The Denver Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Emergentism/Complexity

Emergentism/Complexity

A former member
Post #: 73
As most of you are undoubtedly aware, we've recently had a contentious (and, in my view, wholly unprofitable) discussion -- if that's the right word -- concerning emergentism/reductionism.

As I said from the beginning, it isn't an especially good subject to tackle in this forum (and I don't intend to revisit it here now). However, that doesn't mean that it isn't a topic of considerable interest; and it also doesn't mean that it's a subject that can't be tackled at all.

One of the best recent discussions, showcasing a number of fascinating issues at the scientific (and also philosophic) frontiers, is Melanie Mitchell's "Complexity: A Guided Tour." ("Complex" is a term some prefer to "emergent" -- though I think it actually sheds less light, rather than more.)

An Amazon link to the book can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Complexity-Guided-Tour-Melanie-Mitchell/dp/0195124413/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1290447914&sr=1-1­

A book by a working scientist (Stuart Kauffman), which does a far better job of explaining why the subject is critically important is "Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion" -- however, it isn't as clear or as persuasive as Mitchell's book.

A book by another working scientist (Nobel prize-winner Ilya Prigogine) is "The End of Certainty":
http://www.amazon.com/End-Certainty-Ilya-Prigogine/dp/0684837056/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1290448508&sr=1-3­.

However, the book that probably does the most to address the (many) questions/objections that arose over the course of the discussion here is Ludwig Von Bertalanffy's "General System Theory": http://www.amazon.com/General-System-Theory-Foundations-Applications/dp/0807604534/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290448889&sr=1-1­

All four of these have been highly rated by numerous Amazon readers (so, in case you've got some sort of issue with me personally, you don't have to take it from me that these are all engaging, stimulating, and highly worthwhile). Moreover, any of them will provide some sense of why the approach to philosophy of mind adopted by folks like Dennett is decades (if not a century or so) out of date.

A book the book discussion group will be having a look at in the near future is Axelrod's "The Evolution of Cooperation." It's a good book, and well worth reading.

However, the light that science can shed on issues of, for example, morality is nevertheless limited. (This also includes such other scientific approaches as, say, sociobiology.)

To understand why this is the case, the very best book is Brand Blanshard's "The Nature of Thought," which was printed in two volumes. It is, very likely, the most important 20th century work of philosophy, far outstripping in importance anything by, say, Wittgenstein or Russell. Unfortunately, it's out of print, but it is available from the library (via interlibrary loan), and also from out-of-print book dealers (like Biblio).

What is it, exactly, makes this book so important (and that explains why I keep bringing it up)?

Well, what it deals with is the difference between mind as investigated by the sciences, and mind as it actually goes about doing things in, say, mathematics, science, and philosophy. It is the one and only book that illuminates and bridges this all-important divide. Moreover, though technical, it is written with supreme clarity and almost superhuman fairness and comprehensiveness. Even better, it is the foundational work for three other works that are of almost equal importance. These are:

"Reason and Analysis" (which shows, conclusively, where Positivism and Analytical/Linguistic philosophy went off the tracks), and why rationalism is the most defensible position in epistemology;

"Reason and Goodness" (which clears up all of the fog about the objectivity/subjectivity of ethics);

and

"Reason and Belief" (which conclusively critiques all forms of religion grounded exclusively in "faith").

I suggest that any of the books mentioned above would be worthwhile for the book discussion group; but, if not, I would be happy to discuss any of the issues raised there in this forum with anybody who takes the trouble to read them (because then I don't have to reinvent the nuclear reactor).

Best,
Ken



Dan
danlg
Group Organizer
Broomfield, CO
Post #: 1,388
Ken:
As most of you are undoubtedly aware, we've recently had a contentious (and, in my view, wholly unprofitable) discussion -- if that's the right word -- concerning emergentism/reductionism.

As I said from the beginning, it isn't an especially good subject to tackle in this forum (and I don't intend to revisit it here now). However, that doesn't mean that it isn't a topic of considerable interest; and it also doesn't mean that it's a subject that can't be tackled at all.

One of the best recent discussions, showcasing a number of fascinating issues at the scientific (and also philosophic) frontiers, is Melanie Mitchell's "Complexity: A Guided Tour." ("Complex" is a term some prefer to "emergent" -- though I think it actually sheds less light, rather than more.)

An Amazon link to the book can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Complexity-Guided-Tour-Melanie-Mitchell/dp/0195124413/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1290447914&sr=1-1­

A book by a working scientist (Stuart Kauffman), which does a far better job of explaining why the subject is critically important is "Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion" -- however, it isn't as clear or as persuasive as Mitchell's book.

A book by another working scientist (Nobel prize-winner Ilya Prigogine) is "The End of Certainty":
http://www.amazon.com/End-Certainty-Ilya-Prigogine/dp/0684837056/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1290448508&sr=1-3­.

However, the book that probably does the most to address the (many) questions/objections that arose over the course of the discussion here is Ludwig Von Bertalanffy's "General System Theory": http://www.amazon.com/General-System-Theory-Foundations-Applications/dp/0807604534/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290448889&sr=1-1­

All four of these have been highly rated by numerous Amazon readers (so, in case you've got some sort of issue with me personally, you don't have to take it from me that these are all engaging, stimulating, and highly worthwhile). Moreover, any of them will provide some sense of why the approach to philosophy of mind adopted by folks like Dennett is decades (if not a century or so) out of date.

A book the book discussion group will be having a look at in the near future is Axelrod's "The Evolution of Cooperation." It's a good book, and well worth reading.

However, the light that science can shed on issues of, for example, morality is nevertheless limited. (This also includes such other scientific approaches as, say, sociobiology.)

To understand why this is the case, the very best book is Brand Blanshard's "The Nature of Thought," which was printed in two volumes. It is, very likely, the most important 20th century work of philosophy, far outstripping in importance anything by, say, Wittgenstein or Russell. Unfortunately, it's out of print, but it is available from the library (via interlibrary loan), and also from out-of-print book dealers (like Biblio).

What is it, exactly, makes this book so important (and that explains why I keep bringing it up)?

Well, what it deals with is the difference between mind as investigated by the sciences, and mind as it actually goes about doing things in, say, mathematics, science, and philosophy. It is the one and only book that illuminates and bridges this all-important divide. Moreover, though technical, it is written with supreme clarity and almost superhuman fairness and comprehensiveness. Even better, it is the foundational work for three other works that are of almost equal importance. These are:

"Reason and Analysis" (which shows, conclusively, where Positivism and Analytical/Linguistic philosophy went off the tracks), and why rationalism is the most defensible position in epistemology;

"Reason and Goodness" (which clears up all of the fog about the objectivity/subjectivity of ethics);

and

"Reason and Belief" (which conclusively critiques all forms of religion grounded exclusively in "faith").

I suggest that any of the books mentioned above would be worthwhile for the book discussion group; but, if not, I would be happy to discuss any of the issues raised there in this forum with anybody who takes the trouble to read them (because then I don't have to reinvent the nuclear reactor).

Best,
Ken
A few things to clear up what you've written....

First, what does 'emergentism/reductionism' refer to? Second, what do you mean by 'emergentism/reductionism'?

Third, are you to say that the term emergent and the term complexity are interchangeable? Forth, in scientific frontiers what is scientific emergence compared to scientific complexity? Are these explanatory theories of descriptive theories?

Fifth, what does (scientific) complexity and (scientific) emergence have to do with the philosophy of the mind (ala D. Dennett)? Sixth, are you saying we must inform ourselves in all the literature above provided before we may weigh in on Dennett's take of the 'philosophy of the mind'? Wouldn't it be suffice that you merely extrapolate a synapses of pertinent information concerning the matter and let us see for ourselves (especially since one book is out of print, and not feasibly retrievable)?

Seventh, how exactly is Dennett's 'philosophy of mind' theory out of date? Eighth, it being a bold claim that particular authors outstrip in importance Wittgenstein or Russell, seeing that an out-of-print book is compared to a widely translated and even wider publication of Wittgenstein and Russell's work, but if you have evidence that will demonstrate the err of academics, who are better informed than even me, I welcome it.

Ninth, what is the difference in mental activity when practicing science or practicing math? You say there is a stark difference, what is it particularly? And how does that relate to what you wrote above and elsewhere?

Tenth, are you well versed in Analytic Philosophy that you can defend a position of where there is err in it? Eleventh, where exactly did Analytic Philosophy go 'off track'? Twelfth, how does that relate to the 'philosophy of mind'?

Thirteenth, what does emergence have to do with all of this? Fourteenth, what does mental activity have to do with either emergence or complexity, or science?

Last, can you detail any kind of mental activity that has no correspondence with some kind of brain activity? If so, could you explain how this mental activity has no physiological activity?
A former member
Post #: 75
Hi, Dan.

You wrote:


A few things to clear up what you've written....

And followed up with a rather large number of (really quite good, and certainly very interesting) questions, all of which unfortunately need rather lengthy answers (of the sort that could easily run to 15 - 20 pages). That's pretty much where I haven't wanted to go here.

In order to respond within the span of a single message, I'll have to pare the list down quite a bit. Hopefully, though, answers to a couple of your questions will imply, however vaguely, answers to your remaining questions.

Let's start here:

. . . what do you mean by 'emergentism/reductionism'?
­
This set of terms refers to competing ontologies (models of reality) and corresponding theories about what constitutes appropriate/satisfactory explanation in the sciences (including, most relevantly, explanations of what goes on in the brain).

Reductionists believe that everything ultimately consists of one basic sort of physical entity (say, strings or quarks, although the candidate seems to change every couple of decades or so), and that everything else in science can therefore be explained in terms of the physical properties of this basic "stuff."

Emergentists, however, believe that unique physical properties arise at different levels of organization (or, perhaps, complexity--a truly satisfactory vocabulary hasn't yet been developed for the distinctions in question), and that there are, therefore, limits to how far explanations couched in terms of the physical properties of this basic "stuff" will take us. What we should do, instead, is offer explanations couched in terms of the properties that are found (only) at "higher" levels.

Moving on, you asked:

. . . what is the difference in mental activity when practicing science or practicing math? You say there is a stark difference, what is it particularly? And how does that relate to what you wrote above and elsewhere?

This is precisely the question that Blanshard's "Nature of Thought" was written to answer. As he required two volumes to say what he thought needed to be said (and rightly so, I think), about all I can do to get to a concise response here is to provide a single example.

Suppose that the mathematician Gauss tells us that "two plus two equals four." This assertions states a basic mathematical truth that we can be certain is necessarily true. By contrast, if we say "the brain of the mathematician Gauss was in such-and-such a physical state," while he made that assertion, nothing about that brain state would have been necessarily true, and, for that matter, nothing about that brain state has anything to do with mathematics whatsoever.

This is a pretty stark difference. Yet all that neuroscience can tell us about is a brain state.

Which brings us to:

. . . what does mental activity have to do with either emergence or complexity, or science?

Well, if we are interested in mental activity as scientists, we'll want to provide explanations of that activity that are consistent with our theory of what scientific explanations are supposed to look like; and those explanations should, therefore, also be consistent with our picture of what the physical universe is like.

The reductionist will think we ought to offer one sort of explanation (because he has one picture of what the physical universe is like), while the emergentist will think we ought to offer a rather different sort of explanation (because he has a different picture of what the physical universe is like).

Now that I've responded to these questions, a possible follow-on would be for you to ask yet further questions, or else to comment on my responses. However, the very strong likelihood is that, in either case, the issues will already have been addressed by Blanshard or one of the other writers whom I've previously mentioned.

That's why what I'd like to do for now is just to put those questions/comments on "pause" until one or two readers have read at least one of these books. That would save us weeks of discussion that's probably already been very capably addressed there.

Best,
Ken
Jeanette M. N.
wickedatheist
Denver, CO
Post #: 3,279
Hi, Ken and Dan (and anyone else suckered in by this message board).

Dan:
. . . what do you mean by 'emergentism/reductionism'?
­
Ken:
This set of terms refers to competing ontologies (models of reality) and corresponding theories about what constitutes appropriate/satisfactory explanation in the sciences (including, most relevantly, explanations of what goes on in the brain).

Why would the physics of the brain be different from the physics of everything else? That reminds me of mind/body dualism.

More Ken:
Reductionists believe that everything ultimately consists of one basic sort of physical entity (say, strings or quarks, although the candidate seems to change every couple of decades or so), and that everything else in science can therefore be explained in terms of the physical properties of this basic "stuff."

Emergentists, however, believe that unique physical properties arise at different levels of organization (or, perhaps, complexity--a truly satisfactory vocabulary hasn't yet been developed for the distinctions in question), and that there are, therefore, limits to how far explanations couched in terms of the physical properties of this basic "stuff" will take us. What we should do, instead, is offer explanations couched in terms of the properties that are found (only) at "higher" levels.


As I have pointed out, the view of the "basic stuff" has evolved with increasing knowledge of that "stuff," and I doubt if anyone's questioning that there's more and more to be learned about subatomic particles and physics.

And "emergence" makes sense, if what you're saying is that the subatomic particles of my red dress are probably not red. These are only two conflicting views if something else is being implied, far beyond the definitions you've provided here.

Ken, from this thread's original post:

A book by a working scientist (Stuart Kauffman), which does a far better job of explaining why the subject is critically important is "Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion" -- however, it isn't as clear or as persuasive as Mitchell's book.

Stuart Kauffman's Reinventing the Sacred is in fact quite persuasive. It was the May, 2009 selection for the Denver Humanist Book Group (before it even had its own site), and it was what convinced me that "emergentism" is boloney.

Here is a Salon.com interview with Stuart Kauffman that might answer some of Dan's questions about what emergentism is about: http://www.salon.com/...­

Here's a quote from that Q&A:

Can you explain what emergence is?

There are things that we just can't deduce from particle physics -- life, agency, meaning, value and this thing called consciousness. The fact is that we can act on our own behalf and make choices. So agency is real. With agency comes value. Dinner is either good or bad. There's consciousness in the universe. We may not be able to explain it, but it's true. So the first new strand in the scientific worldview is emergence.

That's why emergentism is important to Kauffman: Because in a deterministic universe "there is no meaning, no value." That's not a scientific argument, but a (ridiculous) religious claim: If meaning and values don't exist in physics, then we can't have them in our lives. We don't want that, so we'd better start grasping for a way to explain values into the laws of physics.

And if we do have meaning and value, he thinks that makes determinism impossible. Never mind that the presence of both the emotions and the thinking ability to create those values were gifted to us by nature.

More Kauffman, same interview:

I don't doubt agency in my dog Windsor. And once you've got agency -- and I think it's sitting there at the origin of life -- then you've got food or poison, which I call "yuck" and "yum." And once you've got food or poison, it is either good or bad for that organism. So you've got value in the universe.

Yes, you've got value... but not necessarily anything that falls outside a deterministic explanation.

Also, while we do make choices, it's not clear how free they really are... but we are certainly influenced to a great degree (and maybe to an entire degree) by our DNA and life experiences. It certainly feels like we're making our choices freely, but it's easy to imagine that we're like puppets in a sense. Everything we do may have been set in motion when the universe began. I don't like the idea, but liking things isn't what makes them factual.

Not liking the idea that values are something we create doesn't mean that it isn't so, either.

And Kauffman says, "I think it's possible the mind is associated with quantum mechanics." Though he admits he doesn't know if it that is the case.

He also argues that we (secular humanists, like him) should use the word "God" to describe "the endless creativity of the universe," so that we'll be able to get along with believers in God by bamboozling them into thinking that we do, too. (Yes, I'm paraphrasing.) He seems to presume that god-believers are too dumb to figure it out if atheists use "God" as a code word for something totally not God.

And I wonder if he's trying to bamboozle his fellow secular humanists, too. Maybe he figures that since few of us will be able to argue with him on science, we won't notice that his arguments are not scientific in nature, but are stale arguments borrowed from religion (whose staleness he thinks we need to introduce to our view of science).
Eric B.
ejbman
Denver, CO
Post #: 684
A former member
Post #: 1,033
You know, guys, I think we could review one of Ken's books here online. Then we can love it or hate it as a group, in true forum fashion, and Ken will learn to appreciate the tremendous power of the internet as a tool for shopping. I am presently hella busy with my day job and its computers, frisky agents that they are, but will peruse Ken's suggestions when time permits and make a recommendation. I see that Jeanette already hates Stuart Kauffman so that may be a good starting point.

Great article, Eric. I like most of what I hear from Michael Shermer. The article really puts a nail in the coffin of those who don't believe in crop circles.

Happy Thank You Day to all.

Regards,
iDave.
Jeanette M. N.
wickedatheist
Denver, CO
Post #: 3,285
himDave:
I see that Jeanette already hates Stuart Kauffman so that may be a good starting point.

I don't ~hate~ Stuart Kauffman; I just think he's full of crap on a couple of points.

As for the Shermer article, I hope to read it at some (possibly imaginary) future time when I have more time than things with which to fill time.

Dan
danlg
Group Organizer
Broomfield, CO
Post #: 1,393
Jeanette:
­Hi, Ken and Dan (and anyone else suckered in by this message board).

Dan:
. . . what do you mean by 'emergentism/reductionism'?

Ken:
This set of terms refers to competing ontologies (models of reality) and corresponding theories about what constitutes appropriate/satisfactory explanation in the sciences (including, most relevantly, explanations of what goes on in the brain).

Why would the physics of the brain be different from the physics of everything else? That reminds me of mind/body dualism.
It sounds like an odd form of dualism... The more accurate question is 'how would a physics of the brain be sensible?'

I read much lately on this emergence/complexity stuff. Seems to me to be less complicated than previously argued (by Ken); and likewise, it seems to be an attempt to limit scientific inquiry?

Now I'm in favor of this 'limiting' so long as it is not called 'scientific'?

And that is why I think it is argued in haste. Science has begun to focus on the head of human beings, and there are some who like to keep the mystery 'mysterious'.

Here Ken sets his contrast,
...Emergentists, however, believe that unique physical properties arise at different levels of organization...and that there are, therefore, limits to how far explanations couched in terms of the physical properties of this basic "stuff" will take us....

Which means essentially that the matter of the brain as part of the scientific inquiry 'should' be restricted, because (1.) such inquiry is too complex for science to unravel, (2.) such inquiry leads to only further complexity not actual results (i.e. reductio ad absurdum due to the incompleteness of scientific description).

But this is contrasted to the 'reductionist' program Ken adds,
...Reductionists believe that everything ultimately consists of one basic sort of physical entity (say, strings or quarks, although the candidate seems to change every couple of decades or so), and that everything else in science can therefore be explained in terms of the physical properties of this basic "stuff."...

A small pointer here is that in actual studies done on brains, materialism is assumed, the physics of brain material is assumed, but the attempt to understand the brain's operation, the attempt to understand networks of complex systems (neuro-activity) is the matter of investigation. And by this reduction two things may be said; first such inquiry doesn't need M-Theory of a news 'physics' of the brain in reduction; second, if there is a matter of emergence, it would be 'how far are we to reduce our inquiry'--which safely it is presumed that at the 'neuro' and atomic level is needed.

To me, this is just common sense, the bit of (over) analysis and (over) conjecture confuses the subject.

And trying to argue that there is indeed a polemic at the heart of the matter, just seems to be some kind of artificial attempt to say 'science can't weigh in on the matter' or 'this is a matter for metaphysicians, we must keep it sacred; hooray for science, we've found some place where it cannot enter....'
A former member
Post #: 77
Seasons greetings, all.

To revisit the contentious issue du jour, Jeanette asked:

Why would the physics of the brain be different from the physics of everything else? That reminds me of mind/body dualism.

Well, I agree that would be odd indeed, though not altogether inconceivable, I suppose. However, that's not the claim. (And to keep flogging my favorite dead horse, that's the problem with discussing this issue -- or any other -- without the background issues receiving clarification first.)

At a high level, the emergentist sees physical reality as being onion-like. We find one set of physical properties (and explanatory principles) at the level of entities like quarks, another set at the level of atoms, and so on up the scale of complexity. That's why we (rightly) distinguish between branches of science like particle physics and chemistry. Chemistry may be able to tell us something about particle physics, and vice versa, but, in general, we'll find issues at each level of complexity that are unique to that level of complexity, and that can only be explained in terms of the physical properties that we find at that level, and not below (or above). (As previously mentioned, I'm not very happy with this term "complexity" because it isn't altogether clear what it means. Nor am I happy with "above" and "below," but that's about the best we can do for now.) As the brain represents about the farthest known reach of physical complexity, we shouldn't be surprised to find properties (such as consciousness) that particle physics can't serve to illuminate.

Continuing (and to quote Jeanette quoting myself):

More Ken:
Reductionists believe that everything ultimately consists of one basic sort of physical entity (say, strings or quarks, although the candidate seems to change every couple of decades or so), and that everything else in science can therefore be explained in terms of the physical properties of this basic "stuff."

Emergentists, however, believe that unique physical properties arise at different levels of organization (or, perhaps, complexity--a truly satisfactory vocabulary hasn't yet been developed for the distinctions in question), and that there are, therefore, limits to how far explanations couched in terms of the physical properties of this basic "stuff" will take us. What we should do, instead, is offer explanations couched in terms of the properties that are found (only) at "higher" levels.


To which Jeanette responded:

As I have pointed out, the view of the "basic stuff" has evolved with increasing knowledge of that "stuff," and I doubt if anyone's questioning that there's more and more to be learned about subatomic particles and physics.

Yes, I agree. But that's not to the point. (In an emergentist perspective what this means is that there are further layers to the onion.) Rather than somehow improving the reductionist argument, this destroys it outright, because everything was supposed to be explainable in terms of the previous tiny little bit of something -- yet there turns out to be an even tinier little bit of something.

Jeanette again:

And "emergence" makes sense, if what you're saying is that the subatomic particles of my red dress are probably not red. These are only two conflicting views if something else is being implied, far beyond the definitions you've provided here.


I'm not sure for now what I would say about the redness of red. It may or may not have to do with emergent properties.

Jeanette goes on to express considerable skepticism concerning Kauffman's book "Reinventing the Sacred."

Stuart Kauffman's Reinventing the Sacred is in fact quite persuasive. It was the May, 2009 selection for the Denver Humanist Book Group (before it even had its own site), and it was what convinced me that "emergentism" is boloney.

Here is a Salon.com interview with Stuart Kauffman that might answer some of Dan's questions about what emergentism is about: http://www.salon.com/...­


And she says" "Here's a quote from that Q&A:"

Can you explain what emergence is?

There are things that we just can't deduce from particle physics -- life, agency, meaning, value and this thing called consciousness. The fact is that we can act on our own behalf and make choices. So agency is real. With agency comes value. Dinner is either good or bad. There's consciousness in the universe. We may not be able to explain it, but it's true. So the first new strand in the scientific worldview is emergence.

So, in the following statement, I think a major misunderstanding (rather than a major disagreement) begins. Jeanette comments:

That's why emergentism is important to Kauffman: Because in a deterministic universe "there is no meaning, no value." That's not a scientific argument, but a (ridiculous) religious claim: If meaning and values don't exist in physics, then we can't have them in our lives. We don't want that, so we'd better start grasping for a way to explain values into the laws of physics.

Out of space. Continuing below.

A former member
Post #: 78
It isn't really the determinism of reductionism here that's the issue. Rather, it's the "ontological barreness" of it, that fails to do justice to the realities of the world around us -- including, but far from limited to, values.

I agree that meaning and value are part of what makes the emergentist postion important to Kauffman -- but that's an entirely separate issue from why emergentism is true. Similarly, there are various reasons why reductionism is important to people like the Churchlands, but that's also a separate issue (or at least should be) from why they think reductionism is true.

For example, I might accuse the Churchlands of, say, some sort of psychological need for everything to be explainable in a very simplistic way. And I might then accuse them of believing that "we had better start grasping for some simplistic sort of physics." Well, that claim might or might not be true. But, either way, the scientific issue -- which in this case means the proper model of reality -- is a separate issue.

Jeanette continues:

And if we do have meaning and value, he thinks that makes determinism impossible. Never mind that the presence of both the emotions and the thinking ability to create those values were gifted to us by nature.

I don't think that's what Kauffman thinks. Again, determinism isn't the issue. Distortion of reality is the issue, cutting off its feet, so to speak, to make it fit in a simplistic, pre-constructed box.

It's important to remember that emergentism is, like reductionism, a materialism. Kauffman doesn't dispute (at all) that our capabilities for thought and emotion emerged from an evolutionary process.

Jeanette again:

More Kauffman, same interview:

I don't doubt agency in my dog Windsor. And once you've got agency -- and I think it's sitting there at the origin of life -- then you've got food or poison, which I call "yuck" and "yum." And once you've got food or poison, it is either good or bad for that organism. So you've got value in the universe.

And she goes on to comment:

Yes, you've got value... but not necessarily anything that falls outside a deterministic explanation.

Again, I'd like to emphasize that determinism isn't the issue. (At least on this level.) Emergentists don't deny all possibility of scientific explanation. Rather, they deny that that explanation will always have to be made in terms of the properties of the latest tiny little bit of something. The "reduction" in reductionism refers to this scientific knee-jerk -- the need for everything to make sense exclusively in terms of the tiniest little bits of stuff -- for exclusively religious reasons.

Next, Jeanette comments:

Not liking the idea that values are something we create doesn't mean that it isn't so, either.

That's not what Kauffman doesn't like. Nor is it clear that we create values. But, assuming that that's actually the case, while this assertion is true, so is the opposite: not liking the idea that values are something we create doesn't mean that they are something we create. Liking has nothing to do with the truth in either case.

Next up, I think Kauffman is ascribed motives he doesn't have (certainly, I don't):

He also argues that we (secular humanists, like him) should use the word "God" to describe "the endless creativity of the universe," so that we'll be able to get along with believers in God by bamboozling them into thinking that we do, too. (Yes, I'm paraphrasing.) He seems to presume that god-believers are too dumb to figure it out if atheists use "God" as a code word for something totally not God.

I think all that Kauffman is really thinking here is something like this: "Many of us have an intuition that there is something more in the universe than just quarks (or the tiny-little-something du jour). In the past, we wrongly referred to at least part of this something as 'God.' But there really was something to that intuition, even though its content is really quite different from what some of us used to think it was."

Lastly, Jeanette comments:

And I wonder if he's trying to bamboozle his fellow secular humanists, too. Maybe he figures that since few of us will be able to argue with him on science, we won't notice that his arguments are not scientific in nature, but are stale arguments borrowed from religion (whose staleness he thinks we need to introduce to our view of science).

Again, this confounds Kauffman's reasons for thinking emergentism is important with his reasons for believing that it is true. Neither he, nor any other emergentist I know of, has borrowed anything from religion (if, by religion, we mean some sort of belief dependent upon the supernatural).

Best,
Ken
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