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Weak vs. Strong Emergence

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A general note on "Emergence"

 

 

Take the following statement:

 

"The composite is greater than the sum of its parts"

 

Now, imagine a rationalist's take on it, in the context of a complicated machine.  He looks at the parts and decides each in isolation do not amount to the whole, he then considers the notion "sum".  Because a rationalist does not hold concepts as integrations of concretes and treats all concepts as floating abstractions independent of reality, he imagines each part in an arrangement like an equation separated by a plus sign:  "iron lever with hole" + "axle" + "grease" + ...  Perhaps he imagines each part with a little picture, but the "sum" is nothing more than "holding them all in his mind".  Perhaps this kind of reasoning is subconscious but essentially all he has in his mind are isolated things "piled" together.  That's his sum.  Clearly the  complicated machine is "more than" this sum of parts.

 

If one considers what the rationalist did, it is true... the machine is greater than the unintegrated holding of a set of isolated parts in an unimaginative mind.

 

The truth is, the statement : "the composite is greater than the sum of its parts" in its most meaningful sense, is false.  The sum of parts is the combination of the parts in reality, in the particular arrangement they find themselves in the composite. It is the axle with grease on it inserted appropriately in the hole of the iron lever... etc.  A meaningless sum of parts held in ones mind is so meaningless as to wonder why such a statement would ever be made.

 

To avoid the misinterpretation of our rationalist, the statement is:

 

"The composite is greater than the complete, correct, composition of the parts of which it comprises".

 

And this statement... now correctly worded... is simply false.

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I also am no closer to understanding exactly what you are asking me.

"Can carbon atoms be dense? Can carbon atom arrangements be dense? Is there a concept that already makes this distinction?"

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If someone would be so kind as to clarify for me:

 

Suppose trajectory X [the motion of a single atom within a wheel] traces a circle as it rolls along (for lack of the technical vocabulary).  Trajectory X is an action, but the capacity to repeat that action under certain circumstances is a property.

Now if we categorize the propensity to follow X as "emergent" from the fact that the atom is part of a wheel, that's perfectly coherent.

If we omit the emergence then we would be left with "this atom, in isolation, tends to follow trajectory X" which is completely nonsensical.

 

Would anyone care to point out the redundancy there?

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Don't remember who brought up the concept of society as an "emergent organism" but the concept of emergence has nothing to do with the error therein; that's outright reification.

To start with, the denial of one's own consciousness is the confession of its anti-conceptuality (since it's a noise which cannot be made with reason or sincerity).  The attribution of consciousness to social interactions is one form of such a confession, but conjoined with an altruistic conscience (since it further reveals the motives behind such mindless noises).

And any reference to some societal super-organism includes them both beneath a tribal premise frosting.

 

Still unsure what the big deal is with "emergence" anyway but I just wanted to point out that whatever it is, it has nothing to do with that foolishness.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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"Can carbon atoms be dense? Can carbon atom arrangements be dense? Is there a concept that already makes this distinction?"

Well, yes, but you're not going to like it.

 

First I'll answer your questions directly.

 

"Can carbon atoms be dense?" Yes. In whatever form carbon atoms are found, there is some level of density.

 

"Can carbon atom arrangements be dense?" Yes. Since there is some density in whatever form they are found, but I assume you are asking if they can be as dense as diamond. Of course, when they are in that particular crystaline form.

 

"Is there a concept that already makes this distinction?" Yes. It is called a proposition, a statement that describes the relationship between two things, such as, "diamonds are a form of carbon." If we attempt to identify every possible proposition with a concept, that would be an epistemological nightmare. We could have a concept, "carbtodiamond," that identified the fact that diamonds are carbon in a particular crystaline form, but what would the epistimological value of such a concept be. None. The concept of "emergent" attributes is the same kind of epistemological mistake.

Edited by Regi F.

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"Can carbon atoms be dense?" Yes. In whatever form carbon atoms are found, there is some level of density.

This is where the disagreement is. I would answer "no", then "yes" to the second. I really don't understand how a carbon atom can be dense in the same a sense as a diamond is dense. If you answer "yes" to both, then there really is no distinction, so emergence is at best a useless concept. But we disagree on a pretty basic level.

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This is where the disagreement is. I would answer "no", then "yes" to the second. I really don't understand how a carbon atom can be dense in the same a sense as a diamond is dense. If you answer "yes" to both, then there really is no distinction, so emergence is at best a useless concept. But we disagree on a pretty basic level.

But your first question was not if carbon could be dense in "the same sense as a diamond is dense," it was only if they could be dense. The answer to that is yes. because in any form, carbon has some density.

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If someone would be so kind as to clarify for me:

 

Suppose trajectory X [the motion of a single atom within a wheel] traces a circle as it rolls along (for lack of the technical vocabulary).  Trajectory X is an action, but the capacity to repeat that action under certain circumstances is a property.

Now if we categorize the propensity to follow X as "emergent" from the fact that the atom is part of a wheel, that's perfectly coherent.

If we omit the emergence then we would be left with "this atom, in isolation, tends to follow trajectory X" which is completely nonsensical.

 

Would anyone care to point out the redundancy there?

 

The atom is not in isolation.  To talk about it in isolation when in fact dealing with it in another context... is well.. context dropping.

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If someone would be so kind as to clarify for me:

 

Suppose trajectory X [the motion of a single atom within a wheel] traces a circle as it rolls along (for lack of the technical vocabulary).  Trajectory X is an action, but the capacity to repeat that action under certain circumstances is a property.

Now if we categorize the propensity to follow X as "emergent" from the fact that the atom is part of a wheel, that's perfectly coherent.

If we omit the emergence then we would be left with "this atom, in isolation, tends to follow trajectory X" which is completely nonsensical.

 

Would anyone care to point out the redundancy there?

First, a single atom on a rolling wheel does not trace a circle. If it is rolling on a flat serfice it traces a cycloid, if it is rolling around a circle, it traces an epicycloid, one version of which is the basis of the wankel engine.

 

Second, the trajectory of that which moves is not an action, it is the description of the path the object moves in. There is nothing "emergent" in the fact the parts of a wheel must take specific paths when that wheel is rolling.

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The atom is not in isolation.  To talk about it in isolation when in fact dealing with it in another context... is well.. context dropping.

Yes, exactly! I'm ashamed I did not notice that. Bravo!

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But I'm not referring to two different atoms; I'm referring to a single atom, which is contained within a wheel of other atoms, as considered in isolation.

This is the same conceptual isolation involved in any discussion of a single species' evolution (since any species' adaptations are deeply entwined with its neighbors') or any motion of any atom, for that matter.

 

If it can't be conceived of apart from the wheel then, since we're all part of the system we call the universe, nothing can be conceived of point-blank.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold

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Things are what they are.  Nothing we can interact with even remotely and indirectly can be in complete isolation or else we would not be able to interact with it.  Everything in our universe which we can know is interactable in some fashion, causally linked in some way, whether in the past or the future.

 

Cosmic rays dislodge your genes, photons hit your eyes, you are literally related by blood to every mammal on this planet, gravity pulls you to rotate about a planet, about a star, about a galaxy about a galactic group... you are by no means completely isolated. 

 

This should not cause you a psycho-epistemological crisis.  Be careful of rationalistic wistfulness. 

 

Things are as they are and we can form concepts. You still have identity, you still are "conceivable".

 

The truth is when an atom IS momentarily not reacting with anything, it behaves in certain ways when you "prod" it.  When the atom is interacting, bonded, or otherwise in a particular context, it will react in a different way when "prodded". 

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But your first question was not if carbon could be dense in "the same sense as a diamond is dense," it was only if they could be dense. The answer to that is yes. because in any form, carbon has some density.

So are you saying that a dense structure of a diamond is different than a carbon atom is dense? Or are you saying a carbon atom is dense just like a diamond is dense, so diamonds are dense due to carbon atoms being dense? The first is my point. The second makes no sense. I can make it simpler - do carbon atoms have a crystalline structure? Swap "density" with "crystalline structure" to take ambiguity away from my example. If yes, that's as bizarre as saying carbon atoms have life, and if no, then how is it that a crystalline structure behaves differently than the carbon atom when it is alone? Lest you say "together" and "alone" are different contexts, well, the point is that some properties are only present in one context (combined, perhaps with pressure as for a diamond) but not the other (not combined, no pressure), that is emergence...

 

SL, I'll get to you tomorrow.

Edited by Eiuol

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So are you saying that a dense structure of a diamond is different than a carbon atom is dense? Or are you saying a carbon atom is dense just like a diamond is dense, so diamonds are dense due to carbon atoms being dense? The first is my point. The second makes no sense. I can make it simpler - do carbon atoms have a crystalline structure? Swap "density" with "crystalline structure" to take ambiguity away from my example. If yes, that's as bizarre as saying carbon atoms have life, and if no, then how is it that a crystalline structure behaves differently than the carbon atom when it is alone? Lest you say "together" and "alone" are different contexts, well, the point is that some properties are only present in one context (combined, perhaps with pressure as for a diamond) but not the other (not combined, no pressure), that is emergence...

 

SL, I'll get to you tomorrow.

"Lest you say "together" and "alone" are different contexts, well, the point is that some properties are only present in one context (combined, perhaps with pressure as for a diamond) but not the other (not combined, no pressure), that is emergence..."

 

Yes, I know that is what you mean by emergence. If  you like to call the fact that some thing's properties are determined by their physical context emergence, I have no quibble. You can call that fact anything you like. Water is a liquid at temperatures between -32 and 212 farenheit, but solid at temperatures below -32 and a gas at temperatures above 212. I just don't understand why those facts need an additional concept called, "emergence," unless someone is trying to put something over, like the idea that, "life," can, "emerge," under certain states or conditions of the physical..

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I just don't understand why those facts need an additional concept called, "emergence," unless someone is trying to put something over, like the idea that, "life," can, "emerge," under certain states or conditions of the physical..

You didn't answer my question again. Your example isn't an example of what I'd call emergent at all anyway.

 

I lost interest in the discussion, but I'll get back to SL's post later since I said I would.

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Louie, the quote wasnt intended to deal with your idea of emergence but the idea that attributes are epistemological. You can find the quote by Ms. Rand stating in no uncertain terms that attributes are metaphysical in the section of ITOE appendix titled "Attributes as Metaphysical"........

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Plasmatic, thanks for that - it helped me to make my thinking more precise. I was leaving out some distinctions that would help me to explain my idea.

 

SL, now for my reply to you!

 

***

 

You are actually describing an empiricist, where nothing really integrates into a whole, and any concepts they hold are floating because integration isn't part of the thinking process. That's as opposed to a rationalists who makes everything into an abstraction, while being excessively wary of concretes. I mention this because it's important to acknowledge the way errors manifest - not all errors are rationalism.

To be clear, I don't support strong emergence, where putting two entities create an entity or property by the mere fact of combination. One example of strong emergence is "elan vital", a property that makes something alive. It simply emerges out of nothing in particular, separate from the nature of its constituents. Elan vital was used as a concept to explain where life comes from, how life occurs when chemicals life consist of are not alive in any sense. Now, we know genes and DNA are what allow for life, and of course they are made of chemicals - DNA doesn't just suddenly emerge. The interesting thing though is that DNA can be read as a set of instructions that can only exist as a group of chemicals. Nothing will be able to interpret a singular atom in DNA, because the entire grouping is necessary. By this sort of explanation, life emerges as a particular result of many entities. The life that emerges isn't a property that appears and has causality separate from its constituents. Instead, I'm saying life emerges from a process of numerous entities interacting that allow for new ways of behaving. That way of behaving is possible only when those entities are together. As far as I know, my stance is for weak emergence. Your arguments are fine against strong causation, but not weak.

Weak emergence, then, is primarily a conceptual integration of entities on different levels of abstraction. How do I integrate my knowledge about axles and engines when they relate but aren't the same level of abstraction? A rationalist may say there is a fundamental entity, a fundamental particle if you wish but not necessarily reductionist. For Leibniz, it was the monad. An empiricist would say you can't integrate axles with engines so treats them as discrete entities with their own discrete identity - there are too many unique facts to integrate. An example may be a textbook that mentions all the details of engines and axles without any integrations. So what is the proper way to integrate axles and engines?

You contend that adding entities together is not a valid method of integration in this case. But I don't understand, because integration is a form of addition or combination. How do you form a concept of chair? You have to integrate properties you see like the leg, the seat, the support for people sitting on it. Add the attributes together! Then determine the essential. Of course, there is not only integration, though it must occur. This is more complicated if you want to say how combining two entities results in a new entity. The new entity isn't something spontaneously generated - you just recognize something as an entity. Atoms are entities, molecules are entities. You can't recognize molecules unless you have atoms put together. Weak emergence is a matter of conceptualizing how you recognize a molecule as an entity as opposed to a collection of atoms. So, the "greater" part is just how you are at a different level of abstraction. To use your example, you'd need to conceptualize how an axle produces kinetic energy. It's not really the axle that makes the energy, it's all the parts put together that allow for energy production!

I might actually say an engine is too simple to qualify as emergence. For instance, I don't see a pile of bricks as emergent. A pile isn't a new entity, it is just a way to say collection of bricks. Perhaps part/wholes like engines with axles aren't good examples of new entities. I'm mostly thinking that going from one level abstraction to another, like "neuron" to "mind", will have emergence if you want to distinguish them both as entities. Minds are processes, neurons are things, so integrating the two I claim requires the concept emergence.

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That's the point, SL; nothing in the entire universe is isolated.  And yet you said that "to talk about X in isolation, when in fact dealing with it in another context, is context-dropping".  That statement applies to every thing in the entire universe.

 

Unless I'm much mistaken, if we reject 'emergent properties' then by precisely that logic, we cannot have a valid discussion of any thing unless we include everything (which would require omniscience).

 

I'll concede that emergence can be and has been abused before, especially by those who attempt to invalidate the consciousness of the individual, but it must be valid in some form; the alternative is a self-evident contradiction.

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Let's concretize it.

 

The trajectory of a single atom within a wheel is an artificial example because, from our own perspective, we can effortlessly include all of the essential factors within the concept of its motion.

 

But the motion of any celestial body, in our solar system, is analogous; it's emergent from its position and speed relative to every other object in the solar system (and the galaxy, if we were to increase the precision of our discussion).

It can't be properly understood in isolation at all, and neither are we capable of holding such vast quantities of information simultaneously within the span of our awareness.

 

So I would contend that the only valid way to conceive of such motion is by labeling it as 'emergent of-' and retaining it as such, while analyzing all of the relevant influences.

 

Is there an alternative method?

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Eioul:

 

In reply to your first paragraph:

I agree there is an empricist element to the personality in my example.  I focused on the rationalist element. I think the hypothetic thought process is a very good example of "ideas above reality".  Here the person is focusing on his ability to form "sums" in his mind.  He takes an existent which is also a complex combination and what he applies to the parts is a lazy arithmetic kind of sum, when in fact he should consider what in reality "a combination" of actual entities means.  His method is only really applicable to ... well counting.  He does not recognize or even suspect that "the sum" in his mind is meaningless in the context because he is "ideas over reality".  Good point about the empiricist element.  I'm rereading UO.  I skipped ahead to read the rationalist lecture... I love that one most of all because it is a subtle thing many people do not understand.

 

I like how you frame your comments in the arena of knowledge.  Particularly the idea of conceptual integration on different levels of abstraction.  It is when people speak of emergence as a metaphysical phenomenon when I begin to think something is amiss.  We already know combinations of things produce new states, behave in different ways, have different properties, etc. from that exhibited by isolated parts, this is something which is deeply rooted in the identity of the parts and how they act in combination.  There is no dichotomy between the nature of a thing (a part) in a first context (alone or in one combination) and the nature of the thing in a second context (in another combination).  It is what it is, its nature has not in fact changed, it is doing, being, exhibiting, behaving as is necessary according to its nature, its identity (I am not introducing necessisty as something over and obove identity), specifically the thing is of a nature such that it behaves one way in a particular context and another in another context.

So to me emergence is more about recognizing the limitations of our current knowledge and ability to understand how certain combinations of things act, etc.  That does not mean I think it is a valid or even a useful concept in the long run.

My point is we could dispense with the concept and we would do fine.  I.e. there is nothing essential or fundamental to the various entities we are integrating .. to warrant a new concept.

Chemistry is a fine example ... atoms in different combinations form molecules which have very different properties.  At one point our lack of knowledge made these look like transmutations of a magical sort, and to some extent we still lack a complete knowledge. But, to simply say that because currently we cannot simulate oxygen and hydrogen atoms well enough to preict water and all its properties, H20 somehow is emergent, is somewhat useless.  On the other hand the claim that it would NEVER be possible, in the context of any natural system exhibiting so called emergence I find patently ridiculous. 

We've had computers and technology and knowledge of fundamental particle physics all develop within the last 200 years, and just imagine the knowledge of the savage who walked this earth a paltry 500 years ago.  Would he have had even the sliver of foresight to think CERN or our exploration in space was even remotely possible?

 

Can you tell me that in 50,000 years we would not be able to derive, from our much more complete and extensive knowledge of the fundamentals, how a particular so called "emergent" combination would behave? I think such a claim would require a theory of causation, knowledge, or reality which, as far as I can see, must be flawed.

Do you really find this is justified:

"Weak emergence describes new properties arising in systems as a result of the interactions at an elemental level. However, it is stipulated that the properties can be determined by observing or simulating the system, and not by any process of a priori analysis."

 

This smacks of someone asserting "the unknowable"...

 

"Mind" has its own difficult issues, which you are very aware of, can you give me a different what you consider valid example of emergence?  Also, if you could describe why emergence deserves to be a separate concept, that would help too.

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What is the difference between simulation and "a priori" analysis? Is a simulation not just an analysis that takes many, many steps?

 

That's just from the definition of "weak emergence" on Wikipedia.

 

They may have a distinction in mind.  

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