Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mind and emergent properties

An emergent property is one that stems from factors lower down in the evolutionary process that do not involve the emergent property. The emergent properties emerge from amid a set of properties none of which herald the emergent one. It just springs forth, life from non-life, consciousness from non-conscious, por soir from en soir....[E]mergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them. (For example, it is sometimes said that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain.) Each of the quoted terms is slippery in its own right, and their specifications yield the varied notions of emergence that we discuss below. There has been renewed interest in emergence within discussions of the behavior of complex systems and debates over the reconcilability of mental causation, intentionality, or consciousness with physicalism.[1]

According to O'connor and Wang emergent properties can't be reduced to the properties from which they spring. If true that means that if consciousness is emergent it's not reducible to brain fuction. Yet every reductionist I've ever argued with uses emergence to explain the rise of consciousness, which they take to be reduciable to brain chemistry. Emergence is also divided into strong and weak. Strong emergence is when the phenomenon is high level and emerges from a low level domain. Strong emergence was evoked by the British emergentists in the 1920s and is featured in most philosophical discussions about emergence. Weak emergence is in respect to low level domain when high level phenomenon emerges from low level domain but truths concerning that phenomenon are unexpected given the principles governing that domain.[2] The more radical consequences stem from strong emergence. As David Chalmers says, if the property could be deduced principle from the properties it emerges from there's no need to evoke new laws. The radical consequences result from the evoking of new laws, resulting from the emergence of properties not deducible in principle. I am avoiding discussions of artificial intelligence or the Chinese room argument (Searl)[3] as they would divert from the argument. I will, however, bring up Searl's argument about AI in order to make a larger point. Searl argues that consciousness is a biological product and computers can't be emergently conscious because they can't produce a biological basis. In answering Searl Paul Almond says:
While it is reasonable to regard consciousness as an emergent property of a physical system there is no profound sense in which it can be said that different people's brains work according to the same kinds of processes and an appropriately programmed computer and a human brain would work according to different processes. Any difference between these situations is just a matter of degree and any argument that we should presume other people conscious because their brains work in basically the same sort of way could also be used to justify presuming an appropriately programmed computer conscious.[4]
This may be a fine idea in philosophy, but how would it work in real life? A doctor in a hospital says “I can't deliver this baby because I have no proof that all human reproductive processes are the same.” You could not practice medicine on that basis. Almond also seems to be contradicting himself because he says on the one hand that we can't assume human thought processes work the same, but somehow we can assume that our minds work the same as computers (which would contradict the ideas that they don't all work the same). Why should we assume it's only a matter of degree? It's pretty self evident that there is a qualitative difference. Searl's argument doesn't help us in deciding about consciousness in humans as emergent but Almond's response tells us something about fallacies in human reason. We must assume that there is a likeness in human consciousness or we can't even do medicine and there's no point in doing science. Thus we can draw analogy between human consciousness and order in the cosmos, metaphysical hierarchy. This will become apparent in unfolding of the argument. But emergent properties per se do not destroy the TS argument.

The notion of emergent properties is firmly ensconced in the repertoire of modern scientific acumen. It's an article of faith for all, those who fail to pledge their allegiance to it are to be ridiculed. Actually there's no reason why emergent properties per se can't be embraced along with belief in God. There is no way to establish that God didn't set it up that way, it probably makes more sense to assume he did. Given the law-like regularity of the universe and modern notions of cause and effect, assuming spontaneous emergence with no prior arrangement of mind is just a contradiction to these aspects of nature (regularity and the necessity of causes). So emergent properties without God (the TS or some other prior agent) violate the criteria of best explanation laid down in chapter three [the book I am writing]; the logical consistency criterion. The emergence of mind is one of the most difficult questions. With simple “self organizing” such as snow flakes there's no problem. When reductionists start insisting that consciousness is emergent and reducible to brain chemistry (actually a contradiction, emergence belongs to holism and is the enemy of reductionism, but one finds at popular level these technicalities escape notice) we must take issue. The need for mind in creation is reflected in the hard problem and in the irreducibility of consciousness.

Reductionists, (especially readers of Dawkins) are convinced that brain chemistry explains consciousness but that view has been proved inadequate. The reductionists are doing a bait and switch, switching brain function for consciousness. Those who claim to evoke mystical experience by brain stimulating use no reliable means of measuring religious experience.[5] One of the major arguments, against the reductionist view, is known as “the hard problem.” The hard problem says that there's a texture to consciousness that can't be communicated, much less reduced to physical origins, but is with us all and thus its existence is self evident. That argument is illustrated by Thomas Negal in his famous article “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” [6] We can have all the facts science can provide about bats but that wont tell us what its like to be a bat. Consciousness has an irreduceable dimension that is fundamental to understanding it and yet scientific reductionism can't tell us about it. In fact some can't admit it exists, even though we all know it does. Sean Carroll dismisses the idea saying, “Nagel actually doesn’t spend too much time providing support for this stance, as he wants to take it as understood and move on.” [7] As though we don't know about the personal dimension to consciousness because we are all conscious (or most of us).

Nagel wrote a book way back in 2012,Mind and Cosmos, for which he was raked over the coals by all manner of scientifically inclined critics. Nagel's basic argument is that because there is this dimension of mind (the hard problem—we can't know what it's like to experience consciousness by reducing the concept to empirical data)-- the subtitle of the book says it-- “...the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.” He did not argue that evolution is wrong but that the reductionist understanding will never unlock the hard problem because they can't admit there's an aspect of the world their methods can't grasp. He says this not just about brain and mind but that “it invades our understanding of the entire cosmos and its history...a true appreciation of the difficulty of the problem must eventually change our conception of the place of the physical sciences in describing the natural order.” [8] He points to the hubris in modern scientific reductionism in thinking we can understand and explain all things, he argues that we don't understand much of the universe at all. He is arguing about what can and cannot in principle be understood by existing methods.[9] He argues that the failure of psychophysical reductionism to produce a theory of everything marks the inability of reductionism to penetrate the mind-body problem. He argues for a mind-like process in nature but he is not arguing for God. He's an atheist. He introduces teleology back into science.

Negal also argues that the connections between the physical and the mental that emergentists think are responsible for consciousness are all higher order. They concern only complex organisms and don't require any fundamental change in the physical conception of the elements that make up those organisms. "An emergent account of the mental is compatible with a physically reductionist account of the biological system in which mind emerges." [10] So emergence doesn't require any change in the 'ground up' conception of what makes up the universe. To be a true explanation, emergence can't just be a set of correspondences between the physical and mental. It must also be systematic, providing principles or laws linking the two. It must tell us why, or at least how, the physical emerges into the mental.

But even with a systematic theory, emergence seems like an unsatisfactory explanation of the mental. That purely physical elements, when arranged in a certain way, and even if systematically accounted for, should result in consciousness seems like magic. That physical things should exhibit, at the macro level, properties and relations not constituted out of the properties and relations of the physical parts making it up seems like magic. In other cases of emergence, we can understand how the micro properties of the parts give rise to the macro properties of the whole. Liquidity emerging from H2O molecules is an example.

Because emergence of the mental remains mysterious, we should seriously consider an explanation of the more fundamental constituents of the universe. This kind of explanation would draw on a general monism which posits that the basic building blocks contain properties that explain not only physical but also mental properties at the macro level. So there's a deeper more comprehensive reality, of which the physical is only one expression. This deeper framework would explain physical and mental as two aspects of this more fundamental reality. The physical would be an explanation of phenomena from the outside, and the mental would explain things from the inside. "Consciousness in this case is not an effect of the brain processes that are its physical conditions: rather, those brain processes are in themselves more than physical, and the incompleteness of the physical description of the world is exemplified by the incompleteness of their (brain processes) purely physical description." [11] Monism or dualism really depends upon how the terms are used, I don't intend to go into that here. I don't necessarily agree with him on monism but I do about the mental as a basic property of nature. Carroll reviews Mind and Cosmos, he justifies the sorry treatment it was given by the followers of new atheism, who paned it without giving it a chance. They basically treated Nagel like he is a young earth creationist (I believe he's an atheist). Carroll's justification:
Back in the dark ages a person with heretical theological beliefs would occasionally be burned at the stake, Nowadays, when a more scientific worldview has triumphed and everyone knows that God doesn’t exist (emphasis mine), the tables have turned, and any slight deviation from scientific/naturalist/atheist/Darwinian doctrine will have you literally tied to a pole and set on fire. Fair is fair. Or, at least, people will write book reviews and blog posts that disagree with you. But I think we all agree that’s just as bad, right?[12]

Translation: “this is not about facts, truth , logic, or reason. Obey the priesthood of knowledge and don't think. But hey we are imposing this ideology so the world will be safe for free thought, just remember to stick with the right ideas.” He says "everyone knows God doesn't exist," 90% of the population is excluded from “everyone.” His answer to the hard problem is basically that it's an old idea and David Chalmers likes it. He accuses Negal of using bad reasoning but his only example is a general allusion to “common sense” which he takes for bad logic, and does not bother to document (although I stipulate that he does appeal to that standard several times).. Appeal to common sense is not the best. Philosophers tend to hate it and its easy prey for people who themselves do not understand argument. For example Carroll belabors Nagel's admission that he's not an expert, not part of the priesthood of knowledge. He misses Nagel's rhetorical strategy in emphasizing consciousness, judgment and intuition in an argument about consciousness. We are all experts in being conscious. He also includes principle of sufficient reason, which is an immanently reasonable standard and one many great philosophers accept. Carroll's rejection of that principle is no doubt based upon the fact that he does not have a sufficient reason for ignoring the need for prior cause, necessity, and can't answer the questions raised by those who want real answers. His major reason for his beliefs is that they free him from belief.

In attacking Nagel's position that we need an explanation for physical law. Carroll says “They [people such as Negal] cannot simply be (as others among us are happy to accept). And the only way he can see that happening is if 'mind' and its appearance in the universe are taken as fundamental features of reality, not simply by products of physical evolution.”[13] Believers are actually tortured with all of that unnecessary thinking? And I thought we were benighted. Apparently it's the skeptics who are happy not to ask questions. There's less to being a “free thinker” than I thought. Carroll then contemplates the terrible consequences for human reason if we accepted that consciousness is not purely physical, (as though the mental dimension just isn't there even though we all experience it all the time); “Imagine what it would entail to truly believe that consciousness is not accounted for by physics. It would entail, among other things, that the behavior of ordinary matter would occasionally deviate from that expected on the basis of physics alone.”[14] There's an expectation that it wont deviate? If it's not prescriptive, if there is nothing to make the regularity stick then we should expect deviation however rare. But of course that's one of those things free thinkers should be happy not to question.

What would it entail to truly believe that consciousness is not accounted for by physics? Belief in God? Nowhere does Nagel go near that conclusion, and in calling himself a monist he could be veering away from that conclusion. Nor does he actually say that physics can't account for consciousness, only that I hasn't, and wont as long as it refuses to consider a mental dimension. Apparently even one step in the direction of God is too close. Carroll then says, “Several billion years ago there weren’t conscious creatures here on Earth. It was just atoms and particles, bumping into each other in accordance with the rules of physics and chemistry. Except, if mind is not physical, at some point they swerved away from those laws, since remaining in accordance with them would never have created consciousness.”[15] Come again? There are laws that determine things? They can't be deviated from? If the regularity of nature is only a description of “tendencies” why shouldn't there be deviation? More of that double minded assumption, laws are not prescriptive except when they help us pretend there's no God. “So, at what point does this deviation from purely physical behavior kick in, exactly? It’s the immortal soul vs. the Dirac equation problem.”[16] Nagel never says we have an immortal soul. Where does that come from. It's like he's arguing with someone other than Nagel. By that statement he means that if the process of our brains “isn't simply following the laws of physics” (another implication of mandated physical law) then “you have the duty to explain in exactly what way the electrons in our atoms fail to obey their equations of motion. Is energy conserved in your universe? Is momentum? Is quantum evolution unitary, information-preserving, reversible? Can the teleological effects on quantum field observables be encapsulated in an effective Hamiltonian?”xvii[17]

First of all, Nagel doesn't say anything about the consciousness dimension being opposed to the laws of physics. Neither do I. Who says there is not a conscious dimension to the laws of physics that we don't know about? But that would be like admitting the priesthood of knowledge doesn't know all things. Secondly, the smokescreen of Nagel's inability to answer specific questions is, as smokescreens usually are, a red herring. If it's a dimension we don't know, then of course we don't know. He has no argument to disprove the hard problem, and no means of demonstrating that Nagel's surmises about it are not sound. Carroll's basic argument is “this can't be true because if it was it would mean the priesthood is not all knowing and there might be a God.” In Carroll's world those reasons are as sound and valid as the equations to which he alludes.

The veracity of this charge is summed up in his final paragraph in the phrase: "He [Nagel] advocates overthrowing things that are precisely defined, extremely robust, and impressively well-tested (the known laws of physics, natural selection) on the basis of ideas that are rather vague and much less well-supported (a conviction that consciousness can’t be explained physically, a demand for intelligibility, moral realism).”[18] Nagel doesn't advocate overthrowing anything, nor does he suggest departing from physics or the methods of scientific exploration. He even says that dualism is a wrong choice. All he is really saying is that there's a dimension that we don't know much about and until we start including it in our explanations, our explanations lack something in explanatory power. Carroll's answer to that seems to be “don't question the faith!” If there is a dimension we don't understand and admitting that is of “enormous consequence” then if true the explanation offered by materialism, physicalism, science itself is not the best. That explanation doesn't account for all the data, one of the criterion for best explanation. The TS argument assumes that dimension and since it doesn't overturn the laws of physics, but assumes them, then it is a better explanation.The irreducibility of mind to brain serves two purposes in the argument: (1) it means there is a dimension that physicalism has ignored, thus it cannot be the best explanation, (2) it sets up Nagel's answer that there must be some mind-like process in the universe for which physicalism cannot take account. When I say “physicalism” in this context I mean all the camps such as: materialism, physicalism proper, reductionism, functionalism, scientism. In presenting evidence for irreducibility of mind to brain I am setting up the argument for mind as the best organizing principle. There is actual positive scientific data that mind does not reduce to brain.


1 Timothy O'Connor and Hong Yu Wong, "Emergent Properties", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = . Here, Accessed 9/13/15 2 David Chalmers, “Strinmg and Weak emergence,” Research School of Social Sciences, Austrailian National University, online resource, PDF URL: accessed 9/13/15. 3 David Cole, "The Chinese Room Argument", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = .
4 Paul Almond, “Searl's Argument Against AI and emergent Properties—part 1,” MLU: Machines Like Us, (December 29, 2008) online resource, URL: accessed 9/13/15.
5 Joseph Hinman, The Trace of God: A Rational Warrant for Belief. Colorado Springs: Grand Viaduct Publishing, 2014,
6 Thomas Nagel, "What is it like to be a bat?", Mortal Questions, Cambridge University Press, 1979, p. 166. pdf: accessed 9/14/15. Nagel is philosophy professer atv NYU. Ph.D Harvaed 1963, awards: 1996 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay.
7 Sean Carroll, “Mind and Cosmos,” Sean Carroll (blog)(posted August 22, 2013) URL: accessedd 9/14/15.
8 Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos:Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False,. Oxfor: Oxford, London: New York University Press, first edition, 2012, 3.
9 Ibgid 4
10 Ibid 55
11 Ibid 57
12 Carroll, “Mind…”op. Cit.
13 Ibid
14 Ibid
15 Ibid
16 Ibid
17 Ibid
18 Ibid

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