Re: [asa] Emergence

From: wjp <>
Date: Fri Jun 12 2009 - 21:45:25 EDT

One of the most basic presumptions of science, at least of the basic
sciences, is that the whole is made up of parts, and that by understanding
the parts we can construct and account for the whole.

It is a bottom-up structure and explanatory model. So we spend considerable
time and effort attempting to determine and understand the elemental, and
fundamental, believing that in doing so we will know the building blocks of
all entities.

It seems to me that this is a metaphysical presumption and need not be true.
Even the tools that we use, viz. mathematics, presume the same.
One plus one is and always shall be two.
But it need not be. One sheep plus one sheep is two sheep.

Doesn't it seem at least possible that adding one building block and another
may not be just two building blocks, but something entirely different,
perhaps even something that has no "memory" of being one plus one, but
something else that should you try to break it down into two parts would
no longer be the whole.

Whether or not this is ever the case, I can readily imagine such a world.

If we add a proton to an electron, we get a hydrogen atom, something
very unlike either of the two, something I think we never would have
imagined possible given what we knew of free electrons and protons.

We "save" ourselves from thinking that "one plus one" actually doesn't
equal two, by developing a whole new theory to describe how the properties
of electrons and protons enable to them to interact in such a way as to
create a hydrogen atom.

So we say that a hydrogen atom is "made up" of an electron and a proton.
But didn't we have to actually discover and examine a hydrogen atom in
order to "see" that the hydrogen atom is "made up" of an electron and
a proton?

I've brought a point like this up before and made something of a fool of
myself. So I'm trying to be more careful now.

What I'm suggesting is that this presumption that all entities are made
up of fundamental building blocks is somewhat misleading.
And this is so because, while we may not be changing the building blocks,
the theories intended to account for novel combinations multiply.
Is this "multiplication" a kind of fraud that disguises or points to
a chink in the armor of that fundamental presumption that the whole is
made up of fundamental parts?

Well, that's the question. I find it interesting to consider just because
it is such a fundamental way that we go about science.


On Fri, 12 Jun 2009 17:16:58 -0600, "Terry M. Gray" <> wrote:
> Randy,
> Yes. I apply emergence even to phenomena like inside/outside that
> results when a bilayer self-assembles from phospholipids in water to
> form a vacuole. The property is "unpredictable" from the individual
> components and is the result of the system--in this case a amphipathic
> molecule of the right geometry in water. Inside/outside is at
> completely different level--perhaps even ontologically--and the
> molecules in question still don't "know" that they are participating
> in the higher level.
> To me this is a very interesting model for how the biological can at
> the same time be reduced to the physical/chemical and yet not be
> reduced to the physical/chemical.
> Loren Haarsma and I discussed these sorts of phenomena in our chapter
> in Perspectives on an Evolving Creation. Frankly, I see this as a very
> promising direction for origin of life studies to take. Early
> manifestations of these sorts of systems may even be acellular. It
> also lends some solution to the protein first or RNA first conundrum.
> The answer is neither. They were both present and the RNA/protein
> emerged as an autocatalytic system. This is where some of the work of
> Stuart Kauffman comes in.
> Bill commented that emergence was considered non-reductionistic. I
> agree with him. And this is the true meaning of irreducible complexity
> and why I don't want to give up the term or leave it to the ID folks.
> The function is a property of the whole. But it is conceivable given
> the description/criteria that Randy summarized for the whole to be
> assembled (sufficient complexity, energy flux, etc.) and then function
> to suddenly emerge (and this is no miracle or act of special
> creation). Interestingly, Uko Zylstra considers emergentism to be a
> form of reductionism because the whole emerges from the parts based
> solely on physical/chemical properties.
> TG
> On Jun 11, 2009, at 8:08 PM, Randy Isaac wrote:
>> Hazen isn't suggesting these are sufficient, he's just identifying
>> common features that always seem to be present in emergence of
>> complexity. He didn't state either "necessary" or "sufficient", just
>> "common".
>> I think emergence isn't always precisely defined. It can be used in
>> the more narrow sense as you did and some people use it in a broader
>> sense to refer to any characteristic that could not be predicted
>> from a knowledge of only one or a very few individuals.
>> Randy
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Bill Powers" <>
>> To: "Randy Isaac" <>
>> Cc: <>
>> Sent: Thursday, June 11, 2009 5:07 PM
>> Subject: Re: [asa] Emergence
>>> Randy et al.
>>> Remember that emergence, at least classically, is nonreductionist,
>>> implying that what emerges is not merely surprising, but novel and
>>> inexplicable in terms of the "base" level from which it emerges.
>>> So it is not like the "slipperiness" of water.
>>> What he has so far provided as "necessary" conditions seem likely
>>> to be
>>> insufficient to produce emergence, i.e, there are too many examples
>>> that have these conditions but would not be regarded as truly
>>> emergent.
>>> bill
>>> On Thu, 11 Jun 2009, Randy Isaac wrote:
>>>> Another lecture I just heard from Hazen in his Origins of Life
>>>> course warrants taking some notes. I need to write them down to
>>>> help me remember so I'll go ahead and share them with you, in case
>>>> you're interested.
>>>> The topic of this lecture was emergence. Thinking about the
>>>> phenomenon of emergence may have some relevant input into the
>>>> study of origins of life. Hazen therefore takes the time to
>>>> articulate four factors necessary for the emergence of complex
>>>> phenomena in a group of individual elements. Two simple examples
>>>> that he uses to illustrate these ideas are grains of sand and
>>>> ants. I mentally added my own field of charge carriers in
>>>> semiconductors.
>>>> 1. Concentration. There needs to be a concentration of individual
>>>> elements that exceeds some threshold level. Grains of sand won't
>>>> show complex structures until you have enough of them concentrated
>>>> in one region. Ants don't show social behavior until you have
>>>> enough of them. Charge carriers aren't interesting if you don't
>>>> have enough.
>>>> 2. A mode of interaction. There must be a means of interaction
>>>> among the individual elements in order for complexity to emerge.
>>>> Grains of sand interact merely by touching each other. Ants have
>>>> various means of interacting including carrying each other! Charge
>>>> carriers interact through electromagnetic coupling but can also
>>>> form Cooper pairs, for example.
>>>> 3. Energy flux. There must be a source of energy through the
>>>> system before complexity emerges. This must be in some optimal
>>>> range. Too little and nothing happens. Too much and the complexity
>>>> is destroyed. For sand, it is gravity and wind and/or water. I
>>>> forgot what he said it was for ants. Maybe the food source. Charge
>>>> carriers need an applied voltage or electric field.
>>>> 4. Cycling of energy. This was the new one for me. He says that a
>>>> cycling of the energy flux dramatically increases the complexity
>>>> that emerges in a system. For sand it would be the ebb and flow of
>>>> the waves or the wind. For ants there are various cycles including
>>>> day/night cycles and seasonal fluctuations. Charge carriers
>>>> respond much more interestingly due a varying field.
>>>> How does this affect the study of the origins of life? I'm sure
>>>> he'll use it more later but for now it can help shape the places
>>>> and features to study. Concentration means you aren't looking for
>>>> just one little microbe but a relatively large population.
>>>> Interactions are most likely chemical so one needs to study all
>>>> possible chemical reactions to form biomolecules. Energy flux can
>>>> come from many sources--solar energy, chemical energy, geothermal,
>>>> etc. Most of these are cyclical as well.
>>>> We'll see where it goes from here.
>>>> I really like his style of teaching. He describes science as it
>>>> really works in a far-out frontier, the good, the bad, and the
>>>> ugly. It's not a smooth process and has lots of bumps in the road.
>>>> But the process generates a lot of insight, whether the endgoal is
>>>> reached or not. The Teaching Company has his course, among several
>>>> other interesting ones, on sale through Sunday. See
>>>> Randy
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> ________________
> Terry M. Gray, Ph.D.
> Computer Support Scientist
> Chemistry Department
> Colorado State University
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Received on Fri Jun 12 21:46:07 2009

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