Monday, October 04, 2004


[UPDATE 16 March 2010: The link to the Silberstein/McGeever paper broke;  I can only now link to the abstract of the published version]
Can something truly new arise in the world? Can a new phenomenon emerge because its underlying constituents reached a special level of complexity? This issue comes up often in discussions of consciousness, but the question of whether truly emergent phenomena exist arises in other contexts as well. I recently read an excellent summary of the topic in this paper by Michael Silberstein and John McGeever.

I’ve always disliked the idea of emergence in the context of accounting for human consciousness. In this case it seemed clear to me that the entire emergence/reduction debate only existed because of the highly dubious metaphysical assumption that the underlying world is the made of up lifeless matter obeying Newtonian mechanics.

As the reader knows from past posts, I believe the solution of the mind/body problem is the position known as panexperientialism. A simplified story of the road to panexperientialism goes like this:

{Belief that first person experience is a real and integral part of natural world}
{Dismissal of emergence as a possibility}

In the paper, the authors argue that the best candidate for (ontological) emergence is the example of the correlation between entangled particles in a quantum context. The next best candidate (but the authors are less convinced) is in the area of complex (non-linear dynamical) systems.
An interesting project is to study whether the most common candidates for emergence in the macroscopic world may in fact follow from quantum mechanics.

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