The notion of emergence — because it is so fundamental — pops up in a lot of physics related discussions. (Emergence itself emerges!) A couple of years ago I posted about it explicitly (see: What Emerges?), but I’ve also invoked it many times in other posts. It’s the very basic idea that combining parts in a certain way creates something not found in the parts themselves. A canonical example is how a color image emerges from red, green, and blue, pixels.
Also often discussed is reductionism, the Yin to the Yang of emergence. One is the opposite of the other. The color image can be reduced to its red, green, and blue, pixels. (The camera in your phone does exactly that.)
Recently I’ve been thinking about the asymmetry of those two, particularly with regard to why (in my opinion) determinism must be false.
Hard to define…
It’s very easy for discussions to get hung up on definitions, so a serious approach to debating a subject begins with synchronizing everyone’s vocabulary watches. Accurate and nuanced communication requires mutually understood ideas and terminology for expressing those ideas.
Yet some concepts seem almost impossible to define clearly. The idea of “consciousness” is notorious for being a definition challenge, but “morality” or “justice” or “love” are also very difficult to pin down. At the same time, we seem to share mutual basic intuitions of these things.
So the question today is: why are some concepts so hard to define?
Venus emerging from the sea.
I’ve been thinking about emergence. That things emerge seems clear, but a question involves the precise nature of exactly what emerges. The more I think about it, the more I think it may amount to word slicing. Things do emerge. Whether or not we call them truly “new” seems definitional.
There is a common distinction made between weak and strong emergence (alternately epistemological and ontological emergence, respectively). Some reject the distinction, and I find myself leaning that way. I think — at least under physicalism — there really is only weak (epistemological) emergence.
But I also think it amounts to strong (ontological) emergence.