Re: [asa] Emergence

From: <>
Date: Sat Jun 13 2009 - 12:57:43 EDT

This sounds very much like some descriptions of emergence that I've heard, and I
think it fascinating as well since none of us are conditioned to think this way
at all. We grow up as kids playing with building blocks and we know that the
tower we stack up is made of all those small blocks and we imagine that by
knowing how these blocks work and stack together, we must have complete
understanding of the entire stack. We know a house is made of processed, wood,
nails, other materials, and by understanding and properly handling those
materials we imagine we have an understanding of the entire house. But we begin
to see the weakness of this assumption. A materials engineer could have
excellent understanding of concrete, steel and wood all. But if had never
studied or had experience building a structure like a house, his knowledge of
the elemental parts will avail him not at all to know how a good house is built.
 The larger structure begins to take on properties that are not easily derived
(perhaps not derivable at all?) from knowledge of the units.


Quoting wjp <>:

> 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.
> bill

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Received on Sat Jun 13 12:58:32 2009

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