by Ralph Dumain

Dedicated in memoriam to Lisa Rogers
25 August 1961 - 15 September 1996

Emergence may be the key ontological topic of our time. The notion of emergent properties is not a new one, but there seems to be more technical work on the concept than ever before. This blog tracks my ongoing information-gathering and commentary on the philosophical, ideological, and social issues surrounding emergence, and constitutes one segment of a larger project. I make no pretense of contributing to the technical development of emergentist formulations. My focus is on the historical reconstruction and the philosophical and ideological role of emergentism in the social ecology of ideas.

Curiously, much of the literature on the subject—including encyclopedia articles—is spotty and heavily biased in citing its history.  In standard reference sources there is a focus on the British emergentists, and no mention at all of Hegel, Engels, or any Soviet work.  Part of this I think is due to the provincialism of Anglo-American philosophy.  Another failure of the literature is to make a clear distinction between the mystical idealist versions of emergentism and emergent materialism. 

While I believe in the fruitfulness of emergent materialism, I remain wary of speculative/idealist/mystical constructions of the concept. I will also make reference to the increasing focus on "cosmic evolution" (especially in the more sensationalist popularizations of cosmology) at the one end and cognitive science / artificial intelligence at the other end of the scientific spectrum , which relate directly or indirectly to emergentism. Emergentism in its materialist role may provide resolutions to certain dilemmas while in its mystifying role create new problems. Tracking emergentism and its constellation of issues is another way of tracking the philosophical dualisms that pervade our intellectual culture and the legitimate and mystifying ways in which scientists and philosophers attempt to transcend them.

In line with the issue of mystification is the notion of alienated consciousness and social existence of technical specialists, which may be manifested in their intellectual work, and/or in the face they present to the general public. The widest social perspective pertains to the role of scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals in the social division of labor as well the role of the intellectual disciplines themselves. Emergence thus fits as a component into my larger work in progress on the place of science and scientific ideologies in the cultural system as a whole since the Scientific Revolution. One tie-in is a novel interpretation and application of Marx's early remarks on science. If there is any originality in this project, it is in the specific way I am attempting to relate all these elements.

This is an edited compilation of a series of e-mails written for various discussion lists.  This will serve as raw material for a more coherent presentation at some point.  Identifying information of discussants other than myself has been almost entirely removed. Anyone wishing his/her name to be associated with quoted comments please inform me. This collective compilation begins with a big chunk of e-mails up to 25 February 2005.  Subsequent entries will be added individually, many also edited from various e-mails. (RD—27 Feb 2005)

This web page is the beginning of the archive. The archive is now segmented by a range of dates. Click here for the most recent segment. Go to bottom of page for other archive pages. (RD—1 July 2005)

Date: Fri, 05 Nov 2004 22:33:58 -0500
Subject: Re: Definition of "emergence"

"It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense.  It would be a description without meaning—as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure." — Albert Einstein

I have some problems with the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/properties-emergent/).  First, I am unhappy with the history, which, heavily biased towards what it calls British emergentism, provincially omits huge chunks of the relevant history.  One of the most historically important emergentists is left out, Friedrich Engels, and a predecessor that reaches back even further, Hegel.  There are numerous other important omissions, for example, the American  philosopher Roy Wood Sellars.

Another problem I have is with the vague characterization of emergentism as a position midway between mechanism and vitalism.  But there is a failure to distinguish materialistic and mystical tendencies within the various conceptions.  There is a whole history of emergent evolution that belongs in the mystical-metaphysical camp.  Though the quotations from Samuel Alexander are compatible with a materialist perspective, there is obviously something else going on in Alexander's system besides what is being described.  The more the nature of the character of emergent properties is fudged, and the more emergentism gets mixed up with idealist metaphysics, the closer it approaches vitalism, with an inherently mystical character.

The examples given present another problem.  Mill is cited for two different cases, as I see them.  The question of elements forming to combine compounds with properties dissimilar to their constituent elements suggests to me something different than the emergent properties of living organisms.  The two issues are (1) historically which came first, (2) are new physical principles necessary to explain qualitatively different chemical elements or compounds (as compared to the principles necessary to explain living organisms, and beyond that, animal sentience and consciousness as we know it?)  Greater precision is also called for in explaining what new physical principles or functional concepts are needed to explain the higher levels of the organization of matter.  I think C.D. Broad's characterization is a good one, but greater care needs to be taken by the authors in exposition and application of the concept.

The epistemological approach is, I think, an important one, especially in its second variant (pattern-irreducibility).

Furthermore, I think reduction needs to be explained, as in some sense the two concepts may be mutually interdependent rather than exclusionary.  This reminds me of an article I have been thinking of uploading for the past couple of years.  Anyway, it seems that the ontological questions, including that of supervenience, addresses this problem.  (See e.g. 3.1: downward causation argument.)

The question of consciousness would seem to be the crucial case, though the preceding crucial case would be the experience of sentience itself (produced by the physico-chemical laws that comprise biological entities).  Here is a passage that presents the dilemma:

Other philosophers reject such appeals to introspection. Some of these grant the appearance but dismiss it as of little evidential value and likely, on indirect grounds, to be illusory.[14] Others deny the emergentist claims about the character of our experience on one of the following grounds: there is no qualitative aspect to conscious experience beyond its intentional or representational content[15]; there is a qualitative aspect to conscious experience that we are able reliably to discriminate but we are not aware of its true, underlying nature (which is neurophysiological)[16]; intentional quality is not an intrinsic and immediately apprehendable feature of experience[17]; in our experience of agency we are not aware of a primitive form of direct, macroscopic control but are simply unaware of the underlying microscopic activities which in fact constitute our control.[18] Note that, if one grants the phenomenological claims of the mind-emergentist while denying their veridicality, one is doing something very different from twentieth-century scientists who debunked vitalist and strong emergentist views about life by uncovering life's physico-chemical basis. In the latter case, one accepts a challenge to provide a reductionist story of a seemingly unique sort of phenomenon, and meets it by developing better experimental and analytical tools. In the former case, on the other hand, one accepts the claims about how experience and agency seem to us but simply dismisses such seemings as illusory. Here, one is not simply overcoming an argument from ignorance with new, powerful theories; instead, one is doing something rather more like denying the data.

Finally, on the question of emergent substances:

However, considerations from general metaphysics may make this ‘halfway house’ unstable. Composite objects having ontologically emergent features appear to be truer unities than those lacking such features. Since such features will make a nonredundant difference to the dynamical unfolding of the physical universe, one must quantify over their bearers in giving a minimally complete account of this evolution. Indeed, in some austere ontologies, there simply are not composite systems lacking emergent features. Talk of such ‘objects’ is a convenient fiction suited to human perceptual and linguistic proclivities. Merricks (2001) takes such a position and affirms emergence as the criterion for the existence of true composites. He does not, however, give an account of what emergence is, apart from its involving macroscopic causal powers that do not supervene on the causal powers of and relations among the basic microphysical entities. (Is the relation of physical substrate to emergent features one of causal determination, as above, or is it a brute fact? Do emergent features necessarily appear in all systems attaining a requisite level of complexity, or is this at best a contingent fact?) Nor does he indicate a position on the nature of causation itself, an issue that is crucial to understanding what the nonsupervenience of causal powers amounts to. (Presumably Merricks would reject a Humean account, on which causation is reductively analyzed in terms of actual or counterfactual patterns in the distribution of qualities over the world's history.) In any case, it seems fair to conclude from this overall account that Merricks believes there are emergent composite individuals. William Hasker (1999) goes one step further in arguing for the existence of the mind conceived as a non-composite substance which ‘emerges’ from the brain at a certain point in its development. He dubs his position ‘emergent dualism,’ and claims for it all the philosophical advantages of traditional, Cartesian substance dualism while being able to overcome a central difficulty, viz., explaining how individual brains and mental substances come to be linked in a persistent, ‘monogamous’ relationship. Here, Hasker, is using the term to express a view structurally like one (vitalism) that the British emergentists were anxious to disavow, thus proving that the term is capable of evoking all manner of ideas for metaphysicians.

The article thus ends on an unresolved note, to say the least.

There are further issues and applications to be considered, for example, the consequences of the duality of form and matter applied in competing explanations for the organization of organisms, and notoriously, in models of artificial intelligence.  The minute we abstract out formal patterns and declare the material substrate irrelevant, we morph right into Platonism.  (There was a very bizarre lecture some years ago at the very bizarre Cosmos Club on the question of the bottom-up vs. top-down approach to understanding life, with some peculiar remarks from the speaker and objections from the audience.  I remember also a highly objectionable article in Scientific American in the '70s, possibly by Fodor, on cognitive science, arguing for identical cognitive mechanisms of wetware like us, computers, and disembodied spirits.)   But if we concentrate solely on "atomic units" and ignore the high-level patterning, we may fail to grasp systemic properties of the matter (no pun intended) under investigation.  Clearly, a bottom-up approach is necessary to evade the flight into idealism.  The lesson, I think, is that emergent properties have to be tied closely to the material substrate from which they emerge.  Otherwise, we'll end up with Platonism, or worse, creationism.

What really matters, of course, is the mind-body problem.  Behaviorism and the naive physicalism of the (logical) positivists render both consciousness and human activity unintelligible.  And when it comes to understanding sociocultural phenomena, the inability to understand social systems as emergent and historically determinant renders us vulnerable to the pseudoscientific hooey of sociobiology.  Historically, the  promiscuous mixture of superstition, confused social physics, and vulgar evolutionism of the second half of the 19th century exposed the vulnerability of empiricism to crackpot thinking.  This was the context in which Engels intervened, however imperfectly, and this is one reason this as well as other lapses in this article are deplorable.

Date: Sat, 06 Nov 2004 01:49:52 -0500
Subject: emergence emerging

Checking out some of the other reference sources through xrefer, I found more cursory recapitulations of the ideas in the Stanford entry.  However, the more one reads of this stuff, the more familiar the ideas become.  The hard part is mastering the complexities and calibrations of the various positions.  The basic ideas, once devulgarized, take some effort to grapple with, but are not so obscure.  Bertrand Russell would not have helped in writing about this subject, as his philosophy was too poor even to comprehend it.  The logical positivists were just as bad.  (The 'unity of science' movement is a fit referent here.) They found an easy target in mystical obscurantists like Driesch and the vitalists, so they could banish all the real issues to the cornfield.  (This also, BTW, affects the framework of Neurath's ridiculous conception of sociology.)  Speaking of vitalists, I wonder if Bergson and George Bernard Shaw (Bergson Lite) somehow fit into the mystical wing of emergent evolution.

Many other figures should have been brought into this story.  Certainly, James Feibleman and the theory of integrative levels (a near-synonym for emergent properties).  Or the Joseph Needham of the 1930s.  Or, godhelpus, the early Roy Bhaskar with his notion of ontological stratification (his critical realism has no relation to Roy Wood Sellars.)  I'm generally suspicious of Neo-Hegelian efforts such as that of Errol Harris: though they have some legitimate aspects, they have a tendency toward idealist metaphysics, which is a giveaway distinguishing feature from Marxists.  There are just dozens and dozens of other possible examples.  And I suppose systems theory relates to this story in some way, though I wonder how it deals specifically with emergence.

The Stanford article and others lead to other concepts such as methodological holism and physicalism, but not all lead to reduction(ism), as one would suppose.

I should emphasize again that an essential cross-reference must be made to reduction and reductionism.  Here there should be caution as with facile folkloric definitions of emergence, even more so in light of some of the abuses of anti-reductionism since the '60s.  Whatever might be bad about "reductionism" needs to be distinguished from the technical aspects of theory reduction in the sciences.  Furthermore, "reduction" may have unifying rather than simplifying effects, enabling the expansion of the scope of scientific explanation rather than contraction of our scope of understanding of a phenomenon.  That is, when done legitimately and not in the clueless ideologically tinged fashion of sociobiology or psychiatry.

Some of the articles linked from the Stanford article are useful.  So far:

Emergence and Efficacy

Bickhard, M., and Campbell, D.T., 'Emergence'

I haven't yet checked out the articles grouped in:

On emergence, levels, complexity and causation.

I also haven't looked at Seager's 'Emergence and Supervenience'.

So far it seems the real issues pertain to biology.  I've got a lot of stuff here at home, but cannot spend the time studying it.  I have two anthologies at hand by Steven Rose, with several apropos articles, but I will not have the time to make them available to others.

Date: Sat, 06 Nov 2004 10:17:30 -0500
Subject: Re: Emergence model

I recognize the game of Life by John Horton Conway, introduced to the public by Martin Gardner in his "Mathematical Games" column in Scientific American.  My first introduction to Conway came from Martin Gardner in the very first issue of Scientific American I bought, which I think was June 1967. This column was about Conway's terrific pencil-and-paper game called "Sprouts."  Conway eventually published a couple volumes of a book called Winning Ways, too expensive for me.  Wild wacky stuff.  (Gardner once published my name in the column for a solution to something called "Baker's Solitaire", whatever that is.)

But I don't think this is an example of emergence, at least not by the definition I'm used to.  These cellular automata may yield surprising configurations, but they are all generated by simple rules that don't change.  There are no levels of organization or different principles involved.  I wonder whether complexity is not being merged with the concept of emergence.

Indeed, we have to be clearer about the fine distinctions.

Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 00:41:11 -0500
Subject: emergence—online article

Emergence in Psychology: Lessons from the History of Non-Reductionist Science by R. Keith Sawyer

Date: Fri, 03 Dec 2004 04:40:45 -0500
Subject: Re: negativity, dialectic

I'm not familiar with all these authors, but it seems that several of them are on about very different stuff than the Soviet material.  This reminds me that I need to write up my precis of my conclusions from having plowed through a lot of Soviet philosophy in the past year.  I don't think that Marx found the need in the situations he was in to address the same range of problems from the same vantage point.  We all know what Engels wrote, but we rarely take the trouble to investigate the issues his philosophical interventions addressed, and why his approach to what we would now call emergent materialism was necessitated.

Now the one thing that makes the Soviets interesting is their approach to philosophy of science and to competing philosophical schools.  Their obligatory paeans to Marxism-Leninism as the solution to all epistemological dilemmas tend to halt inquiry at a certain point.  However, their criticism of other philosophies, e.g. neopositivism, got more astute with time.  And the Soviets understood a number of things their western counterparts did not, not only in being free of positivist and irrationalist philosophical commitments, but also understanding issues regarding the abstract and concrete, subject-object relation, praxis, the relation between philosophy, science, and the rest of culture, having an integral world view, etc.  Their philosophical orientation is quite admirable, up to a point.  However, except for addressing Marx's scientific methodology along with other aspects of Marx's ideas, the Soviets really don't address negativity and social being.  And this, of course, would have been threatening to them.

I don't see, though, how exactly one brings in diamat and a Hegelian Marxist orientation into the same argument to show how they contradict one another.

That was very sloppy shot-hand to state that I think that Kant is attempting to reconcile the idealism-materialism split (maybe by accepting it as an inevitable split placing nature and mind across from each other separated by an unbridgable gulf except maybe through God?)  Marx actualy succeeds in doing this in so far as he supercedes passive materialism on the one side and the idealism of human activity on the other.

Yes, but this would address more than Kant, don't you think?  You could say that Spinoza similarly addresses the problem of Descartes. . . .

I still think it makes sense to distinguish Marx's philosophy of nature (circa 1844) from his philosophy of science (circa Grundrisse).  The question of sensuousness—so Feuerbachian—really doesn't play a methodological role after a certain point, does it?  Ontologically it's there, in terms of man's interchange with nature, and the physical basis of his existence.  But the methodological arguments about political economy are of a different order, it seems to me.  And as for the ontological aspect, why would the emergent materialism of Engels—sans the mess he made of it—not be the next logical step, in the context of the vulgar evolutionist / social physics hodgepodge of the late 19th century?

Date: Fri, 03 Dec 2004 13:30:27 -0500
Subject: Re: negativity, dialectic

Well, in so far as diamat claimed to be a 'Dialectic as universal meta-law for all concrete laws of Man and Nature', there is certainly an overlap, in so far as I would largely reject the idea that Nature is dialectical.  Our relation to nature, Nature in so far as it is always only 'for us', is dialectical, but a flower flowering is not negation in a dialectical sense.  Negation requires conscious activity, ie human activity. . . .

OK, I see what you mean.  The conception of dialectic as universal laws of nature, society, and thought, is very vaguely worked out and functions like a steamroller.  This was a sticking point for many.  Van Heijenoort, for example, when he was still a Trotskyist, engaged in arguments, pseudonymously, against this confused mess.  I have this very obscure material buried somewhere and will publish it when I can get my hands on it.  Also, Engels flubbed on the negation of the negation.  However, one can clean up this mess and still have an emergent materialism that works as an overall ontology.  But it leaves untouched the issues that concern you.

Most of what passes as Marxism has really been diamat, and often very crude diamat (thinking here of the Trots and Maoists and the various paid philosophers of Stalinism.)  The 2nd International stuff was also quite crude and I would venture that until Korsch and Lukacs, nothing of interest is said re: dialectics from Marx's death, though Engels may indeed say some interesting things about materialism from a natural-scientific point of view.

As you know, the worst thing about 2nd International Marxism was its conception of historical materialism and its conception of historical progress as natural law.  Here is where the dialectic matters and here is where this version of Marxism falls apart.  It has also been said that Engels is partly responsible for this.  And when people usually make this argument, they indict not only histomat but diamat as the chief culprit.  And this I maintain is a logical fallacy.

I was thinking about why this gnaws at me so.  I guess because of my disgust with the reeking divide in this country between anti-intellectual activism and wonky radical cultural crit and sociology. This vexes me because one is naive and the other is cynical, and if the activist types do read anything, they read this crap (or read what is good among it crappily) to vindicate their braindead activism.

I have an idea of what you are talking about, and I would say you are very perceptive.  I'm not sure I know what the intellectual reference points are: maybe Althusser, late Adorno . . . ?

I am indeed, except that almost to a person they define themselves against dialectic and negation while claiming to have more sophisticated notions of class, capital and labor.  Most of the time, this is rehashed crap from hot bourgeois social theory or in some cases these people are the avante garde of that social theory.

Right, and diamat's philosophy of science doesn't adequately and specifically address these issues.

The penultimate sentence is the one I am not sure about.  What do you mean exactly? And can you separate the ontological aspect out from the methodological?  Is Marx's critique of political economy not rife with 'ontological' commentary (such as the value-creating capacity of human labor, but not of nature, of the form of value as a human relation rather than a natural relation or condition)?

I'm thinking about Marx's many remarks about abstraction and scientific method, e.g. in the Grundrisse.  Remember that quote from Hegel about how modern physical science increases in abstraction, decreases in sensuousness?  I don't think this sort of thing interests Marx at the point where he is theoretically engaged in the critique of political economy.

Date: Wed, 08 Dec 2004 21:01:21 -0500
Subject: Re: Dawkins Interview

Bryan Appleyard meets Richard Dawkins

The reporter is an imbecile.  Dawkins comes off as quite agreeable. Now as to this rubbish about God genes. Here's a telling passage:

"Society is not the extended phenotype," he states and points out that humans constantly act against Darwinian imperatives, the most obvious example being the use of contraception. Human society is, therefore, an emergent property arising from the scale and complexity of the brain. The human mind, like the peacock's tail, is far more than is required by mere survival. As a result, it takes off in counter-Darwinian ways. "Ultimately human society comes from the brain, which is a product of natural selection. It is some kind of distillation or summation from all the other ideas we have. The desire for sugar is a very crude example of an idea which is counter-Darwinian. One can imagine a political philosopher writing a book deliberately intended to establish an anti-Darwinian society." If this is the case, of course, then Darwinism has little if anything to say about human affairs.

This is true, but actually, this scenario says even less than nothing.  And the expression that society comes from the brain is itself naive and simplistic.

Date: Sun, 19 Dec 2004 12:34:49 -0500
Subject: Emergence: materialist or mystical?

Bickhard, M., and Campbell, D.T., 'Emergence'

There are some very interesting arguments in this article (in Bohr's sense).  I'll point out the passages that I find jarring.

I don't like the intro at all.  The section on novelty is much better.  In the section "Ultimate reality: microcausation" the authors introduce the notion of process, and here is where I get troubled again, beginning with the section on fields.

In fact, there are no particles. Quantum field theory yields the conclusion that everything is quantum field processes (Brown & Harré, 1988; Davies, 1984; Weinberg, 1977, 1995, 1996; Saunders & Brown, 1991). What appear to be particles are the consequences of the quantization of field excitatory activity, which is no more a particle than is the quantization of the number of waves in a vibrating guitar string.

A vibrating guitar string is nonetheless a material entity, not just a process.

In this view, everything is organization of process. There is no ultimate level of "real" particles on which everything else is supervenient, and with respect to which everything else is epiphenomenal. So that seduction is eliminated. The ultimate level of micro-particle micro-causation does not exist.

Note the wording here.  And note the illegitimate supposition that everything is process, rather than everything is in process.

It might seem that the micro-causation argument against emergence could simply be recast with respect to quantum fields instead of particles: the only reality is quantum fields, and everything else is epiphenomenal to that. The first part of this point is correct: everything is quantum field processes. But the critical point is that quantum field processes have no existence independent of configuration of process: quantum fields are process and can only exist in various patterns. Those patterns will be of many different physical and temporal scales, but they are all equally patterns of quantum field process. Therefore, there is no "bottoming out" level in quantum field theory — it is patterns of process all the way down, and all the way up.[6]

Note the implicit presuppositions in this argument.

Consequently, there is no rationale for delegitimating larger scale, hierarchical, patterns of process — such as will constitute living things, minds, and so on. That is, quantum field theory is an antidote to the seduction of including all patterns in the "supervenience base", and, therefore, not counting properties that are dependent on perhaps complex patterns as constituting any kind of emergence. The point of quantum field theory in this discussion is to eliminate the temptation to devalue pattern so that pattern does not support emergence. In quantum field theory, pattern is everything because there is no level at which something unique and bottoming out, e.g., particles, can be found.[7] It is, therefore, at best incomplete to say that everything is quantum fields: everything is organizations of quantum field processes — at many different scales and hierarchical complexities. Micro- and macro- alike are such organizations.

This is an old philosophical argument in new scientific garb.  Engels already treated process in this manner, but also with the proviso that motion without matter is as meaningless as matter without motion.

This resurrects the possibility of choosing to consider manifestations of organizational boundary conditions as of higher level, thereby resurrecting a naturalized emergence. More correctly, the recognition that everything is organization of process — just at differing scales and with differing hierarchical organizations — makes the choice to consider pattern and organization as of lower level, and thus to render properties of those patterns and organizations as epiphenomenal, a choice that renders everything epiphenomenal because there is no level at which anything is other than an organization of quantum field process, including even the smallest scale quantum fluctuations. The choice between countenancing organizational emergence and not countenancing it, then, is no longer arbitrary: to reject this form of emergence is to eliminate any level of non-epiphenomenality. That would seem to be a reductio ad absurdum of that position.

This epiphenomenal business strikes me as a red herring.

In particular, in quantum field theory (or any process metaphysics), there is no basis for excluding pattern from supporting emergence because everything is equally pattern, including higher level things such as minds. Minds cannot be "merely" epiphenomenal unless everything is taken to be epiphenomenal[8] because there is nothing else that can be privileged in the metaphysics other than pattern, and there is no inherent reason to privilege any particular scale of such pattern over any other.[9]

Sounds like we are back to Platonism.  Pattern without matter.  This is really bad philosophical reasoning.


Supervenience is explicated in terms of entities — particles — and properties (Kim, 1989, 1990, 1993b). This is basically an Aristotelian metaphysics, and is an inadequate metaphysics for relationships and process, most especially open process. "Entities" that are organizations of underlying far-from-equilibrium process are not supervenient so long as supervenience discounts external relations, and so long as it counts lower level constituents as part of the supervenience base. Flames, waves, vortexes — none are supervenient on underlying constituents. They are more like knots or twists in an underlying flow — nothing remains persistent other than the organization of the knot itself. They are topological entities, not substantive entities.

Because the authors reject the notion that the universe can be construed as built atomistically based on the smallest entities, they also reject the ultimate reality of anything other than pattern, which means we are back to Platonism.

The sense in which everything is organization of quantum process, then, is even deeper than might at first appear. A first temptation in understanding "organization of process" is a constancy of constituents — particles — engaged in some motions and interactions; perhaps particles running around each other to form an atom. But far more important are organizations of process that have no constituents, or certainly no unchanging constituents. The organization is everything; the constituents either do not exist or are not part of the supervenience base. Quantum field theory suggests that there are no constituents in the classical sense at any level. There are only certain wave properties that are maintained in the flux of quantum vacuum activity, like a soliton wave in water, but for which the vacuum takes the place of water. What we normally consider as constituents, as particles or entities, are persistences of instances of organizations of underlying quantum process: they are topological. If those persistences are due to equilibrium stabilities, then we have classical paradigm cases such as atoms for which it is easy to overlook that quantum field nature, thus process nature, of even the electrons and quarks. If those persistences are far-from-equilibrium system persistences, then we must look elsewhere than equilibrium to understand such persistence, and the relevance of external relations is directly manifest; the basic reality of the organization of process, relatively independent of whatever engages in that process, is more likely to be forced on us.

It is quite fascinating how scientific detail is intermixed with shoddy philosophical reasoning.

The dependence of higher on lower, then, remains. But the explication of supervenience as attempts to capture that dependence must relinquish the conception of the supervenience base as involving particular constituents and their internal relations. The types of the instances of lower level process patterns involved may be important — e.g., oxygen rather than nitrogen for a flame — but the dependence on the identities cannot remain. Furthermore, dependence cannot be simply mereological even with that modification: among other reasons, the necessity of external relationships must be accommodated. A vortex in a flow cannot exist if the flow itself does not exist. Note that this view not only eliminates the localization and atomization of substance (substance disappears) and causality (point-localized particle encounters), but also of entities. Waves do not have definite boundaries; neither do flames, vortexes, and so on. A thorough and deep de-localization and de-atomization is required. We do not have an acceptable and well understood metaphysics of this sort.

No entities: back to idealism.  This is an old argument with new science.

In the quantum process view, however, issues of multiple realizability and cross-cutting kinds still exist, but they exist as issues of what sorts of organizations of what sorts of process organization instances will yield particular emergent properties. Computers can be silicon, vacuum tubes, fluidic, even mechanical (though they tend to be rather slow), so long as certain organizational relationships are realized. This is the same point as is made within a particle view, except that there is no temptation to eliminate everything above the level of fundamental particles — there aren't any. The organizational properties that constitute something as a computer are just as legitimate as those that constitute something as an atom or cell or brain. The special properties that emerge with each of these need to be accounted for — a decidedly non-trivial task — but there is no need to fend off possible eliminative reduction to fundamental particles. Even within a particle view, the organizational properties cannot be ignored. But in a process view, such organizational properties (perhaps richly hierarchical) are all that there is. There is no more basic or fundamental reality.

This is just like a lecture I heard at the Cosmos Club some years back.  Shoddy, shoddy.

Emergence of properties and entities:

My basic point, however, is that such implicit anticipations, and their potential falsification in and of and by the system itself, constitutes an emergence of truth value in the system itself. Truth value is one of the criteria, and a crucial and very difficult criterion to meet, for the emergence of representation. I argue, in fact, that such truth-valued anticipations constitute the most primitive form of emergent representation, out of which all other representation is differentiated and derived (Bickhard, 1993, in preparation-b).

What the ?&#!!@&%%$$$!!!!!

Emergent causality:

Some conceptions of emergence would have it that any property that is in-principle derivable from the internal constituents and relations of an entity would not be eligible to be considered emergent (McLaughlin, 1992; Kim, 1989,1991). I have argued that there are deep problems with this view. First, much of its appeal comes from an underlying assumption of a basic level of reality consisting of fundamental particles. On this assumption, the temptation is strong to conclude that everything that is ultimately real is at this fundamental particle level, and everything else is epiphenomenally supervenient on it. This particle assumption, however, is false: there are no particles. Instead, special relativity forces a field physics, and, therefore, metaphysics, and quantum field theory forces a field view in which the fields are continuously in process. There are no particles engaged in this process. It is more akin to spontaneous vibrations of an intrinsically oscillatory medium. The "particleness" arises from a quantization of that oscillatory activity, akin to the quantization of a vibrating guitar string. This activity is inherently and necessarily organized; it is not definable independently of some patterning or organization. That is, organization is not something superimposed on a more basic level of reality; it is a necessary aspect of all reality. So, delegitimating process organization as a potential locus of emergence renders all reality epiphenomenal, because there is no reality that is not constituted as process organization.

Note two flawed assumptions: fundamental particles -> epiphenomenality, entities not comprehensible without process -> process without entities.

My conclusion is that, since everything is equally patterns of underlying process, macro-organizations of such process are equally valid as physically real as are micro-organizations of such process. Furthermore, since internal and external relations of process are all that there is, then process organization is a valid candidate to be constitutive of emergents, instead of, for example, being neglected as part of the supervenience base. That is, higher levels are higher levels of organization of process relative to lowers levels of organization of process, and properties that derive from such higher levels are valid candidates for being emergent.

Much to do about nothing.

While I don't recall the mention of Whitehead in this essay, that is where process philosophy comes from, though I suppose process is a generic enough notion not to depend on Whitehead.  But I am deeply troubled by what I see here.  Here's a critical piece on Whitehead:

Preface to Process and Unreality: A Criticism of Method in Whitehead's Philosophy by Harry K. Wells

Date: Sun, 19 Dec 2004 14:06:54 -0500
Subject: Re: Emergence and causation

Is this the demarcation fault line separating emergent materialism from mystical holism?

I have a hunch about these mystical trends in science. There is a dualism in mainstream thought, that cannot adjudicate the relation between mind and matter.  Behaviorism simply sweeps reality under the rug with pseudoscientific schedules of reinforcement.  The general tendency is: either nature is positivistically impoverished, or endowed with teleology and mind (e.g. the anthropic principle, creative evolution, New age thought, holism, the conscious cosmos, etc.) From an historical standpoint, the best claim that the universe itself has mind is in Spinoza, and some other crypto-materialist mystics of the early modern era. British Neo-Hegelianism seems to me a reaction formation against empiricism and liberalism.  Analytical philosophy in Britain emerged as a reaction to this.  My guess is that Whitehead continues in that vein, as Russell's polar opposite.  The alternative to dualism can only be emergent materialism, which is not panpsychism.


"The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science." — Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring

Date: Sat, 25 Dec 2004 14:44:53 -0500
Subject: Re: [cafephilodcdialogue] First post - Entanglement

PHYSICS AND METAPHYSICS By Mike Purton. The Guardian, Saturday, December 4, 2004.

Unfortunately, this article is complete and total nonsense, typical of the bad journalism and worse popularization surrounding contemporary physics and cosmology.  I would be interested in hearing about what is going on in German philosophy these days.  There was recently a bicentennial celebration of Ludwig Feuerbach in Germany.  What can't we get something like that going here?

Date: Thu, 30 Dec 2004 22:07:59 -0500
Subject: Emergence: materialist or mystical? [2]

A disturbing trend is emerging in our renewed focus on emergence.  . . .  I'm most interested in the technical work on supervenience, downward causation, and reduction in relation to emergence, although I can't hope to study the worthwhile material in the depth it deserves before the next meeting.  So let me now review what troubles me.

I initially complained about the Stanford Encyclopedia article as biased and spotty in its potted history, and also negligent in its failure to distinguish materialist and mystical conceptions.

I was also taken aback by this article:

Bickhard, M., and Campbell, D.T., 'Emergence'.

This illustrates a problem I'm beginning to find pervasive in this literature: the incredible naivete and gullibility of scientists when they venture one step beyond their specialized professional competence into the realm of philosophical synthesis, where they are confused and credulous babes in the woods.  The mixture of technical scientific detail and badly thought out metaphysical rubbish in this article is most distressing.  The more 'scientific' this literature becomes, the more pernicious the bad philosophy embedded in it.

A friend recently told me how alarmed she was at the role of Whiteheadian process philosophy in the mystical obscurantism being passed off as scientific philosophy nowadays.

And sadly, it seems that critical rationalism has also not been of great help in sifting through mountains of pseudoscientific confusion.  Appeals to "criticism" and "testing" are apparently inadequate norms for attacking the structure of conceptual systems.

I'm beginning to go through [someone’s] recommended reading.  I've downloaded a few technical articles that look like they merit study.  [Someone's] recommended book list is another matter.  Of the seven books listed, three are obviously mystical, religious, or pseudoscientific in character:

James Lovelock, The Gaia Hyothesis

Teilhard De Chardin, The Phenomena of Man K. Jung, The Collective Unconscious

I also took a gander at the amazon.com description of this book:

Harold Morowitz, The Emergence of Everything.

That makes 4 out of 7 recommended books of dubious character.  I wonder if anyone else finds this as disturbing as I do.  There is a further irony in that I stand accused of promoting reactionary irrationalism by quoting Blake. . . .  This is just sad, and serves as a further example of the philosophical mischief perpetrated by natural scientists stepping beyond the boundaries of their professional competence.


"You can fool some of the people all of the time and jerk the rest off."

      — Robin Williams

Date: Fri, 31 Dec 2004 20:58:11 -0500
Subject: one view of "one science"

We have already seen that Marx believed that there were many continuities between the natural and the social sciences. Both sets of sciences could be interpreted realistically as theorizing about mechanisms, powers, and relations. And the methods of the natural as well as the social sciences could be characterized in some way as empirical, theoretical, dialectical, and materialist. But as we have also seen, Marx was particularly anxious to emphasize features that only or best fit the social sciences, for example, that their laws were historical and tendential in form. There also were important limits to dialectical reasoning about nature, and there were many "weaknesses of the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism which excludes the historical process" (Marx, 1977: 494, note). As such, Marx did not believe, and could not have believed, what some contemporary philosophers like Carl Hempel (1969) believe, namely, that the social sciences can be reduced to the natural sciences in terms of their language or laws or general method. Marx's philosophy of science was not reductionist in this or any sense.

Marx did entertain, however, at least for a time during the 1840s, one version of the unity of science, and his historical and communist vision is essential to our understanding it. In the fragmentary Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx suggested that "industry is the actual, historical relationship of nature, and therefore of natural science to man." If industry were to be conceived of as revealing "man's essential powers, " then "natural science would lose its abstractly material - or rather, its idealistic - tendency, and would become the basis of human science." He concludes that " natural science will in time incorporate into itself the science of man, just as the science of man will incorporate into itself natural science: there will be one science" (Marx and Engels, 3/1975: 303-4; italics in original).

The unity of science is here prophesied by Marx to be a consequence of the future unity of humankind and nature. In capitalism, science expresses human alienation because individuals are separated from one another; the objects of industry do not express our human nature; and nature is therefore estranged from us, just as we are from nature. But in communist society, as Marx envisions it, nature will be "humanized" because it will exist for people only as a bond with other people. Humanity will be "naturalized" because communism returns us to ourselves as social beings (Marx and Engels, 3/1975: 296). So in communist society, "the social reality of nature, and human natural science, or the natural science about man, are identical terms " (Marx and Engels, 3 / 1975: 304).

The unity of science that Marx envisions is a peculiar one and quite unlike anything found in Comte or Mill or the modem positivist philosophy of science. This unity is not to be a result of the internal unification of the language, laws, or methods of science. Rather, science will become more and more unified as the objects of science (both humans and nature) become more and more unified. A humanized nature and a naturalized humanity make possible the unity of science, and this unity will be one of mutual incorporation, not one of reduction. Finally, Marx's is a purely promissory, even prophetic, unity. The unity of science is part of the movement of history, and it will uniquely characterize a future communist society because only that "society is the complete unity of man with nature - the true resurrection of nature - the accomplished naturalism of man and the accomplished humanism of nature" (Marx and Engels, 3/1975: 298). A purely methodological, precommunist unity of science is inconceivable.

SOURCE: Farr, James.  "Science: Realism, Criticism, History," in: The Cambridge Companion to Marx, edited by Terrell Carver (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 120-121.

Date: Sun, 02 Jan 2005 11:03:47 -0500
Subject: Re: Back to Metaphysics 101 …

My guess is that this sense of the material world is something quite different than either Epistemology 101 or Metaphysics 101, neither of which has measured up historically very well against the material world.  If there is something wrong with Popper/critical rationalism's world view, it can't be that they are incompetent in the areas of epistemology and metaphysics, but that metaphysics and epistemology are babies in diapers when compared to what we have learned about the material world via science, which their tinkertoy models also do not successfully model.  In this I suspect you are correct.

Again, knowledge of science seems to be different from knowledge of philosophy.  My guess is that neither scientists nor philosophers are terribly good at doing one another's work.

. . . You are suggesting, I think, that the anti-justificationist position ignores or completely denies solid factual and theoretical knowledge we have of the material world, since its claims to knowledge are based on the via negativa: we only have a provisional idea of what's true only by way of determining what's false.  I think you are correct in this, but that is because critical rationalism—or the part of which we have been mostly discussing—is basically playing in the sandbox of a priori philosophizing, the riddle of induction, and the problem of absolute proof and skepticism.  There is something positively anemic in all of this, as many of us have suggested.  But this also suggests that philosophy historically is an extremely alienated discipline: it is put in the paradox of having to make the most general claims about reality and our means of knowing it but not being able to do so precisely because so much of that knowledge is a result of practical engagement with the world and not philosophical proof at all.  The problem as I see it, is that critical rationalism as a position within philosophy can really only make general claims in the aprioristic manner that philosophy does, but cannot fulfill its promises of saying something meaningful about how science is actually done.  I think that is the key problem that implicitly at least bothers you and many of us.  This does not make critical rationalism stupid on its own limited turf, which is the poverty-stricken universe of philosophy.  It means that philosophy is basically a sex manual for lifelong virgins.

Scientifically illiterate nonsense is different from metaphysically and epistemologically illiterate nonsense.  I think it is important for all of us to disentangle the scientific from the philosophy issues so that we can better integrate them as well as amplify our philosophy appropriately.

Date: Sun, 02 Jan 2005 15:50:28 -0500
Subject: Re: Back to Metaphysics 101 …

Let’s review the context of my statements. I was trying to make some sense out of [someone's] inchoate rant . . . .  As far as lacks in scientific knowledge, I am far more impaired than [both of] you.  I wouldn't pretend to compete  in the realm of theoretical biology or in the statistical techniques of social research or operations research.  I take a pretty dim view of political science as any kind of science, but that is another discussion.  In general, as I've stated elsewhere, I defer as we all must to the expertise of others who presumably know what they are talking about as opposed to us hapless laymen.  However, when they go beyond the bounds of their expertise to make philosophical arguments  that can be criticized by anyone, that's where I maintain the right to intervene. . . .  I attempted to indicate a problem here: conflation of scientific knowledge with philosophical acumen.  My claim is that the shortcomings of [any of us] in philosophical matters is of a different order than the shortcomings of any of us in strictly scientific matters. . . .

I just want to note that you seem to be rather gullible in two topics of discussion to date:

(1) the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

(2) process philosophy & emergence

My guess is that I know less about quantum mechanics than you do, and both of us less than any competent physicist.  However, I think I can judge bad philosophical arguments and questionable ontological interpretations of mathematic theories applied to empirical data, on the basis of the faulty reasoning evident in said arguments.  Hence my challenges proceed not on claims to scientific knowledge, which is my case are close to nonexistent, but on the basis of questionable philosophical extrapolations from scientific theories.

. . . I suspect the demarcation criterion is probably pretty superficial.  The taxonomy I had in mind was the taxonomizing of the entire history of philosophy—justificationism vs anti-justificationism—based on the rather provincial positioning of Popper viz. the Vienna Circle and whoever else in Austria he didn't like.  On this demarcation business—I would hope that "criticism" that goes beyond falsifiability enables sophisticated critique, instead of rendering its proponents easy prey to the first half-baked piece of pseudoscientific chicanery that comes along.  I remain to be convinced.

Date: Tue, 04 Jan 2005 13:14:27 -0500
Subject: Re: Gods and Monsters

Another poorly reasoned post.  Let's see what we can do with it.

What I can't understand about Dawkins is his urgent need to proselytize his brand of atheistic Darwinism.  You'd think that once he reached his conclusions he would be indifferent to how other people led their lives. Dawkins' Darwinism necessarily prescribes a completely naturalistic conception of the world in which there is no ultimate purpose and hence no objective moral order.  But this view is incompatible with the "Humanist" Dawkins: "At the same time I support Darwinism as a scientist, I am a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to politics and how we should conduct our human affairs."

When I saw Dawkins at Politics & Prose recently, I developed a liking for him.  I like him even more for his anti-religious polemics.  However, as recent quotes adduced here attest, Dawkins really seems to lack any conception of social science, or a conception of human consciousness, that reconciles his total humanistic world view with his conception of Darwinism.  Hence he is trapped in a dualism from which he lacks the equipment to escape.  But as usual, you've got the problem all wrong.

What about George Bernard Shaw's almost sorrowful reconciliation with Darwinism:

"When its whole significance dawns on you, your heart sinks into a heap of sand within you. There is a hideous fatalism about it, a ghastly and damnable reduction of beauty and intelligence, of strength and purpose, of honor and aspiration."

Shaw never embraced any scientific theory.  Rather, he was the adept of mystical vitalism, parallel to that of Bergson's reactionary vitalism.  At the end of his life, Shaw's biggest complain about Lysenko is that Lysenko gave vitalism a bad name.  In sum, Shaw neither understood nor embraced a scientific view of the world.  Shaw was always influenced by the mystical vitalism that blossomed in Europe in the late 19th century, which more often than not blended in with the social darwinist crap that pervaded all of European thought of that time.  Shaw was also a Nietzschean.  Let's also remember what Fabian "socialism" was (which grew out of the same soil as these other ideological elements), a managerialist fantasy concocted by a segment of the intelligentsia that thought they could manage and regulate capitalism to prevent both the capitalist class from wreaking havoc un checked and the working class from violent rebellion.

Or ruthless Darwinian implications as deduced by H.G. Wells:

"And how will the New Republic treat the inferior races? How will it deal with the black? . . . the yellow man? . . . the Jew? . . . those swarms of black, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people, who do not come into the new needs of efficiency? Well, the world is a world, and not a charitable institution, and I take it they will have to go. . . . And the ethical system of these men of the New Republic, the ethical system which will dominate the world state, will be shaped primarily to favor the procreation of what is fine and efficient and beautiful in humanity—beautiful and strong bodies, clear and powerful minds. . . . And the method that nature has followed hitherto in the shaping of the world, whereby weakness was prevented from propagating weakness . . . is death. . . . The men of the New Republic . . . will have an ideal that will make the killing worth the while."

Wells was so right about these people because he was of the same ilk.  I'm not sure whether by the New Republic he meant the magazine or a new social order.  But whether he was speaking of a future state or American pragmatist liberal progressives makes not a difference, they were all, as was Wells the Fabian himself, exactly of the same mentality.

They seem just as valid to me. Dawkins says that we must view Darwinism as true science, yet reject its moral implications.  So he goes on then to create his own theology of values.  Clear thinking atheistic Darwinians have always understood the incompatibility of Dawkins' scientific position and his ethical architecture that is only his own personal artifact.  I don't have any problem with atheistic Darwinism.  But Dawkins' logical and transparent inconsistency paints him as a middlebrow and makes him really not all that interesting.   So maybe you should cut your pedestal that you have erected for him down a bit.

I think you have to do some more historical research into all the bad ideas that have influenced you.  But what is the real problem here?  It's not so much the incompatibility of Darwinian science with ethics as its underdevelopment with respect to the history of social/cultural evolution, about which the Dawkinses of the world have nothing to offer but the pauper's broth of sociobiology.  And coincidentally we return to our topic of the week, emergence, and therefore the need to distinguish mystical from materialist versions of emergentism.  If we want to delve back into the 19th century, we have to go where the Stanford Encyclopedia in all its Anglo-American imbecility and historical amnesia neglects to take us: Friedrich Engels.


Homer: "Why won't anything grow?"
Marge:  "I think it needs more fertilizer." Homer: "I'm only one man, Marge!"

The Simpsons
1105 AABF19
Season 11, episode 5
Original Airdate: 11/07/99

Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2005 02:57:32 -0500
Subject: emergent evolutionism

I still haven't found time to read through the voluminous material for Saturday.  However, I did take a look at Edwards' 1967 ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILOSOPHY, which has an article on emergent evolutionism.  While now out of date, it has a few more interesting references, e.g. Wilfrid Sellars, Joseph Needham, Mario Bunge.  The article also specifies differences in the varieties of emergentism, with reference to varieties which include theology (e.g. Samuel Alexander) and speculative metaphysics, and some of the caveats involved with respect to problems of causality and pseudo-explanation.  There are also differences with respect to the number and nature of levels of emergent properties.

One of the last boxes of books I spilled in the floor contained tons of books on philosophy and atheism I didn't know I had, including Popper's LSD, and a book on the opposite of emergentism, Cynthia McDonald's MIND-BODY IDENTITY THEORIES.  I have several books on philosophy of biology that deal with these issues, but I am already overwhelmed.


"The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science." — Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring

Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2005 03:26:30 -0500
Subject: emergence: … attachment

(1) I'm still unhappy with what I consider to be two different phenomena treated as one: I don't think the ant colony or the stock market or a flight of birds or cellular automata is the same type of emergence as to what really matters: the stratification of the material world on the basis of fundamental levels of the organization of matter: physical, chemical, biological, sentient (other species with emotions and/or "mind"), and intelligent (mental <-> social), or some comparable classification.

(2) I find the entry in the Dictionary of the Social Sciences unsatisfactory.  I think the real issue in dispute there is methodological individualism.  I think it is highly misleading to think of society as an emergent property of individuals.  Rather both society and individual minds are simultaneous emergents of biological evolution at a certain point.

(3) I'm not entirely happy with the various entries on reductionism, though they have their merits.

(4) Not completely happy with the entries on materialism, either.

(5) I note with great suspicion that just about all sources cited are from the anglophone world.  Given how much other literature gets translated into English, or even written in English by people in other parts of the world, I don't think there is any excuse for this.  I think this is how philosophers in this neck of the woods get away with being as provincial and ignorant as they are about so many things.

Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2005 14:03:25 -0500
Subject: Cosmic Evolution: Emergence, Pseudoscience & Mystification

Tonight's lecture at the Cosmos Club:
Cosmic Evolution: Three Views of the Universe
Steven J. Dick
NASA Chief Historian
2185th Meeting Friday, January 7, 2005 at 8:30 PM

If you read the abstract of tonight's lecture on cosmic evolution by Steven J. Dick at the Cosmos Club, you will find it amazingly fortuitous in light of tomorrow's discussion.  I'm still trying to figure out after all these years why almost every lecture at the Cosmos Club I've attended has a bizarro undertone to it.  This is yet another visitation from the bizarro world.  Note part of the abstract:

"If one takes into account cultural evolution as part of cosmic evolution and the Drake Equation, and considering the likely age of extraterrestrial civilizations, it is possible that we live in a postbiological universe, in which biologicals have been replaced in most cases by artificial intelligence, with possible implications for SETI. Cultural evolution on Earth now completely dominates biological evolution, and would also dominate extraterrestrial civilizations. Although many directions are possible in cultural evolution, the improvement of intelligence is its central driving force."

This is the kind of childish drivel promulgated by scientists waxing philosophical.  Among the speaker's many books is an edited volume, also editor of Many Worlds: The New Universe, Extraterrestrial Life and the Theological Implications.

It is truly amazing how people can get away with shit like this.  But I'm going to be there.

Date: Fri, 07 Jan 2005 16:52:19 -0500
Subject: Emergence: Silberstein [was: Uploads and what should people read?]

Silberstein is a good introduction.  Weak on the history, great on recent bibliography, though my guess restricted to certain circles.  In some ways Silberstein is more comprehensive than other intros, in other respects not as fleshed out as could be.  But you are correct: reduction and emergence are inextricably interwoven.

But how on earth are we going to discuss all this stuff tomorrow?

Another thought: I think it would be a mistake to think that all problems of emergence are the same.  I think there is a fundamentally different problem of posing the question as to whether all physical laws are reducible to quantum mechanics and addressing the problem of whether the products of human intentionality—thought and social/cultural constructs are reducible to physicalist explanations.  The two problems have very different properties.  My guess is that the alienated social existence of scientists and philosophers will put a brake on the solution of both types of problems, and the duality of positivism and mysticism will prevail endlessly.  However, the second problem—the nature of consciousness/subjectivity and social organization—will prove more elusive, more so for social reasons than for the type of intrinsic intractable problems accruing to quantum physics.

"It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense.  It would be a description without meaning—as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure."  — Albert Einstein

"Sense perception (see Feuerbach) must be the basis of all science. Only when science starts out from sense perception in the dual form of sensuous consciousness and sensuous need— i.e., only when science starts out from nature—is it real science. The whole of history is a preparation, a development, for "man" to become the object of sensuous consciousness and for the needs of "man as man" to become [sensuous] needs. History itself is a real part of natural history and of nature's becoming man. Natural science will, in time, subsume the science of man, just as the science of man will subsume natural science: there will be one science."  — Karl Marx, 1844

Date: Sat, 08 Jan 2005 01:13:44 -0500
Subject: Re: Cosmic Evolution: Emergence, Pseudoscience & Mystification

Just got home after visiting the Cosmos Club and schmoozing afterwards.

This talk, delivered by the outgoing Cosmos Club president, followed by Q & A, and schmoozing with other fellows in tuxes, clinched the Cosmos Club / Philosophical Society experience for me.  For all the intellectual content of these lectures, I might as well be going to embassy parties where I could get a better spread.  I hope all that cheese doesn't make me constipated.  If no emergence takes place tomorrow I'm going to be mighty uncomfortable.  Anyway, I get what the intellectual experience is supposed to be.  It's all intellectual hors d'oeuvres for the schmoozing upscale types, the professionals whose mental life mirrors their professional and social life, giving one another hand jobs.

The lecture consisted of three conceptual components, two based on science, one on science fiction.  The framework began with a fundamental abuse of terminology.  If this planet is the only place that life exists in the universe, then we have a physical universe.  If life is spread throughout the universe, then we have a biological universe.  We might still be the only intelligent (cultural) life form.  But if there are other culture-bearing intelligences out there, then we have a postbiological universe.

So we are already mired in stupidity by the very abuse of language and misguided concepts.  First, are the claims being made about the universe as a single entity or about the entities within it?  If the former, then, unless you can prove that the universe is a single biological organism, then the term 'biological universe' makes no sense.  If the latter, then this is already a biological universe, because there's life in it, i.e. here.  Fucking stupid stupid stupid!

So Steven Dick argues that there are two competing conceptions of the universe: physical vs. biological, and we are now in a transitional historical stage.  He gives a history of thoughts about astronomy and the plurality of worlds, and how the notion of cosmic evolution got started.  He also traces the history of exobiology and the various disciplines that fed into it.  The history of research into planetary science, the origins of life, SETI, are all traced.  This is the scientific history, an interesting series of historical sound bites.

Then comes the sci fi part: the postbiological universe.  Dick asks us to think long term, like the sci fi writer Olaf Stapledon.  Extraterrestrial civilizations are likely to be very old ones, so we need to think about what they would look like in the long term.  Given our exploitation of electromagnetic technology, maybe a century old, we don't have the experience of thinking long term, but culture evolves very fast once it reaches this stage of technology.  Dick reviews two competing conceptions from the '60s about intelligent life in the universe.  The second, eclipsed at the time, should be revived, and it is about artificial intelligence (AI).  Dick reviews various assumptions about the postbiological universe, including the maximum age of intelligent civilizations, which have been estimated variously at 6-8 billion, 3 billion, and 1.7 billion years.  Then he poses the question, which way is cultural evolution going?  Biotechnology, nanotechnology, space exploration?  Dick supposes that AI drives all these developments? Why?  Because—get this—the improvement and perfection of intelligence is the central driving force of cultural evolution.

Dick cites Hans Moravec, who predicts that artificial life forms will displace the human race, and Ray Kurzweil, who argues that humans will voluntarily upload their minds into intelligent computers.  So if the future is AI, then civilizations that last millions of years may well be populated by intelligent robots.

Yes, the lecture was really this idiotic.  And so were some of the audience questions.  I raised the question: what point are you trying to make about the implication of AI for SETI?  Are you suggesting that we will eventually contact artificial intelligent life forms? Or will our robot descendants be the ones to make contact after we're gone?  Will we make contact with long dead civilizations whose signals reach us millions of year late, or will we or our robot progeny engage in real communication?  What differences would there be between the content, form, or purpose of robot vs. biotic communications?  In other words, how does this perspective change our conception of what we should be doing?  He admitted that his projections were very speculative.  (Duuuuuuh.)  He replied that we should think long-term cultural evolution and that it proceeds very fast.  If we were looking for AI, then we wouldn't be limiting our searches to earth-type planets.

Someone else brought up the cult film classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still", but he mixed up Klaatu with Gort.  The upshot is that maybe other civilizations' SETI programs are to look for threatening signs of hostility elsewhere.  Another person asked: since we can't quantify thought or intelligence, then what qualifies as AI.  He got no answer from Dick, so then he added: the current definition of intelligence is the ability to answer questions.

Someone else brought up the issue of very slow interplanetary communication.  Someone else brought up Freeman Dyson's pessimistic view that SETI might be misdirected as our technology is too primitive.

Then there were the dotty questions.  Someone brought up Teilhard de Chardin.  Another claimed that Hegel's philosophy of history had the answers.  Others brought up questions of the theological and the supernatural.  Dick himself wrote a book in the theological dimension.

There were three other members [of our group] present.  Talking to one of them while delving into the goat cheese, I mentioned said rather loudly what idiots scientists are when they take on big philosophical ambitions, how they fall for the first load of mystical horse manure dropped in their path.  Another attendee, part of the tux contingent, thought that phrase was hilarious, so started a conversation with me.  He couldn't understand why I was bad-mouthing Teilhard de Chardin, and told me the story of how Chardin was censored by the Catholic Church and sent off to China.  He could not make sense of my contention that science and theology do not mix.

I also brought up the utter sociopolitical naivete and stupidity of the assumption that the driving force of society is the perfection of intelligence.  I bellowed: the driving the force of this society from the president on down is in the opposite direction.  That got me some laughter.  Stupid people, stupid stupid stupid fucking dumb asses!

Anyway, that's when I realized the pretentious idiocy that underlies the Philosophical Society of Washington, which fits perfectly with the posh pretentiousness of the gentleman's club.  So I said loudly to my friend: I get it now!  That's what intellectual life is like for the intellectually mediocre Washington middle class: it's a mutual masturbation society!


"You can fool some of the people all of the time and jerk the rest off."
      — Robin Williams

Date: Sat, 08 Jan 2005 02:36:31 -0500
Subject: Re: Marx …?

As this ms was written in 1844, it's not entirely clear what this implies concretely, and I've not seen any scholarship on the subject.  But we can tackle the questions it addresses in baby steps, beginning with the point of departure: alienated conditions under which intellectual labor proceeds, and thus the inability of the cognizing subject to orient himself properly in his own society and understand the meaning of his own specialized activity, while as a social subject he remains trapped and vacillating in a world of dualisms he doesn't even understand.  Indeed, the inability to understand these implications explains everything about the seething primal soup of psychological need that underlies [our group] and its relationship to the framework of ostensibly intellectual discussion through which it oozes out.

Here's more of the surrounding text:


We can see how subjectivism and objectivism, spiritualism and materialism, activity and passivity, first lose their character as opposites under social conditions, and therefore their existence as such opposites. We can see how the solution of theoretical oppositions is only possible in a practical way, only through the practical energy of man. Their resolution is therefore by no means a project for knowledge but a project of actual living. Philosophy cannot solve them precisely because philosophy grasps them only as theoretical problems.

We can see how the history of industry and the objectively developed existence of industry are the opened book of human capacities, which is human psychology sensuously considered. Up to now industry has not been regarded in connection with the essence of man but has always been regarded only in terms of external relations of utility. That is because, moving within the framework of alienation, we have only known how to conceive as the actuality of human essential capacities and as acts of the human species the universal existence of man, religion, or history in its abstractly universal essence, politics, art, literature, etc. We have been confronted with the objectified essential capacities of man under the form of sensuous, alien, useful objects in ordinary material industry (which we can regard as a part of the former universal movement, just as we can regard this movement itself as a special part of industry, since all human activity up to now has been labor and thus industry has been alienated activity). A psychology to which this book, precisely the sensuously most concrete, most accessible part of history, is closed, cannot become a really profound and genuine science. In general, what should we think of a science which presumptuously abstracts from this enormous section of human labor and does not feel its own inadequacy? What, should we think of a science as long as such an extensive realm of human activity says no more to it than what can be said in one word: "Need, common need."

The natural sciences have developed an enormous activity and have appropriated for themselves a constantly expanding subject matter.

Philosophy has remained alien to them to the same extent that they remain alien to philosophy. Their momentary reconciliation was only a fantastic illusion. The will was there but not the capacity. Historical writing itself pays the natural sciences only cursory consideration, as moments of enlightenment, of utility, of individually great discoveries. But the more practical has been the invasion of human living by natural science, through industry transforming it and preparing human emancipation, the more directly it had to complete the dehumanization. Industry is the actual historical relationship of nature to man and therefore of the natural sciences to man. If it is regarded therefore as the exoteric unfolding of human essential capacities, the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man is also understood. Then natural science loses its abstract materialistic or rather idealistic direction and becomes the basis for human science. Today, it has already become—although in an alienated form—the basis of actual human life. To have one basis for life and another for science is apriori a lie.

Marx wrote: "Sense perception (see Feuerbach) must be the basis of all science. Only when science starts out from sense perception in the dual form of sensuous consciousness and sensuous need— i.e., only when science starts out from nature—is it real science. The whole of history is a preparation, a development, for "man" to become the object of sensuous consciousness and for the needs of "man as man" to become [sensuous] needs. History itself is a real part of natural history and of nature's becoming man. Natural science will, in time, subsume the science of man, just as the science of man will subsume natural science: there will be one science."

Date: Sun, 09 Jan 2005 13:26:38 -0500
Subject: Re:  emergence/consciousness

Self-consciousness is a peculiar phenomenon, for what we are not conscious of is the material substrate of our thinking.  Brain as subject and brain as object are experienced two different ways.  One property that humans have that computers do not, to put it in terms that Soviet philosophers used to use,  is the opposition between the ideal and the material, or thinking and being.  This relates to {someone’s comment on] downward causation: i.e. how can the immaterial casually initiate a material process?  This is why I think the mind-brain case is different from other loci of emergent phenomena. 

Others have tried to adjudicate this problem with evidence showing that conscious awareness of a voluntary act actually occurs some split-second or seconds after the action is set into motion, allegedly demonstrating that free will is an illusory experience.  But I'm not convinced of this.  We had at least one Philo discussion on the nature of free choice (which is not synonymous with free will).  At the time, I suggested that both sides of the question embody a certain dualism.  We have to imagine what it means for matter to be conscious.  We still don't seem to be able to imagine it, though we ostensibly are it.  Thinking is the activity of conscious matter.  Though categorically distinct, a thought, a decision, will, is the 'immaterial' outcome of a material process.  Organized matter projects itself as thought, which we experience subjectively as a conscious decision, and the action is executed.  But it is not 'thought', but conscious matter, that has materially initiated the exchange.  So the downward causation is not the immaterial causing the material, but the physical emergent property (brain organization) subtending conscious activity that 'downwardly causes' lower-level neuronic activity.  Here is the decisive locus of the uniqueness of the mind-matter problem.  There is a material emergent organization of matter that simultaneously creates an 'ideal' phenomenon—ideation and the experience of consciousness.

We are not accustomed to thinking in this manner in this neck of the woods.  The ideology of artificial intelligence, as I've experienced it, doesn't support it.  We can continue to sweep the issue under the rug, but I don't think we can properly unite the objective and subjective without moving in this direction.  And then we can also face the question of how alienation affects the specialist researcher in this area.  Perhaps next time I'll tell the story of an AI researcher who lectured at the now-defunct Washington Philosophy Club.

The discussion on emergence touched upon the relationship between reasoning associated with emergent phenomena (EP) and reductionist reasoning. In the context of trying to determine a physical basis for  consciousness, I believe both approaches are relevant and not mutually exclusive.  It is important to realize that EP are interpreted as "macroscopic" properties of a system that may arise when a set of relatively simple "microscopic" structures or building blocks are connected together. Emergent behavior does not imply new phenomena caused by previously unknown physical laws. Rather, they are holistic properties of a system that can be studied and interpreted by applying known physical laws to tightly coupled structures formed from simpler components. One cannot really understand EP without some reductionist-based analysis of the dynamics of the individual entities/components that comprise the building blocks of the system. In the following discussion, the "system" is loosely defined to be brain, the neurons are the building blocks (microscopic structures) and the emergent phenomena might represent various dynamical features of the system as a whole-e.g., the spatial and temporal distribution of neurons that transmit action potentials at a given instant of time. [Note: An action potential is an electrical impulse, a wave that provides the means of communication between and among other neurons. The physiology and signal propagation characteristics are reasonably well understood. I would interpret the signaling between neurons to be closely linked, in some very complex manner, to a conscious state. In other words, I believe that consciousness or self-awareness has a physical origin, a physical substrate, though I do not claim to understand it. I simply present this statement ­not as an explanation —but as a very plausible working hypothesis].

Below is some food for thought—an attempt to consider the above issue in the context of a Gedanken experiment. A Gedanken  (aka  thought) experiment is one that you cannot actually perform in the lab, but rather is performed mentally and is constrained by the rule  that it does not violate any basic physical principles. Such thought experiments are sometimes used in physics to "simplify" complicated ideas so that they can be discussed in a basic setting without a lot of extraneous window dressing or additional details that might obscure the basic concept one is trying to comprehend. I developed the following simple(perhaps too simple) thought experiment in order to raise serious questions and stimulate further discussion on the topic, rather than try to provide answers (I don't have any):

A Gedanken experiment:

Suppose we are at a . . . meeting talking about emergence, and I am the current speaker. Unknown to me and the rest of the audience, an invisible neurosurgeon begins to systematically destroy individual neurons in that area of my brain  involving rational, conscious thought. He destroys, say, one neuron every few seconds. Speech, motor and visual regions of the brain are left completely intact, so I can communicate with the audience as before but at some point during this radical surgery you, the audience, would notice that something was wrong with my behavior. At some time after the surgical procedure is initiated, my consciousness would cease to exist. Some questions— Does this process (degradation in my ability to think rationally / consciousness) occur gradually in time or all at once? Would I be self-aware of the fact that I am losing consciousness? If it occurs all at once, is it due to the destruction of the last neuron destroyed, or is it caused by the fact that the connectivity between the remaining neurons has fallen below some critical threshold, below which emergent phenomena underlying consciousness cease to exist? If caused by the last neuron destroyed, does that imply that only a reductionist view of the process can explain it, because it is directly correlated with the destruction of a specific individual component of the system? Does that single neuron then represent consciousness? Note: roughly a similar process may be occurring in Alzheimer patients, but consider the following twist. Suppose that instead of destroying individual neurons as stated above, the invisible neurosurgeon replaces them one by one with electrical circuits that completely replicate, in every conceivable way, the physical characteristics of each neuron. (Remember, in a thought experiment you can do anything you want provided that you do not violate the laws of nature!) In other words, there is absolutely no difference between the properties of the biological neuron and the electrical circuit replacement. Would the speaker or the audience be aware of anything unusual happening regarding my conscious behavior? This argument, I think, raises some interesting questions about self-awareness, consciousness and whether consciousness must have a biological substrate.

A sociological spin on this Gedanken experiment is to replace the brain with a group of individuals and consider group responses as emergent behavior. Systematically eliminate individuals (i.e. a component of the system) from the group. At what point does the group behavior cease to exist?

Date: Tue, 11 Jan 2005 04:32:51 -0500
Subject: Re: Can you find god in ergodicity?

This particular source looks a bit on the crackpot side, don't you think?  Of course, if you are looking for God, this may be the place to go.  Big Sur is beautiful.

I don't think emergent systems are ergodic, since they are non-random and specifically in the biological world especially, complex systems that maintain themselves in a far from equilibrium state. Here's a short reference.

Date: Tue, 11 Jan 2005 13:10:16 -0500
Subject: Re: Can you find god in ergodicity?

The article you reference has a New Age tinge to it, especially in its conclusion:

Kauffman concluded by turning to George Sudarshan in agreement that "It is no accident that we tell stories. It is a deep part of the physical universe."

Huh?  Furthermore, this essay appears on the Esalen Institute web site, with links to obviously New Agey (with an admixture of postmodernism) pages on the same site.  This is just so obvious.  That's not to say there might not be real information contained on this site, but it is framed in a highly dubious manner.  This is not rocket science: it's glaringly evident.  I'm amazed that you could fall for this stuff.

Date: Tue, 11 Jan 2005 14:23:19 -0500
Subject: New Age emergence a la Esalen

Evolutionary Theory
An Esalen Invitational Conference
November 14-19, 1999
The Emerging Spiral of Worldviews
Don Beck

'Nuff said?

Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2005 15:44:05 -0500
Subject: Re: Mysticism is a many-sided thing

Now on the subject of mysticism.  Authoritarianism is only one dimension of the issue of obscurantism, perhaps the aspect of most concern to the Popperian.  But obscurantism is always harmful and in this case, it is always cheating.  The question of experience is quite a different matter from the question of pseudo-scientific explanation.  The entire history of uniting science with mysticism is one of fakery and obfuscation.  The practice of uniting western science and eastern mysticism, for example, has been a recurrent fad since at least the 1920s, if not earlier, and I suffered through an awful spate of it in the '70s and early '80s.  And in combination with other countercultural phenomena, I've noticed a curious logical leap between pure experience and one hand, and its cooptation by fraudulent doctrines on the other.  Back in the '70s, I pretty much did it all, without buying into most of the nonsense I was exposed to.  I did yoga with the upper middle class WASP Sikh-wannabees without believing their crap; I did African music and trances and speaking in tongues without believing in African loas and deities; I was exposed to just about every variant of esoteric mumbo jumbo without losing my critical faculties, and I have a principled objection to exploiting the need for certain experiences by stabilizing them institutionally with questionable ideologies, not to mention actual institutions.  And I've analyzed enough pseudo-scientific philosophical arguments over the course of decades to be able to spot them on the spot.  And this from having been a person far less stringent about falsifiability, testability, and all the appurtenances of scientism than some of you folks who seem to be extraordinarily naive, gullible, and unsophisticated about this stuff coming down the pike lately.   I am just about speechless at this point, completely at a loss to respond to the total lack of critical thinking among alleged critical rationalists that I can only wonder how rational it all is beyond its rhetoric.

And then there's the irony of [the] charge that I have an irrationalist agenda via my citations of Blake.  Well now, that [someone] has stated that he's interested in the logic of Bradley and Whitehead, and he hasn't as yet publicly committed himself to their metaphysics, I'm willing to keep an open mind.  But I digress.  I cited Blake and not just de Sade for [someone’s] benefit . . . for about two dozen reasons.  One of those is that [someone] has not mastered the ins and outs of philosophy, which is not merely an adjunct (or obstacle) to science, though it is that, but a form of analyzing the structure of self-reflection as well as subjectivity, and that we cannot limit ourselves to fighting the battles of the 18th and 19th centuries over and over again without thinking ahead.  A materialistic view of the universe based on natural science provides the floor for a sensible world view and for further explorations, but it provides an inadequate basis for exploring the phenomenology of consciousness and cultural forms.  This inadequacy was already experienced by Blake via the deleterious impact empiricism had on the arts (in the Royal Academy), in the imaginative life of the time, and in the exploration of the human psyche and cultural and political institutions.  So the dilemmas of the late 18th century are replicated for our time, and we ought to be more sophisticated in grappling with their analogues now.  We do have more to go on, after all, though we lack the imagination to recognize it.

For an example of my objection to the mixing up of "spirituality" and pseudoscientific BS, see my text collage:

"William Blake and Quantum Mechanics—NOT! Blakes for Our Time?"

There is a further irony which I'll address using my experiences in the realm of literary criticism.  I've been involved in knock-down drag-out critical battles with at least two writers in which people tend to line up in opposite partisan camps: Blake and Melville.  Both authors are heretics and autodidacts, one really and the other possibly a dissident spiritual figure of some sort.  And yet it is precisely the religious rather the secular readers and critics who show themselves to be completely obtuse—impossibly shallow in spirit and feeling as well as thought—to the profound insights of these writers.  Why?  Because they end just where they started—the fetishistic ritual incantation of authorized metaphysical interpretations ensures that they never come away from any experience with anything more than the dogma they brought into it.  They are impoverished spiritual as well as intellectual beings.  And that is one more reason why their religious and mystical ideologies are harmful.  The not only insulate themselves against criticism, but they insulate their ignorant adherents against the honest, critical, untrammeled exploration of their social universe.

As you know, I've applauded and defended much of Ralph's and DDS' firm stand against irrationalism.  Yet in my view that stand is slightly too broad, and I believe it stretches into error when Ralph argues against your particular musings on mysticism. The reason I believe this even though I think the core of Ralph's stand is exactly right is simply that I no longer believe you use "mysticism" the way Ralph uses "irrationalism".  I believe Ralph is missing your meaning while taking on a greater threat. More specifically, I think you talk about mysticism in a way that is exactly consistent with the insistence of one of the Theravada monks . . .  that: "Nothing is mystical, anywhere, at any time."  And then he urged us to see how marvellous that was. For example, your references to mysticism always have to do with experience.  Your words are often eloquent but they are mystical the way a placid post-Mussolini neo-classicist Italian still life is mystical, that is, they glimmer without a shred of implied exclusion or privileged meaning. When Ralph writes against irrationalism, I believe he is always writing against positions that implicitly assert a privileged access to some kind of authoritative, compelling truth.  However clear and present the irrationalist threat in America may be, if I am right, your brand of mysticism is not part of it. . . .  if I'm right about this, one of the more challenging and incisive bits of conceptual housecleaning [we] could undertake would be clearly articulating the difference between vicious and authoritarian irrationalism and . . .  experiential wonder. We would also have to account for what philosophical positions would innoculate someone from slipping from the one to the other.  Critical rationalism, anyone?

Date: Thu, 13 Jan 2005 22:18:21 -0500
Subject: Re: more thought on emergence/consciousness

There are a number of points here to address.  First, the fallacies of the top-down approach.  I have two anecdotes in mind.  One is a lecture at the Cosmos Club from the late 80s or early 90s, another masterpiece of eccentricity.  The other is an article in Scientific American from, I think, the early '80s, and written by Jerry Fodor, I think, or some other big name.  I'll begin with the latter.  The argument of this article was interesting, in Bohr's sense of the word.  The argument is that the substrate doesn't matter: it could be biological organisms, intelligent machines, or disembodied spirits.  Disembodied spirits!  So now we are back to 19th century table-tipping.

This little sleight of hand is of the times.  The infantile physicalism that animated behaviorism is transmuted, in an age dominated by a massive metaphorical shift to the notion of software, to a completely abstract, formal logical metaphor, a new realm of ethereal Platonic forms, constituting a new fetish object, metaphysics, mythology, and spirituality.  From the notion that pattern, not substance, is what counts, the abstraction of form from physical substance leads to the new superstition that form is an entirely independent, self-sufficient entity.  The acknowledgement of disembodied spirits is a rare, candid admission of where this line of thought leads.  It also betrays the profoundly alienated, disconnected mentality of people who are supposed to be doing science who think like this.  This is, of course, the same kind of thinking we've seen recently in connection with process metaphysics.  And in terms of physicists taking on a second career as bad philosophers, we have numerous precedents: Heisenberg as advocate of Platonism, Eddington claiming the universe is "mind-stuff".  It's a sorry, sorry, sorry historical record.  And so, so childish, the adepts of this line of thinking need to be laughed right out of this solar system.

More later.

>The real question to be answered revolves around the underlying nature of the relationship mentioned above concerning the physical substrate and consciousnes. I think its an open question whether pure reductionist reasoning, which has led to unprecedented success in describing the physical world, is a profitable path to follow for arriving at an acceptable answer to this question. For non-living "inanimate" matter, a bottom-up reductionist approach to developing an understanding of the world around us is an extremely powerful paradigm, but in studying the more mysterious properties of brain function  (e.g. consciousness), an emphasis on a top-down EP approach might be more appropriate.

Date: Fri, 14 Jan 2005 01:49:42 -0500
Subject: Re: more thought on emergence / consciousness

I took extensive notes of that lecture on mind design at the Cosmos Club, and while I'm sure I still technically possess those notes, who knows where they may be hidden in the impossible haystack?  I do remember, though, that the argument was important enough in its fallacious reasoning for me to make a big deal out of it at the time.  The lecturer kept deriding what he called the "state religion", i.e. bottom- up approaches.  This was one of several lectures that convinced me that the Philosophical Society of Washington was in effect a refuge for deviant science.  I remember there were some challenges from the audience, but the only thing I can recollect is some female scientist objecting that the bottom-up approach was the only way meaningful research could be conducted.

Now back to that priceless article in Scientific American.  The idea that a system design abstractly conceived could have different physical realizations is one thing, but the utter indifference to the physicality of any medium of consciousness or intelligence is pure mysticism.  Of course, if one looks at the entire history of the propaganda for cybernetics and AI, one will find a consistent fudging of the fundamental issue.  The conflation of simulation with the real thing is a characteristic feature of the alienated self-mystification of the tribe.  I remember this specious reasoning in Weiner's GOD AND GOLEM, INC. (1964?), for example.

But let's return to differing physical substrates for intelligence.  However many possibilities there may be, there is a primary material issue for each of them: how could carbon-based organic matter, or silicon-based or some other basis for life, or machines of a certain level of complexity, give rise to the phenomenon of consciousness, and especially of self-consciousness?  As a child I read countless science fiction stories on this theme, and as an adult my most recent memory is of STAR DREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, in which the most interesting character was the android Data.  These speculative extrapolations are fascinating attempts to fill in gaps of our knowledge.  We don't really understand how living matter gives rise to self-consciousness, but we think it has something to do with neuronal connections and a threshold of complexity, so why not postulate a parallel process for machines?  But of course the possibility for the latter as well as the understanding of the former are mutually interdependent: laws of nature not fully comprehended have to be uncovered so that both actuality and possibility can be understood.  Until then, why not eschew all the shucking and jiving and just accept, for the moment, the unknown as is?

Again I return to a curious dichotomy embodied in a historic paradigm shift in psychology: from the pure physicalism underlying behaviorism to the pure spiritualism underwriting some versions of cognitive science.  How is it possible for such a dichotomy to persist, and for the various advocates on either side to be as philosophically naive and childish as they are?

This is why I elected to violate my usual cautions about authorial intent in textual interpretation and extrapolate beyond the original context of those remarks from Marx I cited, to apply them to our discussion on emergent properties.

Modern science began with a revolution in the study of inanimate nature.  This is where "the view from nowhere" works.  The crisis that the emergence of modern science created was a crisis for religion, politics, and philosophy.  Philosophers scrambled to reconfigure all their parameters, but whether they could do a good job or not, it hardly mattered to the march of progress of natural science from physics to chemistry.  The spontaneous materialism of scientists carried them onwards in disregard of the obsessions of philosophers.  Organic life was seen as a stumbling block at the very moment when the revolution in chemistry occurred, but yet biology was able to progress as well in disregard of metaphysical speculation.  But what happens when man himself, especially in his conscious and social being, becomes an object within the scientific world picture?  This is the moment I aimed to characterize by commandeering Marx's quote on the future "one science".  I will return to it as time goes on, for it is quite revealing of the very mentality I've been constantly criticizing in these posts.

Date: Sat, 15 Jan 2005 12:57:54 -0500
Subject: Re: more thought on emergence/consciousness

Thanks for the analysis and the recommendations.  I believe my argument is consistent with yours.  Note key passage below:

This Functional Thought seemed to provide a way out of the Cartesian and Identity impasse. Token mental states are considered to be functional states which can be instantiated by any physical substrate - it doesn't have to be brains. They could be, for instance, realised in computer circuits. This allows for the non-reducibility of the mental to the physical ( the operating concept now becomes supervenience), while allowing the "dependance" of the mental on the physical. Putnam, Block, Fodor, Armstrong, the extraordinary David Lewis and a host of others argue for this kind of view of the mental. I think therefore that your unhappiness with Fodor is misplaced - for it conflates ideas of mental realisation in different physical 'forms' , with the more Cartesian view of disembodied spirits.

Perhaps I misremembered the Scientific American article or its author.

First, the notion of disembodied spirits is ruled out altogether by the above argument, contra the article as I remember it.  Secondly, it is one claim that analogous mental states could be produced by varying physical substrates—a claim to which I am open—and another claim that mental states could be instantiated by ANY physical substrate, e.g. computer circuits.  I oppose this latter claim, not only because I don't think it is so, but because I find the underlying argument faulty.  In this speculative construct, we find ourselves in the realm of science fiction, of filling in the gaps of our understanding by means of a nebulous reasoning by analogy, as I attempted to argue before.  The capacity for living matter to produce consciousness remains somewhat mysterious, and while we are working on cracking that puzzle, we engage in formal modeling of intelligence, attempting to produce simulations of it by means of computers and robotics.  Is a simulation the real thing?  Indeed, it seems like our civilization is rapidly losing a sense of reality, and it is hardly surprising that scientists and philosophers are not exempt from general social pressures.

The Turing Test itself was a rather jejune gedanken experiment, interesting only in that it restated the problem of other minds in a fresh context, and as usual, behavioristically swept the problem under the rug.  But, returning to reasoning by analogy: just as living matter is built up of inorganic matter, and as consciousness emerges from unconsciousness as a product of neural complexity, so what is the difference if machine intelligence also emerges as a result of an achieved threshold of organization and complexity?  The problem is that the argument is entirely formalistic, eliding the essential question of what consciousness is substantively, and not just in terms of formal modeling.  The loss of this distinction is the fundament of a prevailing and incredible gullibility, which I don't think is exclusively the product of a random intellectual error, but of a profound social malaise.

Here is one more step in the argument, in which with embarrassment I will borrow some concepts from Mr. Popper.  Both the contents and products of human and machine intelligence belong to World 3—objectified publicly available conceptual artifacts severed from the living processes that generated them.  Hence, from a formal point of view, they could all be considered manifestations of intelligence.  But, as far as we know, the World 2 realities of humans and our souped-up calculator spawn are radically different, as are, as far as we know, their World 1 realities.  I think, though, that there is something awkward about speaking this way, but in any case, the distinctions, may help to delineate the issues.  In Popperian terms (not mine), the issue would be the natural mechanisms governing the relations among Worlds 1, 2, and 3, which remains an unsolved puzzle.

Now for more anecdotes.  Some years back, a researcher in artificial intelligence / cognitive science spoke at American University at a meeting of the now-defunct Washington Philosophy Club.  He made the radical claim for artificial intelligence and even claimed that by all measurable criteria, his laptop computer was already an intelligent machine, presumably because of the intelligence program he had created.     And then when he was through, he made a pitch no speaker had made before: let's all go out for beers and discuss this some more if you'd like.  I found the enthusiasm of his plea rather incongruous.  Perhaps I was not the only one, for I overheard someone in the audience say: is this guy for real?  This juxtaposition stuck in my mind as a metaphor for our time.  Why couldn't said gentleman just go home and continue his discussion with his laptop?  Lack of speech synthesizing capability?  Lack of funding to build a beer-guzzling robot?  If he could install an oral port so his computer could give him a blow job, would there be any further need for human companionship?

By the early 1980s, virtual reality emerged as a cultural concept.  (I participated in a symposium on the subject in 1984, and managed to offend, curiously, a sizable number of white women in the audience with my admonitions about the social responsibility of scientific specialists.  I suppose wannabees make the worst conservative philistines.)  In recent years, the juvenile science fiction cum Zen Christian savior scenario of THE MATRIX fooled everybody, especially philosophers—perhaps the most gullible people on the planet—into thinking that here was some serious philosophical content, whereas the real content was the confirmation of the highly alienated existence of the viewing audience, which at last lived in a historical period enabling the ready consumption and easily assimilation of paranoid abstractions.  The masses already understand virtual reality.  It's real reality they don't understand.

Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2005 00:15:51 -0500
Subject: Re: Michio Kaku, Parallel Worlds: book talk

At Politics & Prose bookstore
5015 Connecticut Ave., NW (@ Nebraska Ave.):
Tuesday, January 18, 7 p.m.
Michio Kaku
Parallel Worlds
(Doubleday, $27.95)
"Our universe may be but one among many, and a parallel universe may hover close to our own. This portrait of the revolution sweeping the world of cosmology takes us on a tour through what used to be the stuff of science fiction: M-theory, black holes and time machines, alternate universes, and multidimensional space."

Was freezing out in the cold waiting endlessly for buses that never showed worth the trouble to attend this event?  I'd have to say so, as Kaku's talk was so utterly intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt, it was thrilling!  Browsing his book yielded even more priceless absurdities.  I've got a mass of details down on paper, but the upshot is: Kaku was over-the-top in his constant references to God in every other sentence, with reference to both Buddhism and Christianity (both vindicated by M-Theory), and numerous pop culture references (Madonna, Scharzenegger).  His version of popular science consisted, as it does with so many other popularizations, in combinations of scientific just-so stories (broad generalities) thoroughly intermixed with religious references.  Kaku was a consummate schnorrer.

He gave away the whole game near the end of his talk, though: he recounted the Congressional defunding of the Supercollider a while back.  A Congressman queried a testifying physicist: "Will we find God?"  The physicist replied: "We will find the Higgs boson."  Congress voted down the $11 billion for the project.

Kaku said he would have answered differently: "This machine will take you as close to God as humanly possible—Genesis."  Physicists must learn to communicate with the public.

When I heard this, I thought I had died and gone to hell.  But it all came together in a flash!  This is pure P.R., all of it.  Communicating with the public does not entail teaching us science at all, but whetting our appetite for the secrets of Creation and immortality by appealing to we the Dumbfuckistani people in the only terms we understand—religion—in hopes of securing billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Even more revealing is Kaku's sci fi scenario for a future Type III civilization evading the inevitable death of the universe by creating a cosmic bubble and transmitting information to recreate civilization—even replicants of its denizens—in a parallel universe.

For scientific people to endorse a scenario like this could not be more revealing of a doomed civilization, without values or perspective, revelling in fantasies of immortality, oblivious to hard social realities, oblivious to the unlikelihood of even surviving this century.  This clinches it for me: this society really is at the end of its rope.  And this explains thoroughly and completely the fusion of scientific fact and total unreason—the clever imbecility of what passes for intellectual life in this society.  Don't ever ask me to show any respect: you ain't even seen me in action yet!


"You can fool some of the people all of the time and jerk the rest off."
      — Robin Williams

Date: Wed, 19 Jan 2005 03:15:58 -0500
Subject: Michio Kaku, or, science + religion = fraud

Google search yields interesting results.  Very curious how web sites and article evincing skepticism and abjuring pseudoscience still promote Kaku's caca.  One article denouncing Kaku as obscurantist written by a transhumanist criticizes Kaku for opposing nuclear power and prosperity.  There is a paranoid Crhistian site denouncing Kaku and others for promoting atheism and eastern mysticism.  Both sites advocating Kaku and criticizing him are highly eccentric.  Some people denouncing crackpots are themselves crackpots.  Just a couple specimens:

Michio Kaku Interview at The Prophets Conference

Nasty Little Truth About Spacetime Physics

     Karl Popper on Einstein's Block Universe


"The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved not by a few juggled phrases, but by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science." — Friedrich Engels, Anti-Dühring

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005 01:31:06 -0500
Subject: matter & motion

This essay is now on my web site:

"Matter and Motion" by L. Bazhenov

While generally this kind of material has a tendency to get tedious, this article sums up the issues very succinctly and is useful both to the general reader and the miseducated specialist.  I've got to give credit to the Soviets for pointing up the pitfalls of bourgeois philosophy.  This article is particularly relevant to our recent discussion on emergence in Washington, in which proponents of emergence turned out to be easy prey for process philosophy and other speculative and mystical nonsense, whilst opponents couldn't get the point of the concept.  The key points here are probably familiar to all, some are anyway:

(1) energetism & the phenomenalist conceit that "matter has disappeared" at the end of the 19th century, criticized by Lenin

(2) Lenin's notion of the philosophical as distinct from the scientific conception of matter, and its importance

(3) the inseparability of matter and motion for the contemporary scientific world-picture

(4) the question of the circular definition of matter

(5) from metaphysical substantialism (matter without motion) to pure functionalism/behaviorism (motion without matter) in scientific philosophies

(6) the twin metaphysical errors:

1. Denial of the qualitative distinction of the higher form of motion and "reduction" of the higher form to the lower one.

2. Absolutization of the qualitative distinction of the higher form of motion and the latter's alienation from its associated lower forms of motion.

(7) critique of vitalism & qualified defense of mechanicism

(8) defense of reductionism against mystical anti-reductionism (Engels for reduction & rehabilitation of reductionism in the USSR)

Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2005 11:51:59 -0500
Subject: Re: hegel, marx and false consciousness

I just want to point out an unquestioned premise of this "debate", that the ruling ideas of each epoch consist of its science.  This is quite demonstrably false, though the level of scientific knowledge of the time indeed has some relationship to the level of philosophy and the other ruling ideas.  It would be a mistake to credit or blame natural science as the master key to the thought of the time, since it is the ideology that drives social organization that drives the interpretation of the scientific world view of the age.

I've noticed in my past year's engagement with philosophers and scientists a certain paralysis and naivete, and most tellingly, an overall pattern characteristic of bourgeois philosophy for a century and a half: a constant wavering between positivism and mysticism.  Examples: recent work on emergent properties, cognitive science, interpretations of quantum mechanics.

This morning on the subway I began reading Sohn-Rethel's INTELLECTUAL AND MANUAL LABOR.  He makes some remarks about Hegel at the beginning, but he chooses Kant as the paradigmatic epistemological philosopher to oppose with the notion of abstraction as a socially objective rather than epistemological phenomenon.

Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2005 21:40:15 -0500
Subject: Re: Authority

At this point it might be worth regrouping, given the initial provocation for this discussion.  Let's begin with the question of expertise and cognitive authority.  Given our individual limitations with respect to the vast universe of knowledge, we find ourselves in a position of religion, at least provisionally, on the cognitive authority of others, and grant greater authority to whomever we consider experts than others.  Appeal to the presumed authority of someone else's expertise is not an intrinsic argument, but, given one's own inability to adjudicate an issue, one might appeal to one person over another as more credible, e.g. in terms of providing relevant factual data, or an analysis of factual data.  In such cases, the citing of authority should at most be considered symptomatic, not constitutive, of the likely validity of a position, and even then, one must beware.

Now what is the status of cognitive authority and expertise in academic philosophy, not to mention other areas of the humanities and social sciences?  The very nature of the fragmentation of the totality of activity that comes under this rubric, and the dominance of various trends in various nations and language groups of the world, and other aspects of selectivity—professional networking, macrosocial influences, the working out of problems within traditions—creates a non-obvious pattern of expertise and lack thereof.  Hence if one is going to appeal to the cognitive authority of professed experts, one must know what they are expert in and what not.

I wouldn't trust a single one of you to make authoritative pronouncements about the history of philosophy as a whole, and I wouldn't trust myself either, since I have an idea of just how many holes there are in my knowledge base.  But there are a whole lot of professionals out there who make assumptions about what they don't know, and have been educated and socialized to make those presumptions.  All the more remarkable that they can get away with it, seeing as I can spend a few hours in library research and then tell them what they don't know, which somehow eluded them through the course of their adult lives.

I've also spent a great deal of time with reference books, not to mention more extended studies, and I have seen all kinds of biases, misinformation and incompetence in certain areas, not to mention a rather selective historical purview.  I've indicated examples of that selectivity several times here. The history of the concept of emergence was one recent example, but every time a topic comes up, we find ourselves in the same boat.

One can only wonder what limitations we would encounter in our knowledge base if we were conducting these discussions in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Czech, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, or Japanese.  There are of course contrary arguments.  Not all locales and institutions in the world have the same resources, and can't be expected to produce work of equal stature.  And there are remedies: international networking, conferences, and translations of works considered to have attained some stature.  The English language does have a dominant world position in many areas, and certainly the economic clout, such that we are in a more favorable position than most—depending on what our interests are and the nature of the intellectual marketplace.  But I would suggest, unless you've got what it takes to prove otherwise, that if you think you know everything of importance that is going on in the world, you are daft.  Personally, I find all of you, and myself, too, too provincial to make such definitive assessments.  Russell, by the way, was himself seriously lacking in competence in undertaking the writing of the history of philosophy and making summary judgments about many things of which he was quite ignorant.  And you should note also, that even those few who try to take a global approach—Randall Collins, for example—have a number of revealing blind spots.

The situation is especially painful to experience in Washington (Leadbelly) as this place is filled with people under the illusion that they really know what's going on, when in fact the very mode of their existence cuts them off from experience of certain dimensions of social reality that are only too obvious to others.  There are intellectual consequences to this, too.

Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005 11:14:22 -0500
Subject: EMERGENCE AGAIN? — cfp: Science. Literature, and Art [FWD]

The Nineteenth Annual Conference of the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts Chicago, IL, November 10-13, 2005
Deadline for Submission: May 1, 2005

Papers are invited in all science-oriented topics, especially those related to emergence and cognition as these themes appear, variously, in science, literature, technology, and the arts.

To emphasize the explicit inclusion of the arts, as indicated by the new organization name, SLSA, this year we are inviting artists to speak or perform in hour-long morning and evening plenary sessions. Scholars familiar with the work of each artist are also being invited to speak in these plenary sessions, and may form panel streams around the themes introduced in the sessions.

The conference will be held at the historic tower of the Intercontinental Hotel on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, in view of the Wrigley Building and the Chicago River. A reception will be held nearby at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in a venue overlooking a new landscape installation by Vito Acconci.

Individuals may submit abstracts of 150 words, and proposals for panels, usually composed of 3-4 speakers plus discussion in a 1 - 1/2 hour session, with specifications for any AV or Internet needs given at this time. In addition to standard formats, we encourage innovative proposals for papers, panels, round-table discussions, and any non-traditional formats. The circulation of papers among panelists before presentation is encouraged. Sessions involving speakers and/or respondents that transcend disciplinary boundaries are particularly welcome.

Speakers must be 2005 members of SLSA. To join or to renew membership, please see https://www.press.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/associations/sls_membership.cgi, or call Johns Hopkins University Press Journals at 800 548 1784 (US & Canada only, all others call 410 516 6987). Mon-Fri 8-am-5pm FAX 410 516 6968. Email: jlorder@jhupress.jhu.edu.

Please submit abstracts and proposals via e-mail (in plain text, without attachments) to both the site chair, Joseph Tabbi <jtabbi@uic.edu>, and the program chair, Bruce Clarke <bruce.clarke@ttu.edu>.   A mailing address for each participant should be included with all papers and proposals.

The Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts fosters the multi-disciplinary study of the relations among literature and language, the arts, science, medicine, and technology.

Date: Fri, 18 Feb 2005 02:22:48 -0500
Subject: Re:  scientism

Greene's drivel compounded by [the commentator’s] narcissistic drivel gets us nowhere.  I presume [said individual] missed out on our emergence session.  We really didn't get to the question of  'reductionism' at the meeting, but it is important to note that the notion of theory reduction has been popularly misunderstood, and is in no way incompatible with a materialist emergentist view.  With the mind-body problem we have the additional question of intelligibility: we cannot render our mental or cultural experience (mutually interdependent, BTW) intelligible by means of physicalist explanations though we can make progress in understanding mental processes by understanding brain processes.  We don't have to resort to the obscurantist organicism of process theology, either. . . .

All this whining about the disenchantment of nature misses the glorious progress of modernity, in taking the impersonal cause-and-effect of the universe out of the realm of moralism.  There is no deep spiritual meaning of disease and misfortune, no divine punishment or bad karma.  This is a tremendously liberating perspective.  Meera Nanda paints an inspiring portrait of the disenchantment of nature in her book Prophets Facing Backward: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindi Nationalism in India.  See other items in my bibliography:

Holistic Thought, New Age Obscurantism, Occultism, the Sciences, & Fascism

A personal note: While Steven Jay Gould was inspiring in various ways, he wimped out in the end on the question of religion, disavowing its incompatibility with science.  I remember the contrast between Gould and Meera at a symposium in New York.  Gould was wishy-washy and spineless, while Meera delivered an impassioned address denouncing the betrayal on the part of postmodernists and western feminists of Indian women standing to gain from the scientific world-picture and the Enlightenment heritage.  My late friend Jim once characterized this phenomenon which he saw in me and many other people he knew: people who aren't used to having a public forum but have something urgent to say put everything into an opportunity for public engagement as if their very lives depended on this one intervention.  In contrast to Gould's lackluster attitude, Meera's speech was emotionally supercharged and afterwards she was practically in tears and felt ashamed of it when we spoke, but I could relate to her completely.  Above all she was hurt by the betrayal on the part of her fellow Indians and of the left.

I also met Alan Sokal at this time, and I knew directly or indirectly some of these wankers associated with the journal SOCIAL TEXT.  By the time Sokal came on the scene I had all I could take of the hipboeisie who hang at NYU.  The academic "left" should rot in hell.

Of course, there are worse things than New York, where at least you can get a good meal.  There is Washington DC.  Is there anything worse?

Fuckin'-A, man!

. . . ultimate reality is the ultimate intellectual crap shoot - so why even engage such a goal.  It is the process that is important - understanding more and more - the process does not have to have an end.  Notice Weinberg does not try and claim that he knows all the details of how the world works, but what he does claim is that understanding the world is accomplished by getting to how the small stuff works and scaling that up as far as we can.  Nothing you have said negates Weineber's stark perspective, and nothing in 50,000 years will either.  (Do you really think we will last another 100?)  The most important thing to gain from Weinberg's statement is the pathetic motivation of those who reject the power of reductionist explanation and the blind purposelessness of nature.  So it makes them uncomfortable, sad or bleak.  Who cares?  It doesn't make me sad.  In fact, it makes me kinda happy knowing that all the pathetic attempts to make life out to be some grand design will in the end produce no real understanding of anything.  Life is what it is, what me make of it.  The question is not WHY live but HOW to live and to answer that question we need nothing beyond our understanding (provided by science) and our compassion - no gods and no cooked up metaphysics to make us feel better about the fact that we will die and within time there will be nothing left - not even a memory.  The stark nature of the universe is a bad excuse for keeping alive throughout our entire lives the worst of the child - ignorance, and fear.

Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2005 18:13:03 -0500
Subject: Re: Old Thread: Dialectics of Nature

I made a comparable argument as part of a recent discussion in a local philosophy group.  The topic was emergence.  I made a pitch for Engels as a pioneer of this concept.  Curiously, much of the literature on the subject—including encyclopedia articles—is heavily biased in citing its history.  Usually there is a focus on the British emergentists, and no mention at all of Hegel, Engels, or any Soviet work.  Part of this I think is due to the provincialism of Anglo-American philosophy.  Another failure of the literature is to make a clear distinction between the mystical idealist versions of emergentism and emergent materialism.  In fact, we have a theoretical biologist in our midst who is a devotee of Whitehead and Bradley's internal relations.  He has been ambiguous about what exactly he is committed to, but I smell a rat.

I've also been using the emergentist concept in some of my thinking in progress on Marx, particularly Marx's curious statements on science in the 1844 manuscripts.  I find some interesting ideological turns going on these days in cosmology at one end and cognitive science on the other, and I relate these to a fundamental contradiction of bourgeois consciousness that Marx point to, but my project is to elaborate the idea in ways Marx did not likely intend in those texts. . . .

My own take on dialectics fits very closely with Engels, along the lines George Novack argues.  I do agree that the dialectical laws of nature can be generalized, as Engels attempted in his studies.  But what Engels did was just a beginning.

Christian Fuchs has an article in a 2003 issue of Nature Society and Thought (Vol 16 No 3) entitled "The Self-Organization of Matter" that continues the discussion of finding parallels between dialectics and what I tend to call emergence theory (aka hierarchy theory, self-organization theory, complexity science, and many other terms coming out of general systems theory from the 1960's and earlier).  I think Engels, and for that matter, Novack, would find this exploration very fruitful.  I am beginning to become aware of some of the work Soviet scientists have done in earlier decades along these lines - B.M. Kedrov, for example.

The concept of the transformation of quantity into quality, thought of merely as mechanical cause and effect, is commonplace - apply enough heat and water boils.  But in Dialectics of Nature, among other things, Engels was exploring something much more general about this concept - the transformation of energy from one form to another, such as from mechanical to electrical.  A liquid changing to a gas is just one of countless examples of quantitative transformations of energy and with qualitative effects. The advent of scientific measuring instruments and computer processing since WWII has created an explosion of information about how things work— how things change. A more sophisticated concept of the transformation of energy forms largely unavailable to 19th century scientists has been gaining ground—the concept of what I tend to call "emergent levels" to help me organize my own thoughts about this.  Quantitative changes in one level of organization of matter and energy generate changes in "higher" levels that in turn transform the overall system.  Fuchs summarizes many of the principles of self-organization with many terms familiar from Prigogine, chaos theory, complexity science and so forth; terms like feedback loops, bifurcation points, complexity, hierarchy, synergism, historicity, etc. etc.

Perhaps the most important application of this concept of "emergence" - (using this term this way is my layperson's (autodidactic) attempt at finding a generalizing term) - is the Marxist concept of "base and superstructure" summarized by Marx in that oft-quoted passage in Critique of Political Economy.  Leaving aside the many instances of mechanical vulgarizations of this terminology of base or foundation and superstructure, the essential "dialectical" explanation Marx and Engels offered with this concept - conceptualizing "emergent levels" (there I go, using that term again) in history between economic systems, classes and legal-political systems - between the forces of production and the relations of production - has become one of the most important scientific concepts of all time.  It has become the scientific basis of working class revolution and the possibility of abolishing capitalism in our time.

If Fuchs and others who are exploring this relationship between dialectics and what I am calling "emergence" - (Fuchs calls it "self-organization," maybe that is a better term) - are on the right track, then we could see Engels' efforts in Dialectics of Nature as a remarkable anticipation of scientific concepts that could only develop decades later when the capacity to measure nature and process data about it has come much farther along.  But more remarkably, the scientific approach to analysis and generalization that Engels and his cothinker Marx developed with the materialist dialectic is applicable to all sciences - not just to the latest discoveries of molecular biology and cosmic theory - but also to the science of social revolution, the greatest task facing humanity.  And that is a powerful method, indeed.

Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2005 12:07:08 -0500
Subject: Re: Old Thread: Dialectics of Nature

An interesting link between emergence theories from the late 19th and early 20th Century and Marxism is Joseph Needham and his concept of "integrative levels". He wrote a book on this in the 1930's I haven't found yet.

While I know of Needham generally, I haven't seen this work, which may be a significant connecting link historically.

A little internet googling reveals that this concept had an interesting journey via library science in the 1950's - as a way of conceptualizing how reality is constructed - and was considered by some as a possible replacement to the Dewey Decimal system.

Yes, I've read some of this literature.  There's a book by Jolley on integrative levels I probably have somewhere.  In actual fact, the Dewey Decimal System itself was influenced by Hegel via W.T. Harris, the most influential of the St. Louis Hegelians.

  Ethel Tobach and colleagues did some interesting work in biology using the concept of integrative levels in the 1970's, another line of research I have not gotten my hands on yet.  Ethel, who I notice is an associate editor of NST, wrote a really interesting article on integrative levels in a 1999 book of essays about activity theory edited by Yrjo Engestrom et al, Perspectives in Activity Theory.

Tobach is the one I heard at the APA meeting I mentioned.  . . .

Tobach's article is entitled "Activity theory and the concept of integrative levels."  She points out (pg 134) "The concept of integrative levels has a long history. I am constrained to cite its more modern beginnings: first, the work of Joseph Needham, a biochemist, who formulated the basic premises of the concept in the 1920's; second, the article by Alex Novikoff, also a biochemist, in 1945 in *Science* that was the first clear statement of the concept; and finally, the writings of T.C. Schneirla (1971), a comparative psychologist who specialized in the study of the behavior of ants."

This is a very useful reference.  Thanks.

In explaining integrative levels, Tobach says page 135 "The causal relationship between and among levels is derived first from the contradictions within each level and then from the contradictions between the inner contradictions of any one level and its contradictions with preceding and succeeding levels.  The causal relationship between and among levels is dialectical and multidirectional." Emergence theory and dialectics have many lineages and deep interconnections.  My general sense is these concepts are experiencing a kind of zeitgeist.  Were Engels alive today!

There is something happening in emergence, it seems, though it remains controversial.  I am very wary of the uses of Whitehead's process philosophy.

Another line of discussion this opens up - one of hundreds that are possible - is the problem of reductionism . . . on one hand, and the problem of holism, on the other.  Both are products of mechanical thinking.

You are correct, sir.  I wouldn't use the word "mechanical", but that's semantics.  Emergent materialism is not holist.  it is also important not to confuse theory reduction with reductionism.  There are two books on these questions from the Dialectics of Biology group.  This question is treated in at least one of the essays.

An associate of Christian Fuchs, Wolfgang Hofkirchner, also coming from a general dialectical materialist perspective, wrote a provocative paper that took up reductionism and holism, entitled "Emergence and the Logic of Explanation: An Argument for the Unity of Science" In: Acta Polytechnica Scandinavica, Mathematics, Computing and Management in Engineering Series 91 (1998), 23-30. Fuchs has a strong leaning toward Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse, BTW.  Of course, all the traditional debates in Marxism will realign themselves on a higher and sharper level, so to speak, as the ideas of emergence become integrated into dialectical materialism.

I have my doubts about Bloch and Marcuse, but this looks to be a very interesting reference to explore.  Thanks. . . .

Also, I am interested in your inquiries into activity theory, which I have been studying the last couple years.

I haven't had any time for this except for bibliographical research.  See my web page:

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

You will notice several links to activity theory as well as Ilyenkov.

Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2005 01:57:22 -0500
Subject: Re: Old Thread: Dialectics of Nature

References: This is all there is on the subject [of Hegel and the DDC]:

Graziano, E.E.  "Hegel's Philosophy as Basis for the Dewey Classification Schedule", LIBRI, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 45-52.

Library science book, on integrative levels:

Jolley, J. L. The Fabric of Knowledge: A Study of the Relations Between Ideas.  London: Duckworth, 1973. 130 p. illus. 23 cm.

Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2005 02:35:04 -0500
Subject: Re: A Line In The Sand

I suggest you re-read some key former posts of mine:

Sun, 05 Sep 2004 12:46:17 -0400
Subject: Re: de Santis on Philosophical Idol

Date: Wed, 08 Sep 2004 00:29:40 -0400
Subject: Re: Epistemology Again

Date: Thu, 09 Sep 2004 03:19:23 -0400
Subject: Re: Epistemology Again

Date: Tue, 14 Sep 2004 00:43:00 -0400
Subject: irrationalism beyond religion? (for David)

Date: Sun, 24 Oct 2004 23:40:51 -0400
Subject: Re: Polemic

Date: Sun, 19 Dec 2004 19:31:09 -0500
Subject: Re: Dialogue between a Priest and a Dying Man

Date: Mon, 20 Dec 2004 10:56:07 -0500
Subject: Re: William Blake and Professional Football

Date: Tue, 21 Dec 2004 12:16:17 -0500
Subject: Re: William Blake and Professional Football

Date: Thu, 30 Dec 2004 22:07:59 -0500
Subject: Emergence: materialist or mystical? [2]

Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2005 16:10:16 -0500
Subject: Re: Keeping it philosophical

Date: Tue, 01 Feb 2005 21:28:04 -0500
Subject: Russell vs Marcuse Celebrity Death Match

In addition, I've addressed all of the issues brought up by your other three respondents on a discussion list for atheists.  It would be rather exhausting to reproduce them here.  I deal with the questions of culture and aesthetics, historical and social analysis, social causality, etc.  . . . few people have really thought this through . . . .

Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2005 04:25:33 -0500
Subject: emergence & its discourse—overt & covert

Willy-nilly I've received a number of pointers on emergence.  I will catalog some of them without evaluation, and then perhaps I will make some general comments, and some directed ones as well:

From Epigenesis to Epigenetics: The Genome in Context (review)

Varieties of Properties: An Alternative Distinction among Qualities. Joseph E. Earley, Sr. [a]

The Autonomy of Biology (on Ernst Mayr) Claus Emmeche

Taking the semiotic turn, or how significant philosophy of biology should be done (review of Jerry Chandler & biosemiotics)

Also at this url: http://www.nbi.dk/~emmeche/cePubl/2002b.Wit.Sats.html

Note this key passage:

More and more biologists are beginning to understand that the essence of life is to mean something, to mediate significance, to interpret signs. This already seems to be implicitly present even in orthodox Neo-Darwinism and its recurrent use of terms like "code", "messenger", "genetic information", and so on. These concepts substitute the final causes Darwinists believed to have discarded 150 years ago, they have become firmly established in molecular biology with specific scientific meanings; and yet they the semiotic content or connotations are rarely taken serious by the scientists to the extant that there is a tendency to devaluate their status as being "merely metaphors" when confronted with the question about their implied intentionality or semioticity (cf. Emmeche 1999). This secret language, where "code" seems to be a code for final cause, points to the fact that it might be more honest and productive to attack the problem head-on and to formulate an explicit biological theory taking these recurrent semiotics metaphors serious and discuss them as pointing to real scientific problems. This means that a principal task of biology will be to study signs and sign processes in living systems. This is biosemiotics — the scientific study of biosemiosis. Semiotics, the general science of signs, thus becomes a reservoir of concepts and principles when it is recognized that biology, being about living systems, at the same time is about sign systems. Moreover, semiotics will probably not remain the same after this encounter with biology: both sciences will be transformed fundamentally while gradually being melded into one more comprehensive field.

While many of the ideas adumbrated in this review seem to be quite fruitful, this paragraph is the tipoff that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.  Mark well my words.

I have some other references pertaining to Ernst Mayr, unconnected to the thread running through the references cited here: Jerry Chandler.  I will collect these in a future post.

The key paragraph cited above is important for two reasons.  The first is my repeated admonition, ignored by each and every one of you who has chimed in on the subject of emergence, to differentiate between mystical/idealist and materialist versions of emergence.  And each of you is suffering for that inattention in ways of which you are unaware.  .  .  .

Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2005 22:42:08 -0500
Subject: Re: Old Thread: Dialectics of Nature

There's a treasure trove buried inside mountains of crap, but nevertheless there is a lot of important Soviet work, in the history of philosophy and philosophy of science.  Even some of the more general programmatic works are important, because the Soviets had some basic orientations, which were, at least generally speaking, better than ours, esp. in connection with critiques of neopositivism.  Hence you'll find some interesting stuff in Lektorsky, Naletov, and others, including some figures from our standpoint which are even more obscure (unknown).

For example, Bazhenov is wary of indiscriminate condemnations of mechanicism and reductionism, and defends what is valuable in reductionism:

"Matter and Motion" by L. Bazhenov

On the philosophic misuse of physics and biology as master metaphors, see:

"The Image of Science and Metaphysics" by Nina Yulina

Lektorsky, among other things, incorporates a notion of subjectivity within a dialelectical materialist perspective differing from the comparable subjectivisms of the West:

Subject, Object, Cognition: Contents & Preface to the English edition by V. A. Lektorsky

[Specifically:] The Collective Subject. The Individual Subject by V. A. Lektorsky

Now, on Engels.  In some ways Engels screwed up very badly.  Jean Van Heijenoort, Trotsky's erstwhile bodyguard and famous mathematical logician, enumerated Engels' intellectual misdeeds.  You might have missed this one, as I don't believe MIA has corrected the omission on its Van Heijenoort page:

Friedrich Engels And Mathematics

The problem with "laws" is that others, following Engels' worst practice, tend to conflate logical with natural laws. . . .  But even as logical laws applied to real world processes there's a problem.  Richard Norman explains this very clearly in a debate with Sean Sayers, who takes the totally confused, sectarian diamat line.

A general problem, in my opinion, is that people preserve the worst of Engels while often overlooking his more perspicacious remarks.

There is an even more general trap to avoid, the trap of ensconcing oneself in a ghetto called "Marxism".  The intellectual goal of Marxism, especially as relates to the special sciences, is to take an overview of the totality of knowledge, recognizing that the totality of knowledge is not cornered and sequestered in one place, but fragmented in a million different specialized places under alienated social conditions of intellectual reproduction.  Hence, one has to have a foot in both worlds—the mainstream world where knowledge production takes place, and the "Marxist" world where criticism and synthesis is performed to repair the malformations of the big picture caused by bourgeois society.

Our local philosophy group covered some ground on the emergence question.  Early on, I raised the issue of materialist vs mystical conceptions of emergence, but I don't think anyone caught on.  One theoretical biologist is into Bradley and Whitehead, and also cited Teilhard de Chardin.  Suspicious.

Perhaps I should try to organize the e-mails I wrote into some coherent order so I can circulate them more widely.  I thought our in-person group discussion of emergence could serve as a focal point for transcending the split between positivist and irrationalist tendencies, and we even got some scientists interested, but only a few people had anything to say amidst a barrage of BS.

I think the emergence question is pivotal in a number of areas, e.g.: (1) diagnosing the fragmentation vs pseudo-unification (mysticism) of the world picture in bourgeois society, (2) bridging the gap between object and subject.

I have a few projects in progress addressing these questions, which also includes a novel interpretation of Marx's 1844 mss, and an analysis of mystification in popularization of cosmology.

Yes, treasure trove is a very good description.  Same with the wealth of discoveries in complexity science etc. - there is a tremendous field of knowledge now extant that dialectical materialism can help generalize, and like you and Ralph, I think emergence theory can be a terrific conceptual tool to help do that.  Its an application so to speak of the concept of the transformation of quantity to quality simply not available in the 19th Century—or if so, only in a very rudimentary form. The kind of data that is really revealing this concept of emergence seems to have only become practically available since the 1960's, and especially since the 1980's.
Yes, emergence seems an example of, I'd say, quantitative change turning into qualitative change: quantum leap. I think some comrades criticisms of the Engelsian attitude to dialectic might be understood in part if we consider that Hegel termed it a logic. Logic, formal logic , is so pervasive and fundamental that to an extent it is trivial.  Dialectical logic has some of this same "triviality" as well as pervasiveness. Usually a discussion of dialectic proceeds as if it is a sort of profound mystery. This initial attitude of the investigation contradicts the experience of actual examples which are somewhat common place, for example, water reaching a boiling point and going through a qualitative change of state. So, critics say a sort of "so what". They were expecting something deep and they are given something trivial.  But we aren't disappointed when formal logic is trivial, for example the identity principle , "a is a",  yet pervasive. Similarly, we need not be disappointed at the triviality of some levels of dialectic.

I just got my latest Nature, Society and Thought (Vol. 17 No.3, 2004). It has an article by Herbert Horz, a philosopher from the former GDR, titled "Quantum Physics and the Shaping of Life: Commentary on Klaus Fuch's Critique of Mechanistic Determinism." The puzzle of quantum mechanics suggests using Engels' notion of the dialectic of chance and necessity . . . .

Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2005 00:29:03 -0500
Subject: integrative levels & library science on the web

THE CLASSIFICATION RESEARCH GROUP AND THE THEORY OF INTEGRATIVE LEVELS by LOUISE F. S. PITERI or http://alexia.lis.uiuc.edu/review/summer1995/spiteri.html

Integrative level classification Research project

Summary of the Principles of Hierarchy Theory or http://www.nbi.dk/~natphil/salthe/hierarchy_th.html

also: hierarchy theory: bibliography

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Philosophy and the Division of Labor: Selected Bibliography

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Uploaded 27 February 2005
Last updated 16 March 2007
Previously updated 9 March 2005
Edited 1 July 2005

©2005-2007 Ralph Dumain