Wednesday, January 4, 2012


"Although strong emergence is logically possible, it is uncomfortably like magic. How does an irreducible but supervenient downward causal power arise, since by definition it cannot be due to the aggregation of the micro-level potentialities? Such causal powers would be quite unlike anything within our scientific ken. This not only indicates how they will discomfort reasonable forms of materialism. Their mysteriousness will only heighten the traditional worry that emergence entails illegitimately getting something from nothing."

—Mark A. Bedau, 1997

"The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.The constructionist hypothesis breaks down when confronted with the twin difficulties of scale and complexity. At each level of complexity entirely new properties appear. Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry. We can now see that the whole becomes not merely more, but very different from the sum of its parts."

—P.W. Anderson, 1972


  1. Yikes.

    What the heck is the first one even talking about? If I had to read two paragraphs, I'd be in a coma.

    The second one I get. I'd word it differently, but at least I can interpret it. Should I be frightened?

  2. Believe it or not, I didn't choose these as more examples of what I call "non-communication" but rather because I was reading an article on systems philosophy and came across a new scientific term called "emergence." So, if these made a little sense to me it was only because I cheated and was already reading about what they were talking about. It immediately occurred to me, though, that the first guy seemed to be trying talk about this unexplained "phenomenon" as a scientist, trying VERY hard not to use the word "God."

  3. Don't let the scope of our knowledge frighten you. :)

  4. Surely one of the most "fun" things about being a scientist is the process of solving problems, or attempting to solve problems, by constructing systems that work which explain and illustrate the solution to that problem. But even more "fun" (for the kind of mind a scientist possesses) is when all possible angles have been covered by the scientist and his colleagues, and it only remains to put the system into motion... and it doesn't work! The realization that some element as yet unknown needs to be added to the mix, and the desire to know what that "something" is: that is what makes grown men and women scientists stay up all night and forget to eat. I think maybe the problem-solving fun is not only in the creating of an explanatory complex system, but rather the occasional realization that the universe still has something to teach you that hasn't yet been entered in the physics texts.

  5. Well, that rambled on pretty uselessly. And it didn't explain a darn thing about Emergence.

  6. Dood, you need to private message me (on Twitter @Angelika1972) your e-mail addy because the one I have for you keeps getting returned.

    You're missing out on all of the interesting crap I only tell my close circle of blog buddies. ;-)

  7. @Adullamite - Oh no!

    @Angelika - max at yummybiscuits dot com. I was wondering why I hadn't heard from you. Should I be afraid? :)

    @Soubriquet - Now you're talking like a Canadian. Are you in shock? Or did you move to the Great White North?

  8. @Angelika - Sorry, I will twitter you privately. God forbid I get spam. Har!

  9. We English were saying 'Eh?' long before Canada was invented.

    We usually say it when baffled. There's an old saying, military in origin, I think, "BBB", or "Bullshit Baffles Brains". Your first quoted text is a prime example of bullshit.
    Your author is spouting jargon, using a heap if invented terms used by only a very small group of people, to describe something which, whether or not it is emergent, is meaningless to any outside the select group who use this jargon. I have no doubt whatsoever that he's a respected man in his field, probably with tenure and a long list of published work, and I'll bet that he finds it just dandy that hardly anybody has any idea what he's talking about.
    Up to a point, he's protected by the fact that people hate to admit they don't understand. But one day he may come up against someone who'll call his bluff, and make him confess he has no idea what it means too.

  10. @Soubriquet - Well, I thought it was hilarious when I read it. But I always make allowances for differences of opinion, so I will put you down under the "we are not amused" column.

    (Are you sure you're not getting him mixed up with Frankie Avalon?)

  11. @Stephanie Barr - I mean to write, "Don't let the scope of YOUR knowledge frighten you." I have no claim in sharing your knowledge. :)



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