In philosophy, emergentism is the belief in emergence, particularly as it involves consciousness and the philosophy of mind, and as it contrasts (or not) with reductionism. A property of a system is said to be emergent if it is a new outcome of some other properties of the system and their interaction, while it is itself different from them.Emergent properties are not identical with, reducible to, or deducible from the other properties. The different ways in which this independence requirement can be satisfied lead to variant types of emergence.
All varieties of emergentism strive to be compatible with physicalism,the theory that the universe is composed exclusively of physical entities, and in particular with the evidence relating changes in the brain with changes in mental functioning. Many forms of emergentism, including proponents of complex adaptive systems, do not hold a material but rather a relational or processural view of the universe. Furthermore, they view mind–body dualism as a conceptual error insofar as mind and body are merely different types of relationships. As a theory of mind (which it is not always), emergentism differs from idealism, eliminative materialism, identity theories, neutral monism, panpsychism, and substance dualism, whilst being closely associated with property dualism. It is generally not obvious whether an emergent theory of mind embraces mental causation or must be considered epiphenomenal.
Some varieties of emergentism are not specifically concerned with the mind–body problem, and instead suggest a hierarchical or layered view of the whole of nature, with the layers arranged in terms of increasing complexity with each requiring its own special science. Typically physics (mathematical physics, particle physics, and classical physics) is basic, with chemistry built on top of it, then biology, psychology, and social sciences. Reductionists respond that the arrangement of the sciences is a matter of convenience, and that chemistry is derivable from physics (and so forth) in principle, an argument which gained force after the establishment of a quantum-mechanical basis for chemistry.
Other varieties see mind or consciousness as specifically and anomalously requiring emergentist explanation, and therefore constitute a family of positions in the philosophy of mind. Douglas Hofstadter summarises this view as "the soul is more than the sum of its parts". A number of philosophers have offered the argument that qualia constitute the hard problem of consciousness, and resist reductive explanation in a way that all other phenomena do not. In contrast, reductionists generally see the task of accounting for the possibly atypical properties of mind and of living things as a matter of showing that, contrary to appearances, such properties are indeed fully accountable in terms of the properties of the basic constituents of nature and therefore in no way genuinely atypical.
Intermediate positions are possible: for instance, some emergentists hold that emergence is neither universal nor restricted to consciousness, but applies to (for instance) living creatures, or self-organising systems, or complex systems.
Some philosophers hold that emergent properties causally interact with more fundamental levels, an idea known as downward causation. Others maintain that higher-order properties simply supervene over lower levels without direct causal interaction.
All the cases so far discussed have been synchronic, i.e. the emergent property exists simultaneously with its basis. Yet another variation operates diachronically. Emergentists of this type believe that genuinely novel properties can come into being, without being accountable in terms of the preceding history of the universe. (Contrast with indeterminism where it is only the arrangement or configuration of matter that is unaccountable). These evolution-inspired theories often have a theological aspect, as in the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne.
A refinement of vitalism may be recognized in contemporary molecular histology in the proposal that some key organising and structuring features of organisms, perhaps including even life itself, are examples of emergent processes; those in which a complexity arises, out of interacting chemical processes forming interconnected feedback cycles, that cannot fully be described in terms of those processes since the system as a whole has properties that the constituent reactions lack.
Whether emergent system properties should be grouped with traditional vitalist concepts is a matter of semantic controversy.In a light-hearted millennial vein, Kirshner and Michison call research into integrated cell and organismal physiology “molecular vitalism.”
According to Emmeche et al. (1997):
"On the one hand, many scientists and philosophers regard emergence as having only a pseudo-scientific status. On the other hand, new developments in physics, biology, psychology, and crossdisciplinary fields such as cognitive science, artificial life, and the study of non-linear dynamical systems have focused strongly on the high level 'collective behaviour' of complex systems, which is often said to be truly emergent, and the term is increasingly used to characterize such systems."
Emmeche et al. (1998) state that "there is a very important difference between the vitalists and the emergentists: the vitalist's creative forces were relevant only in organic substances, not in inorganic matter. Emergence hence is creation of new properties regardless of the substance involved." "The assumption of an extra-physical vitalis (vital force, entelechy, élan vital, etc.), as formulated in most forms (old or new) of vitalism, is usually without any genuine explanatory power. It has served altogether too often as an intellectual tranquilizer or verbal sedative—stifling scientific inquiry rather than encouraging it to proceed in new directions."
John Stuart Mill outlined his version of emergentism in System of Logic (1843). Mill argued that the properties of some physical systems, such as those in which dynamic forces combine to produce simple motions, are subject to a law of nature he called the "Composition of Causes". According to Mill, emergent properties are not subject to this law, but instead amount to more than the sums of the properties of their parts.
Mill believed that various chemical reactions (poorly understood in his time) could provide examples of emergent properties, although some critics believe that modern physical chemistry has shown that these reactions can be given satisfactory reductionist explanations. For instance, it has been claimed by Dirac that the whole of chemistry is, in principle, contained in the Schrödinger equation.
British philosopher C. D. Broad defended a realistic epistemology in The Mind and its Place in Nature (1925) arguing that emergent materialism is the most likely solution to the mind–body problem.
Broad defined emergence as follows:
Put in abstract terms the emergent theory asserts that there are certain wholes, composed (say) of constituents A, B, and C in a relation R to each other; that all wholes composed of constituents of the same kind as A, B, and C in relations of the same kind as R have certain characteristic properties; that A, B, and C are capable of occurring in other kinds of complex where the relation is not of the same kind as R; and that the characteristic properties of the whole R(A, B, C) cannot, even in theory, be deduced from the most complete knowledge of the properties of A, B, and C in isolation or in other wholes which are not of the form R(A, B, C).
This definition amounted to the claim that mental properties would count as emergent if and only if philosophical zombies were metaphysically possible[ citation needed ]. Many philosophers take this position to be inconsistent with some formulations of psychophysical supervenience.
Samuel Alexander's views on emergentism, argued in Space, Time, and Deity (1920), were inspired in part by the ideas in psychologist C. Lloyd Morgan's Emergent Evolution . Alexander believed that emergence was fundamentally inexplicable, and that emergentism was simply a "brute empirical fact":
"The higher quality emerges from the lower level of existence and has its roots therein, but it emerges therefrom, and it does not belong to that level, but constitutes its possessor a new order of existent with its special laws of behaviour. The existence of emergent qualities thus described is something to be noted, as some would say, under the compulsion of brute empirical fact, or, as I should prefer to say in less harsh terms, to be accepted with the “natural piety” of the investigator. It admits no explanation." (Space, Time, and Deity)
Despite the causal and explanatory gap between the phenomena on different levels, Alexander held that emergent qualities were not epiphenomenal. His view can perhaps best be described as a form of non-reductive physicalism (NRP) or supervenience theory.
Ludwig von Bertalanffy founded general system theory (GST), which is a more contemporary approach to emergentism. A popularization of many of the elements of GST may be found in The Web of Life by Fritjof Capra.
Addressing emergentism (under the guise of non-reductive physicalism) as a solution to the mind–body problem Jaegwon Kim has raised an objection based on causal closure and overdetermination.
Emergentism strives to be compatible with physicalism, and physicalism, according to Kim, has a principle of causal closure according to which every physical event is fully accountable in terms of physical causes. This seems to leave no "room" for mental causation to operate. If our bodily movements were caused by the preceding state of our bodies and our decisions and intentions, they would be overdetermined. Mental causation in this sense is not the same as free will, but is only the claim that mental states are causally relevant. If emergentists respond by abandoning the idea of mental causation, their position becomes a form of epiphenomenalism.
In detail: he proposes (using the chart on the right) that M1 causes M2 (these are mental events) and P1 causes P2 (these are physical events). P1 realises M1 and P2 realises M2. However M1 does not causally effect P1 (i.e., M1 is a consequent event of P1). If P1 causes P2, and M1 is a result of P1, then M2 is a result of P2. He says that the only alternatives to this problem is to accept dualism (where the mental events are independent of the physical events) or eliminativism (where the mental events do not exist).
Epiphenomenalism is a position on the mind–body problem which holds that physical and biochemical events within the human body are causal with respect to mental events. According to this view, subjective mental events are completely dependent for their existence on corresponding physical and biochemical events within the human body and themselves have no causal efficacy on physical events. The appearance that subjective mental states influence physical events is merely an illusion. For instance, fear seems to make the heart beat faster, but according to epiphenomenalism the biochemical secretions of the brain and nervous system —not the experience of fear—is what raises the heartbeat. Because mental events are a kind of overflow that cannot cause anything physical, yet have non-physical properties, epiphenomenalism is viewed as a form of property dualism.
In philosophy, physicalism is the metaphysical thesis that "everything is physical", that there is "nothing over and above" the physical, or that everything supervenes on the physical. Physicalism is a form of ontological monism—a "one substance" view of the nature of reality as opposed to a "two-substance" (dualism) or "many-substance" (pluralism) view. Both the definition of "physical" and the meaning of physicalism have been debated.
In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own. These properties or behaviors emerge only when the parts interact in a wider whole. For example, smooth forward motion emerges when a bicycle and its rider interoperate, but neither part can produce the behavior on their own.
Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena.
An epiphenomenon is a secondary phenomenon that occurs alongside or in parallel to a primary phenomenon. The word has two senses: one that connotes known causation and one that connotes absence of causation or reservation of judgment about it.
Vitalism is the belief that "living organisms are fundamentally different from non-living entities because they contain some non-physical element or are governed by different principles than are inanimate things". Where vitalism explicitly invokes a vital principle, that element is often referred to as the "vital spark", "energy" or "élan vital", which some equate with the soul. In the 18th and 19th centuries vitalism was discussed among biologists, between those who felt that the known mechanics of physics would eventually explain the difference between life and non-life and vitalists who argued that the processes of life could not be reduced to a mechanistic process. Some vitalist biologists proposed testable hypotheses meant to show inadequacies with mechanistic explanations, but these experiments failed to provide support for vitalism. Biologists now consider vitalism in this sense to have been refuted by empirical evidence, and hence regard it as a superseded scientific theory, according to Elizabeth Ann Williams.
Mind–body dualism is the view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.
In the philosophy of mind, emergentmaterialism is a theory which asserts that the mind is an irreducible existent in some sense, albeit not in the sense of being an ontological simple, and that the study of mental phenomena is independent of other sciences. It primarily maintains that the human mind's evolution is a product of material nature and that it cannot exist without material basis.
In philosophy, supervenience refers to a relation between sets of properties or sets of facts. X is said to supervene on Y if and only if some difference in Y is necessary for any difference in X to be possible. Here are some examples:
In philosophy of mind, panpsychism is the view that mind or a mind-like aspect is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality. It has taken on a wide variety of forms. Contemporary academic proponents hold that sentience or subjective experience is ubiquitous, while distancing these qualities from complex human mental attributes; they ascribe a primitive form of mentality to entities at the fundamental level of physics but do not ascribe it to most aggregates, such as rocks or buildings. On the other hand, some historical theorists ascribed attributes like life or spirits to all entities.
Property dualism describes a category of positions in the philosophy of mind which hold that, although the world is composed of just one kind of substance—the physical kind—there exist two distinct kinds of properties: physical properties and mental properties. In other words, it is the view that non-physical, mental properties inhere in or naturally supervene upon certain physical substances.
Jaegwon Kim was a Korean-American philosopher who was an emeritus professor at Brown University, but who also taught at several other leading American universities. He is best known for his work on mental causation, the mind-body problem and the metaphysics of supervenience and events. Key themes in his work include: a rejection of Cartesian metaphysics, the limitations of strict psychophysical identity, supervenience, and the individuation of events. Kim's work on these and other contemporary metaphysical and epistemological issues is well represented by the papers collected in Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays (1993).
Physical causal closure is a metaphysical theory about the nature of causation in the physical realm with significant ramifications in the study of metaphysics and the mind. In a strongly stated version, physical causal closure says that "all physical states have pure physical causes" — Jaegwon Kim, or that "physical effects have only physical causes" — Agustin Vincente, p. 150.
Anomalous monism is a philosophical thesis about the mind–body relationship. It was first proposed by Donald Davidson in his 1970 paper "Mental Events". The theory is twofold and states that mental events are identical with physical events, and that the mental is anomalous, i.e. under their mental descriptions, relationships between these mental events are not describable by strict physical laws. Hence, Davidson proposes an identity theory of mind without the reductive bridge laws associated with the type-identity theory. Since the publication of his paper, Davidson has refined his thesis and both critics and supporters of anomalous monism have come up with their own characterizations of the thesis, many of which appear to differ from Davidson's.
The problem of mental causation is a conceptual issue in the philosophy of mind. That problem, in short, is how to account for the common-sense idea that intentional thoughts or intentional mental states are causes of intentional actions. The problem divides into several distinct sub-problems, including the problem of causal exclusion, the problem of anomalism, and the problem of externalism. However, the sub-problem which has attracted most attention in the philosophical literature is arguably the exclusion problem.
Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.
The mind–body problem is a debate concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness in the human mind, and the brain as part of the physical body. It is distinct from the question of how mind and body function chemically and physiologically, as that question presupposes an interactionist account of mind-body relations. This question arises when mind and body are considered as distinct, based on the premise that the mind and the body are fundamentally different in nature.
Interactionism or interactionist dualism is the theory in the philosophy of mind which holds that matter and mind are two distinct and independent substances that exert causal effects on one another. It is one type of dualism, traditionally a type of substance dualism though more recently also sometimes a form of property dualism.
In philosophy, downward causation is a causal relationship from higher levels of a system to lower-level parts of that system: for example, mental events acting to cause physical events, The term was originally coined in 1974 by the philosopher and social scientist Donald T. Campbell.
Jessica M. Wilson is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, Scarborough. Her research focuses on metaphysics, especially on the metaphysics of science and mind, the epistemologies of skepticism, a priori deliberation, and necessity. Wilson was awarded the Lebowitz Prize for excellence in philosophical thought by Phi Beta Kappa in conjunction with the American Philosophical Association.