one which somehow comes into existence at this higher level of complexity. But self organization is also perfectly consistent with weak emergence (no downward causation) as described by Bedau and others. In my opinion, when modelling any kind of natural phenomenon at the level of classical physics, practice always follows weak emergence. There are no such numerical modelling tools that assume any kind of strongly emergent phenomena.
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Re: Emergence

Postby TheVat on April 17th, 2015, 11:32 am 

Outstanding thread. Been busy the past couple weeks, but look forward to catching up. Admit I'm not sure there is anything remarkable about emergent explanations. L2 and L1 seem to repackage what is already plain about emergent properties. We perceive a whole, a self-organizing property, and construct language and other symbol systems to clarify our observation. I also wonder if "law" is the best word to use in talking about organizing and structural principles at higher and lower levels of the natural world. The word seems to set thinkers up for a clash between L1 and L2 and so on. Causation, in its essence, doesn't have to be a row of dominoes. A web, or a field, seems more apt.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 18th, 2015, 10:02 am 

Hi Paul. Thanks for that. Your mention of the term "law" reminded me of Fodor's paper "Special Sciences (Or: The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis)". To give you an idea, it's been cited over 1100 times so a very popular paper. Fodor talks about higher levels of science as if they have exceptionless laws and gives as an example "Gresham's Law". I don't think Baas has the same concept in mind. Fodor I think goes way too far in applying the term "law" to these higher level regularities. Although Fodor doesn't use the terms downward causation or emergence, others have noted that for Gresham's law to be a law in the way Fodor imagines it to be, there would need to be some sort of downward causation that Gresham's law could impose on lower levels. So to your point, I think when discussing higher level "laws" like this, we should recognize they really aren't physical laws in the same sense as the lower level ones. That said, Fodor brings up a good point regarding bridge laws. If we find for example, ways to derive (mathematically) higher levels such as thermodynamics, from the lower levels, then perhaps using the term law is appropriate.

Also, you mention fields again. You've mentioned that before. I wonder if the use of fields is more common in your area of expertise? Do you commonly use fields? In mechanical engineering, we don't generally deal with fields. Causal interactions are generally treated similarly to how Bedau talks about micro-level parts interacting. Software used to analyze stress distributions through solids for example or velocity, density, temperature and other fluid properties when analyzing fluid flows, utilize finite elements which is equivalent in my mind to what Bedau is referring to regarding micro-level parts. Neuroscience also does the same thing with programs to analyze interactions between neurons (ie: what are called "compartment models").

I think you can still talk about the distribution of stress or fluid properties in terms of fields as you say but I suspect the ease we talk about them as fields is a function of our experience and area of expertise. I think fields as thought of in classical physics, are still separable and phenomena should still follow the concept of weak emergence. Any thoughts?
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Re: Emergence

Postby mtbturtle on April 18th, 2015, 10:27 am 

Dave_C » Sat Apr 18, 2015 9:02 am wrote:Hi Paul. Thanks for that. Your mention of the term "law" reminded me of Fodor's paper "Special Sciences (Or: The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis)". To give you an idea, it's been cited over 1100 times so a very popular paper.


A pdf of Fodor's paper
http://fitelson.org/woodward/fodor.pdf
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Re: Emergence

Postby TheVat on April 18th, 2015, 11:37 am 

I did start out as a physics major, before switching to pre-med and psychology, and so had an early affinity for fields, especially in QFT. My inner engineer (I do lots of renovating, rewiring, jury-rigging, shade-tree mechanics, etc.) thinks the field stuff is a bit flaky, too. I tend to think of a spider's web, the way the entire web shakes when a fly impacts on one small part of it. But, yeah, this doesn't go beyond weak emergence, as I understand it, unless the fly's impact were propagated throughout the web instantly.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Percarus on April 18th, 2015, 6:09 pm 

I enjoyed this thread very much, although I do not feel I can contribute anything new to it. I found a diagram of 'Emergentism' which I include here for record's sake:
Image

One question I have is if lower level causation is at all possible? Or to that effect causative functions that occur as part of an algorithm/equation-like so as to skip certain steps. I would presume that if any such incident occurred it would be simply be termed as a microlevel phenomena.

I am rather fond of the concept of downward causation because to me it exemplifies a notion of 'oneness' to a greater degree, and when relating consciousness it does place that very facet on top of a pedestal to be admired to say the least. Downward causation (aka. strong emergence) also holds a sacred place in the interpretation of the divine affecting the individuals to a great degree.
Image

I wonder though, if upward and downward causation are happening simultaneously through the same channels can one then term the constituents as 'one' - as a singular body/entity? What I can then lead up to next is the concept of reliance between fundamental constituents in order for the emergent facet to let alone exist. And then there is conceptualizations of the abstract (ie: Mathematics for instance) which could in turn be broken down into simpler divisions but it could be easily translated into constructed articulated grammar to project the same meaning but with different components. What I am trying to say is that one can simply replace the micros of any given emergent process with a completely different set of micro phenomena to in the end produce the same end result of an emergent phenomena (or macro phenomena). Maybe I am getting off-track...

I tried expanding my mind to alternate perceptions when reading this thread but in the end it is pretty self explanatory, and thus I could not conjure up anything new in this rushed spiel. One could make a statement about the ever-so present, the everlasting, in which case mayhap no emergent process would ever take place. Infinity is a good example as quite literally it is very hard to itemize the micros in infinity if it can only exist as a whole and not in individual parts. By categorizing time itself as infinite we tend to attribute the weak emergent factor as the smallest increment of time, but in establishing/counting this infinite amount of micros we would never be able to ascertain infinity unless we are to first consider the macro and first establish time as infinite, get it?

Mathematics does a good extrapolation of this infinite without the never ending counting process by simply attributing a symbol to it, the Mobius loop for instance, ie:
Image

But I would argue that by categorizing a symbol for infinity all we are doing is adding a new dimension to the pre-limited options as readily obtained from the micro/macro-phenomena. So to that effect the causative factor is not upward or downward but more lateral and to this effect is the fundamental cause for evolution of new ideas/concepts to be formed. Of course, any further derivation as such may be just a further amalgamation of the seemingly never ending universes of the abstract; so how does this relate to the 3D spatial/factual interpretation of reality as understood by existing known sentience? I am not too sure but I would take a very good gut hunch of a guess that indeed we are not alone out there considering some primeval soup was able to eventually evolve into the magnificent complexity that is I, you, and every being out there.

We developed sensory receptors to visualise this world as best as we can, and in this process determine and distinguish weak emergence from strong emergence and brings me to Dave_C's second point of 'levels of nature'... And to explain jumps in evolution one could relate Dave's third aspect of nonlinear or dynamical systems. Maybe I am getting ahead of myself so let me explain...
Image

God is certainly the immutable law that binds all lateral emergence through (not necessarily the language) the laws of mathematics so as to encapsulate the infinite in a sheer instantaneous singularity moment of time. It is ever-so pervading and mayhap there was no beginning. Weak emergence organisms, as well as strong emergent bodies, tend to have a beginning by which they evolve through the amalgamation and build up of complex interactions given time (in this case I mean a living organism). Time itself is laterally emergent when seen as a whole imo. And whatever other dimensions are out there in existence that the human mind/body cannot presently sense at this point in evolution will hopefully one day ascend to clarity with transhumanism - for man cannot do it alone lest he become something quite alien; aka. no longer human, not a desired notion for our wants and desires given our existing knowledge.

Talking about distributions of stress or fluid properties in terms of fields is highly subjective when referring to weak/strong emergence and it already ascertains that everything is a matter of perspective as ascertained by our senses. In the case of magnetic fields it is an ascension that can only be granted due to transhumanistic ideals; the human body cannot 'sense' magnetic fields as far as I am aware, not at this stage of evolution. Strong emergence can henceforth be achieved through an alliance with an external object/tool, if at first the situation was one of weak emergence. On that very note, it is quite possible to transcend or taper down from one extreme to the other given appropriate stimuli and means for conveyance of information.

What has not been covered as of yet, I believe, is the fact when two fields unite (ie: academic fields) to form a new field, which as a consequence instead of combining both micro phenomena of both fields instead CREATES a whole new set of micro phenomena as an expansion and stabilisation of its very foundations as a new entity/curricular. This was in effect covered by Dave_C's third point of 'nonlinear or dynamical systems', so my apologies ahead.

Ok, my speed typing ends here. :-D
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Re: Emergence

Postby TheVat on April 18th, 2015, 9:36 pm 

I am not sure if your mysticism-tinged and rambling exposition really serves this particular philosophy of science topic too well. I think it needs to be edited, in order to address the subject of emergence as Dave_C has framed it.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Percarus on April 20th, 2015, 1:53 am 

Well 'Braininvat', I would like to read Dave_C's commentary on my mysticism tinged philosophical Theist biased view on emergence before I present any further argument. I thought that my commentary was a good way to keep the discussion going by providing some alternate perspectives. My apologies if you did not appreciate the spiel. :-D

One word: 'Atticism'.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 20th, 2015, 9:28 pm 

Hi Percarus. I'm having a hard time understanding what you’d like to discuss regarding emergence.

Consider this thread an if/then type argument. If x is true, then y must follow.

In this case, x is a phenomena that can be described using classical physics. Those phenomena are separable which matches up well with the definition of weak (and nominal) emergence. If x is true then it leads you to y which is weak emergence, so strong emergence must be false. It says that classical physics does not support strong emergence nor downward causation.

I can sympathize with your interest in downward causation. It would seem that consciousness must be strongly emergent and therefore downward causation must be a fact of nature. However, if we accept that neurons interact classically (I readily accept that premise) then downward causation simply doesn’t hold water. I suspect you will find that one hard to swallow.

What I’d suggest is to try and understand what’s being said regardless of whether or not you believe it. Rather than look at some description of how nature works and rejecting it as not meeting your expectations of what is true, look at it as if you’re trying to solve a puzzle. If x is true, then y. The logic leads somewhere, but you won’t be able to understand where it goes unless you can understand the path that gets you there.

Very briefly about your picture of some base level creating an emergent phenomenon which exhibits downward causation. Downward causation means that some higher level phenomenon inflicts a causal influence on the lower level. If the higher level is the brain as a whole and the lower level is a neuron, then downward causation would say that phenomenal consciousness (or the brain state as a whole) can influence individual neurons in the brain. This is an influence above and beyond those local influences on the neuron such as neurotransmitters. Downward causation says that those local influences are necessary but insufficient to determine when a neuron will spike. Downward causation suggests that what causes a neuron to spike is not only the local influences but also the state the brain is in as a whole.

There are a few papers that try to argue this case. The authors suggest that there is something more than the local influences of neighboring neurons that are causing each neuron to change state, but the authors don’t provide any experimental evidence to support the claims. In fact, all experimental evidence supports only local influences and neuroscientists are only looking at local influences to see how neurons can interact. There really isn’t any support for downward causation in classical physics.
Last edited by Dave_C on April 20th, 2015, 9:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on April 20th, 2015, 9:45 pm 

Hi Eclogite, I don’t disagree with what you’re saying here about the description of liquids wetting a surface:
Eclogite » April 8th, 2015, 1:40 am wrote:
Rilx » Tue Apr 07, 2015 12:05 pm wrote:A representative sample of a "traditional emergent phenomenon" is the wetness of water - is it really an emergent phenomenon? I think not, no more than redness is an emergent phenomenon of a rose. Wetness is a subjective experience of an observer/experiencer: a quale.
I do not have an opinion on whether wetness is, or is not an emergent phenomenon, but it is certainly an objective one. Wetness is a property of liquids in contact with surfaces. In general, if the contact angle is greater than 90 degrees we consider that the liquid is wetting the surface. On our hands water is wet, mercury is not.

That’s all fine. But when philosophers talk about emergence and whether or not wetness is an emergent property, they aren’t generally talking about wetting a surface as you mention. In fact, they are at least sometimes referring to the qualitative feel as talked about by others in this thread. Other times, it seems like they’re referring to the ‘liquidity’ of a liquid or something having to do perhaps with surface tension which is why I don’t think it’s a terribly good discussion point unless we get very specific about what we mean by wetness.

Here’s an example of a philosophy book by Erdmann and Stover referring to wetness as a qualitative feel:

... The Random House Dictionary defines emergence as “the appearance of new properties in the course of development or evolution that could not have been foreseen at an earlier stage.” One example of the process is the appearance of liquidity in water through the combination of hydrogen and oxygen. Water is wet – and “wetness” is an emergent property.

Some critics object that wetness does not exist unless created through the interaction of water molecules with our sense of touch. Nor do taste, sound, light, or other colors exist unless taste receptors, ears, or eyes are involved. Therefore, they argue, the entire concept of emergence is questionable. That objection, however, is invalid. Water, undeniably, is able to cause a feeling of wetness when in contact with organs of touch – a property hydrogen or oxygen in isolation do not possess. Taste, sound, light, and colors emerge through the interaction of natural elements with other sense organs. That sense organs are needed to bring them about is no argument against the emergence of these sensations as such.

They recognize that this commonly discussed phrase (ie: wetness is an emergent property) is sometimes an argument about phenomenal consciousness. But there are other discussions of the phrase that seem to take a different meaning of wetness. I wouldn't mind discussing wetness as an emergent property but what is meant by wetness has to be given first. Hopefully that clears up any confusion about what is meant when philosphers talk about wetness.

Erdmann, E., & Stover, D. (2000). Beyond a world divided. iUniverse.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Dave_C on June 17th, 2015, 10:20 pm 

I had some feedback from Mark Bedau on this topic that I thought worth sharing.

I asked Mark: When discussing strong and weak emergence, you do so in reference to micro-level parts. This makes sense for separable systems such as defined by Healey for example, where systems have distinct parts. Have you considered whether strong and weak emergence is applicable to nonseparable systems? For example, a pair of entangled photons don't have distinct states so referring to micro-level parts may not be the best way to think about those photons.

Bedau responded: As it happens, I have not thought about your qeustion, except to say that I apply the term "weak" emergence only to what I call "bottom-up" wholes, which by stipulation contain parts that have intrinsic properties (so, are separable in your sense, I assume). For bottom-up wholes, the cause of the state of the whole is nothing more than the (properly organized) combination of the states of its parts. On the other hand, because of how "strong" emergence is defined, it cannot apply to bottom-up wholes. So perhaps there is room to argue that wholes made up from entangled photons do not exhibit weak emergence but do exhibit strong emergence. Perhaps!

I guess my point is that weak emergence applies to phenomena that can be described by classical physics but the terms weak and strong emergence might not be applicable to nonseparable systems.
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Re: Emergence

Postby Don Juan on June 23rd, 2015, 2:30 am 

Dave_C » April 21st, 2015, 3:45 am wrote:That’s all fine. But when philosophers talk about emergence and whether or not wetness is an emergent property, they aren’t generally talking about wetting a surface as you mention. In fact, they are at least sometimes referring to the qualitative feel as talked about by others in this thread. Other times, it seems like they’re referring to the ‘liquidity’ of a liquid or something having to do perhaps with surface tension which is why I don’t think it’s a terribly good discussion point unless we get very specific about what we mean by wetness.


I think this is correct, we need to sort things out and notice the range of meanings the word is associated to. With respect to wetness, these meanings maybe interrelated, each being emergent can be debated.

Possibly we can ask an entity's or phenomenon's emergence in relation to what immediate environment (or at least same level interaction) and what lower level entities or phenomenon? Say we can ask wetness seems to be emergent in relation to human touch (and other contexts) and individual water molecules. We can ask that possibly water has a configuration that is consistently interpreted by the observer in sight and in touch as wetness. That configuration can be debated whether an emergent property or not in relations to individual water molecules and to the immediate environment of the water molecules. The interpretation can be debated whether an emergent property or not in relation to individual elements of our somatosensory system, and to the water molecule as well as to the larger environment the system is interacting with.

Is subjective experience not emergent in relation to the body's cellular level and to the immediate environment of the person upon which he/she displays such patterns?
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Re: Emergence

Postby neuro on June 23rd, 2015, 5:30 am 

curiously enough, you can "sense" water wetness even if you wear lattice gloves.
you actually sense coolness, you sense pressure, and as a consequence you perceive "wetness".

So I believe this is not a good example for emergence, as the temperature of water is not a strongly emergent property, and neither is pressure. (or at least the mechanism of emergence of these properties from molecular properties have been clarified).

This, in my opinion, is a big problem: it is quite difficult to distinguish what is out there (pressure, temperature) from what is in our way of processing (wetness) what's out there. Nothing new! that's Kant... but it creates a lot of problems when we try to approach the problem of phenomenal perception and consciousness in terms of emergence.
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