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  1. starting page on emergentism to distinguish from reductionism


    v1, current

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 29th 2022

    What it currently says in the entry just doesn’t sound right to me, for reasons I voiced in another thread here (also here).

    Also, the Wikipedia entry which you quote does not say this.

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2023

    I came across this entry and thought to rewrite the introduction closer to something that philosophers would recognise. I doubt there’s much of value in the section on ’Emergentism in physics’.

    But maybe we only want such a page if we can say something from the nPOV. I recall Nils Baas had something using hyperstructures, On Emergence and Explanation, and more recently there is some interest, as in this blog post by Jules Hedges.

    diff, v2, current

    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2023
    • (edited Jul 25th 2023)

    I still don’t think it’s right to say that emergentism contrasts with reductionism — and also I don’t think that this is what the SEP source says that you quote. (It says up front that: “The general notion of emergence … mediates between extreme forms of dualism … and reductionism.”, my emphasis.)

    On the contrary, any reductionist theory needs to appeal to emergence in order to explain the observed complex phenomena that are so unlike the fundamental processes that it claims these can be reduced to.

    So in a complex world there is no reductionism without emergentism.

    And that’s exactly how the accepted standard model of the world works: We assume that around the ontological bottom everything is reducible to the dynamics of fundamental particles, but then on top of that we have a hierarchy of models of emergence which explain why the macroscopic world we observe looks so utterly different from this reductionist foundation.

    If I understand well, then the SEP-article calls this “ontological reductionism”. The article seems fairly reasonable, if maybe long-winded. The crux can be seen from the few lines of section 5.2.2 “Quantum chemistry”, in and around the quote by Dirac.

    The only other form of emergentism that the article seems to offer is a non-ontological emergentism where things emerge not from behaviour of smaller constituents, but really from nothing else. I find it dubious that this deserves to be called emergentism in the first place, since it seems to make no linguistic sense to speak of emergence with nothing to emerge from, but if people like to speak this way, so be it.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeJul 25th 2023

    So in a complex world there is no reductionism without emergentism.

    That may be a reasonable usage, but it’s not how it’s being used here. Dirac would count as proposing a reductionist, non-emergentist position regarding chemistry.

    Certainly what they call ’strong emergence’ is non-reductive:

    A property is strongly emergent just in case it is a property of a composed individual that is realized and that (in addition to having same-level effects) non-productively determines the individual’s parts to have powers that they would not have given only the laws/principles of composition manifested in simpler collectives.

    But also weak emergence is non-reductive:

    Weak emergentists take the existence of such stable and distinctive phenomena, amenable to high-level but not low-level explanation, as reason to accept the taxonomic categories of the special sciences into our ontology of the natural world, no less real than the categories of a final, completed physics. On this view, there are molecules, cells, organisms, and minded creatures, and they do not reduce to—are not identical to—complex combinations of basic physical entities or features. Correspondingly, explanations adverting to special science laws are to some extent autonomous from the explanations adverting to laws of lower-level physical theories.

    Hence they can point out that many are strong emergentists about consciousness:

    The conscious mind in its different aspects has long seemed to many to resist plausible ontological characterization in any physical terms, whether reductive or non-reductive (i.e., weak emergentist).

    You can’t be a reductive emergentist here.

    But then maybe all hangs on what is meant by reduction, and for that there are other lengthy entries, such as SEP: scientific reduction.

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeAug 8th 2023
    • Barbara Drossel, Strong emergence in condensed matter physics (arXiv:1909.01134).

    diff, v3, current

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeAug 8th 2023


    • Elie Adam, Systems, Generativity and Interactional Effects (pdf)

    • Caterina Puca, Amar Hadzihasanovic, Fabrizio Genovese, Bob Coecke: Obstructions to Compositionality (arXiv:2307.14461).

    diff, v3, current

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeAug 8th 2023

    I’d need more time and energy to react to all this than I am prepared to spare. Could we at least tone down a phrase like:

    On how condensed matter physics cannot be fully reduced to quantum mechanical theory

    Maybe better: “a claim that it cannot”. The abstract of that article is baffling where it asserts:

    …how condensed-matter theory is done in practice. It is never done by starting with a microscopic theory for the interaction of all the atoms of the system.

    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorDavid_Corfield
    • CommentTimeAug 8th 2023

    Sure, I’ll change it to say the article’s just making a claim. I took the phrase from her abstract.

    The page is due a great overhaul. Maybe we should rename it ’emergence’ and then have the page discuss what such a concept might mean, rather than present it as an -ism.

    Perhaps it should focus on general mathematical treatments. Ordinary language accounts will get caught up in interminable distinctions and interpretations.

    diff, v4, current