Sunday, August 13, 2017

Problems for emergent properties

Emergent properties are deeply problematic. They either are reducible to physical states or they supervene on physical states. Is there a particular neuronal pattern that everyone is in when they are atheists, such that a neuroscientist could examine brains and determine whether someone is a believer or not? Science doesn't seem to be going that way. Or they are supervene. But either the supervenience is explainable, or it is a brute fact. If it is explainable, then there has to be an explanation for the explanation, etc. etc., and we have a regress. If it is a brute fact, then we have something other than the physical itself determining mental states, and that is inconsistent with the basic tenets of physicalism.

12 comments:

William said...

There are some cases of subservience or emergence being explainable as a consequence of the geometry of the components. So in those cases we have a combination of physical things and mathematical properties causing emergence of new physical things or behaviors. I suppose then we have geometry as a brute fact. That seems pretty harmless.


Joe Hinman said...

give me an example of an emergent property other than consciousness? life perhaps? I think it has been proven life could start fro non life. If consciousnesses emergent that doesn't mean that it can be reduced to brain function.

William said...

A crystal emerges from a dissolved solution, in a way.

Hal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hal said...

In my effort to get a better grasp of this topic I came across the following book: Emergence and Convergence: Qualitative Novelty and the Unity of Knowledge by Mario Bunge
The book can be found here.

His definition of emergence:
To say that P is an emergent property of systems of kind K is short for "P is a global [or collective or non-distributive] property of a system of kind K, none of whose components or precursors possesses P."

He adds:
No things, no properties thereof. Hence, to ask properly how properties emerge amounts to asking how things with emergent properties arise.

He thinks that is one of the defects of supervenience. By claiming that mental properties supervene upon physical properties it detaches properties from the things that posses them.

He makes a lot of sense.

David Brightly said...

Are they? Why does explainable supervenience lead to infinite regress? Consider the music CD. It's musical properties supervene on the dots and dashes---no possible change in the music without a change in the dots and dashes. But the supervenience is explicable---it's all in the Sony/Philips 'Red Book', I believe. Where is the infinite regress?

Hal said...

David,
Am not sure I understand your point about infinite regress. I thought Bunge's point was that properties don't exist on their own in some sort of platonic realm. When new things emerge they have new properties.

I think you would find the book interesting.



Hal said...

Sorry David, just realized you were addressing a claim in the OP regarding the issue of infinite regress.

Hal said...

Victor:"Emergent properties are deeply problematic."

New things are constantly emerging all around us everyday. What is problematic about that?
It would be rather strange if new things didn't have different properties from other things.

Hal said...

"Consider the music CD. It's musical properties supervene on the dots and dashes---no possible change in the music without a change in the dots and dashes."

Been thinking about this and am not sure I would agree that the CD itself has any musical properties. The stereo system that can play the CD would have musical properties. All other things being equal, different stereo systems would produce slightly different sounds from the same CD.

David Brightly said...

I guess the question is, What is the relation between the CD and the music thereon? If the music isn't a property supervening on the physical configuration of the disc, maybe it's an appearance produced by directing a suitable sense organ to it, viz, a CD player/hifi system.

Be that as it may, I offer the CD as a analogue of Victor's response to SP in How does a psychological event occur?. The impression I get from this and other presentations of the AFR is that Victor sees that the vocabulary we use to describe mental states and the vocabulary we use to describe brain structures are exclusive. He says, emphatically, You can call it [neuronal development] learning if you want to, but the process is completely nonrational. Likewise, the musical vocabulary we use to talk about music, viz, instruments, keys, notes, rhythm, etc has no overlap with the physico-geometric language we use to describe the dots and dashes on the CD. Hence Victor would say, I think, that the CD is completely non-musical. But there is an important sense in which this is quite wrong, even if we can't pin down the relationship between the CD and the music in the categories in which philosophy of mind operates.

Hal said...

I don't think transferring the analogy from the cd to the stereo system in anyway impairs the point you were trying to make. I was just trying to think it through in a way that made more sense to me.

As I see it the stereo system (with the cd in it) is the vehicle that has the power to produce music. It is a mistake to identify the power with its vehicle. It makes no sense to think we could open up a person's skull and see rational behavior in the physical changes taking place. We have no criteria for making that determination.

In any case, in our natural language use, the gap is not always as big between the psychological and the physical as Victor portrays it. The physical behavior that expresses many of our psychological states is partly constitutive of what it means to be in that state. For example a man having pain will yell or moan in pain, a woman feeling happy may laugh in joy, when another feels hate we can see the expression of hate in his face and eyes, etc.