It is clear this blog has a theme of ’emergence’ (hence, the title), but beyond that I’m not sure what form it will end up taking. I plan to update when the mood strikes me, and allow the themes to self-organize 🙂


16 Responses to About

  1. Rob Cook says:

    Emergence must be real (that’s not a hope, it’s an objective observation – even among reductionists). Think about it: chemistry rests on the the behavior of the chemicals themselves. They have properties which make their manipulation a determistic (albeit stochastic) process. They act as if they are elementary items. But we “know” they are not. The downward arrow does nothing for predictive and manipulative power that the emergent level known as “chemistry” does.

    It’s not unreasonable to take this pattern (the appearance of another “independent” scale upwards) and see what new charactistics and properties emerge. Alex Ryan has written a number of papers thinking about emergence. I’ll try to look for citations.

    • normonics says:


      You’re preaching to the choir. Although I am a little confused about your comment on reductionists seeing emergence as ‘real’. If they felt this way, wouldn’t that make them non-reductionist?


    • Perhaps distinguishing between epistemic and ontological emergence would be helpful here. Those who adhere to epistemic emergence may still be reductionists, since emergence in this case only means we don’t yet know how atomic phenomena become chemical. Ontological emergence implies that emergence is “real”: not only do we lack knowledge of how chemistry can be reduced to physics, no such knowledge is possible since the leap from physical to chemical behavior is creative (i.e., no mechanical law could have foreseen it or can explain it).

      • normonics says:

        Yes, I think you’re exactly right. The ‘reductionists’ would argue chemistry (for example) serves as an epistemic ‘floor’ (to use Rob’s term), but in principle it is really not THE ‘floor’. The Alex Ryan paper posted deals with this issue as well.

      • I think the issue of emergence is the nail in the coffin of strict reductionist/mechanistic physics. But I don’t think emergence only presents an issue of scale; it is also an issue of time and development. Heavier atoms had to emerge (though stellar nucleosynthesis) before chemistry would be possible; chemistry had to emerge before life was possible; life had to emerge before mind was possible. The continuity of the evolutionary process makes creative emergence comprehensible again, just not in mechanistic terms. I’d argue that natural science needs a new metaphysical foundation in order to rationally account for emergence. Process metaphysics (Whitehead, and Schelling before him) might be the best candidate.

        • normonics says:

          I’m frankly not familiar enough with Whitehead or Schelling to lend my support or put up any resistance. Systems thinking certainly does appreciate this developmental/evolutionary aspect. Scale can refer to both temporal and spatial aspects of a system.

          Stu Kauffman uses the term ‘adjacent possible’ to highlight this issue. His point is exactly yours. Each new creative ’emergence’ also creates the possibilities for new ’emergents’ which would not be possible to ‘leap-frog’ to without a developmental intermediary.

  2. Rob Cook says:

    Also, who among reductionists has NOT said “…the whole is greater than the sum of the parts…” and thereby explicitly given voice to emergence. (although, that is a strawman argument)

    • normonics says:

      I’m still just confused as to what makes them a reductionist if they are thinking this way…

      • Rob Cook says:

        You’re not confused… I’m making a shallow argument about those who would, without being examined on the incongruities of the implications of a reductionist stance, would side with those who would describe themselves as reductionists.

    • normonics says:

      This is in response to your comment below but I don’t seem to be able to reply to responses to my response… May just be a limitation of WordPress, I’m not sure.

      Ah, I see :). Yes, I find their position self-defeating as well. Thanks for the link to the Alex Ryan paper. I scanned it briefly and it looks really nice. Looking forward to a closer reading.


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