THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE, #30–Beyond The Mechanistic Worldview V: Dynamic Emergence, Life, Consciousness, and Free Agency.

By Robert Hanna

“FUTUREWORLD,” by A. Lee/Unsplash

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This book, THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE: Uniscience and the Modern World, by Robert Hanna, presents and defends a critical philosophy of science and digital technology, and a new and prescient philosophy of nature and human thinking.

It is being made available here in serial format, but you can also download and read or share a .pdf of the complete text–including the BIBLIOGRAPHY–of THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FUTURE HERE.

This thirtieth installment contains sub-section 2.4.2.4.

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We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them. (Pascal, 1995: #110, p. 28)

If there is any science humankind really needs, it is the one I teach, of how to occupy properly that place in [the world] that is assigned to humankind, and how to learn from it what one must be in order to be human. (Rem 20: 45)

Natural science will one day incorporate the science of humankind, just as the science of humankind will incorporate natural science; there will be a single science. (Marx, 1964: p. 70, translation modified slightly)

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

A NOTE ON REFERENCES TO KANT’S WORKS

PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

0. Introduction: Science, The Four Horsemen of The New Apocalypse, and The Uniscience

0.0 How Uncritical and Unreformed Science Is Literally Killing The Modern World

0.1 My Aim In This Book

0.2 The Uniscience and Pascal’s Dictum

Chapter 1. Natural Piety: A Kantian Critique of Science

1.0 Kantian Heavy-Duty Enlightenment and The Uniscience

1.1 Kant’s Neo-Aristotelian Natural Power Grid

1.2 Kant, Natural Piety, and The Limits of Science

1.3 From Kant’s Anti-Mechanism to Kantian Anti-Mechanism

1.4 In Defense of Natural Piety

1.5 Scientific Pietism and Scientific Naturalism

1.6 How to Ground Natural Science on Sensibility

1.7 Sensible Science 1: Natural Science Without Natural Mechanism

1.8 Sensible Science 2: Natural Science Without Materialism/Physicalism

1.9 Sensible Science 3: Natural Science Without Scientism

1.10 Frankenscience, the Future of Humanity, and the Future of Science

Chapter 2. This is the Way the World Ends: A Philosophy of Civilization Since 1900, The Rise of Mechanism, and The Emergence of Neo-Organicism

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Wrestling with Modernity: 1900–1940

2.1.1 Six Sociocultural or Sociopolitical Developments

2.1.2 Two Philosophical Developments: Classical Analytic Philosophy and First Wave Organicism

2.1.3 Architectural and Artistic Trends

2.2 The Historical Black Hole, The Mechanistic Mindset, and The Mechanistic Worldview: 1940–1980

2.2.1 Formal and Natural Science After 1945, The Mechanistic Mindset, and The Rise of The Mechanistic Worldview

2.2 The Emergence of Post-Classical Analytic Philosophy

2.2.3 The Two Images Problem and its Consequences

2.2.4 Modernism and Countercurrents in the Arts and Design

2.3 The Philosophical Great Divide, Post-Modernist Cultural Nihilism, and Other Apocalyptic Developments: 1980–2022

2.3.1 The Rise of Po-Mo Philosophy

2.3.2 Po-Mo Architecture: Unconstrained Hybridity

2.3.3 Other Apocalyptic Developments: Crises in Physics and Big Science, and The One-Two Punch

2.4 From The Mechanistic Worldview to Neo-Organicism

2.4.0 Against The Mechanistic Worldview

2.4.1 Seven Arguments Against The Mechanistic Worldview

2.4.1.1 Logical and Mathematical Arguments

2.4.1.2 Physical and Metaphysical Arguments

2.4.1.3 Mentalistic and Agential Arguments

2.4.2 Beyond The Mechanistic Worldview: The Neo-Organicist Worldview

2.4.2.1 The Neo-Organist Thesis 1: Solving The Mind-Body Problem

2.4.2.2 Dynamic Systems Theory and The Dynamic World Picture

2.4.2.3 The Neo-Organicist Thesis 2: Solving The Free Will Problem

2.4.2.4 Dynamic Emergence, Life, Consciousness, and Free Agency

Chapter 3. Thought-Shapers

Chapter 4. How To Complete Physics

Chapter 5. Digital Technology Only Within The Limits of Human Dignity

00. Conclusion: The Point Is To Shape The World

APPENDICES

Appendix 1. A Neo-Organicist Turn in Formal Science: The Case of Mathematical Logic

Appendix 2. A Neo-Organicist Note on The Löwenheim-Skolem Theorem and “Skolem’s Paradox”

Appendix 3. A Neo-Organicist Approach to The Nature of Motion

Appendix 4. Sensible Set Theory

Appendix 5. Neo-Organicism and The Rubber Sheet Cosmos

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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2.4.2.4 Dynamic Emergence, Life, Consciousness, and Free Agency

By emergence, in general, I mean the formal, natural, or social-institutional process whereby a categorically simpler (less complex, more superficial) old structure or system S1 evolves — opens up and unfolds — into a categorically richer (more complex, deeper-rooted) new structure or system S2, such that S2 makes explicit what was previously only implicit in S1. For example, human social institutions emerge from human mindedness; human mindedness emerges from complex organismic life; complex organismic life emerges from unicellular organismic life; and unicellular organismic life emerges from non-equilibrium thermodynamic matter/energy flows exemplifying classical quantum properties or states such as the particle/wave duality, complementarity, entanglement, and non-locality.

This definition of emergence — in terms of processes whereby structures or systems evolve from older, simpler, less complex and more superficial global properties or states, into essentially newer, more complex, and deeper-rooted global properties or states of that structure or system, thereby making explicit what was previously only implicit in the earlier states — is sharply distinct from standard definitions of emergence in terms of a synchronic and time-reversible strong supervenience relation between qualitative or relational properties or states of parts, and distinct qualitative or relational global properties or states of wholes. Indeed, if I’m correct about this, then the former kind of emergence is metaphysically genuine emergence, and the latter kind of emergence is merely a metaphysically phony emergence, i.e., nothing but a metaphysical myth. Let me explain.

For clarity’s sake, and in order for what follows in this sub-sub-section to make sense to readers who don’t closely follow the debates in recent or contemporary Analytic metaphysics, I’ll define a metaphysical relation called strong supervenience.

Strong supervenience (Kim, 1993a: esp. part 1; Horgan, 1993; Chalmers, 1996: chs. 1–3) is a necessary determination-relation between sets of properties or states of different ontological “levels,” a relation that is weaker than strict property/state-identity, and is usually taken to be asymmetric, although two-way or bilateral supervenience is also possible. But assuming for the purposes of simpler exposition that strong supervenience is asymmetric, then, more precisely, B-properties/states (= the higher level properties/states) strongly supervene on A-properties/states (= the lower-level properties/states) if and only if (i) for any property/state F among the A-properties/states had by something X, F necessitates X’s also having property/state G among the B-properties/states (upwards necessitation), and (ii) there cannot be a change in any of X’s B-properties/states without a corresponding change in X’s A-properties/states (necessary co-variation). It follows from strong supervenience that any two things X and Y share all their A-properties/states in common only if they share all their B-properties/states in common (indiscriminability).

In turn, logical strong supervenience is a super-strong version of strong supervenience which says that the necessitation relations between the B-properties/states and the A-properties/states are logical and a priori. Or more simply put: The B-properties/states are “nothing more than” and “nothing over and above” the A-properties/states. If logical strong supervenience holds, then if there were such a being as an all-powerful and all-knowing creator God, and if They were to create and/or know all the A-properties/states, then They would have nothing more to do in order to create and/or know all the B-properties/states. By contrast to logical strong supervenience, natural or nomological strong supervenience is a modally weaker notion which says that the necessitation relations between the B-properties/states and the A-properties/states are determined by laws of nature, and hold in all and only the worlds in which those natural laws obtain.

It’s crucial to recognize that no matter what its level of modal strength, strong supervenience specifies at best a set of extrinsic modal properties and relations (namely, upwards necessitation, necessary co-variation, and indiscriminability) between a thing’s A-properties/states and its B-properties/states, or between any two things’ A-properties/states and B-properties/states. If relations of strong supervenience hold for a thing or things, as such, then there is no further implication that these are relations of constitution, essence, or efficacious causal power, such that a thing’s or things’ immanent structural characteristics — and in particular, if the thing or things are natural or physical, their efficacious causal powers — depend on these relations. Conversely, if relations of constitution, essence, or causal efficacy hold for a thing or things, then there is no further implication that strong supervenience holds for them. In short, the metaphysics of strong supervenience is modally shallow, not modally deep, unlike the real metaphysics of manifestly real constitution, essence, or causality (Hanna, 2017a).

Correspondingly, as Jaegwon Kim repeatedly pointed out (Kim, 1993a), the fundamental metaphysical flaw in the notion of strong supervenience is that, given the modal shallowness of the strong supervenience relation, the possession of a set of efficacious causal powers by the supervenience base inherently rules out and undermines — excludes — the transmission of those efficacious causal powers to the supervening properties/states, thereby rendering the supervening properties/states epiphenomenal and causally inert. Hence this is known as The Causal Exclusion Problem, aka Kim’s Causal Exclusion Worry.

Now back to emergence. The concept of emergence has its historical source in early 20th century debates about scientific reductionism, and in particular the mechanism vs. vitalism controversy in the philosophy of biology (Stephan, 1992; McLaughlin, 1992). Eventually, that controversy withered away — no doubt because by the end of the 1950s, scientific naturalism (including the sub-doctrines of scientism, universal formal and natural mechanism, and reductive materialism/physicalism), was the conventional wisdom in mainstream Analytic philosophy (see chapter 2 above; and Hanna, 2021a: ch. XVII). In the late 1990s and early 2000s however, the concept of emergence (as it were) re-emerged in the context of the mind-body problem and more specifically in the context of the problem of mental causation (Beckermann et al., 1992; O’Connor, 2020).

Very simply put, the general doctrine of emergence says that irreducibly new global properties or states of a formal, natural, or social-institutional system can come out of old properties or states of that system. In other and even fewer words, emergence is formal or natural creativity.

For the time being, and for simplicity’s sake, I’ll concentrate on emergence as it applies to natural systems, all of which are dynamic organic systems in space and time. Later in this sub-sub-section, I’ll briefly come back to emergence as it applies to formal systems — which I’ll call constructive emergence — in order to present an illuminating analogy with its application to dynamic organic systems. And I’ll leave social-institutional emergence for another day.

In any case, it should be immediately noticed, however, that the contrast between the newness versus the oldness of the properties of a natural system is ambiguous as between whether it should be understood as the contrast between, on the one hand, (a) the less ontologically basic properties or states of a natural system vs. the more ontologically basic properties or states of that system (for example, the system’s temperature vs. its mean molecular motion, or the system’s being water vs. its being H2O), or whether, on the other hand, it should be understood as the contrast between (b) those properties or states of a natural system whose instances exist earlier in time vs. those properties or states of that system whose instances exist only later in time (for example, the system’s being a build-up of towering cumulus clouds vs. its later being a thunderstorm, or the system’s acorn-ness vs. its later oak tree-ness). Correspondingly, the notion of coming out of is ambiguous as to whether it should be understood as, on the one hand, (a∗) the simultaneous strong supervenience of various global properties or states of the natural system on the non-relational or relational properties of its local proper parts (for example, the strong supervenience of the system’s temperature at any given time on its mean molecular motion at that same time, or the strong supervenience of the system’s being water on its being H2O), or whether, on the other hand it should be understood as (b∗) the evolution of various global properties or states of the system only over time (for example, the growth of a thunderstorm out of a build-up of towering cumulus clouds, or the growth of an oak tree out of an acorn). Noting these conceptual ambiguities is extremely important, because the pair consisting of (a) and (b), and the pair consisting of (a∗) and (b∗), while they may seem superficially consistent with each other, are in fact inconsistent. This becomes clearer when we formulate the notions corresponding to each pair more explicitly. The conceptual pair consisting of (a) and (a∗) is what I’ll call essentially synchronic and nomologically strongly supervenient emergence, aka static emergence, aka phony emergence, and the conceptual pair consisting of (b) and (b∗) is what I’ll call essentially diachronic and non-supervenient emergence, aka dynamic emergence, aka genuine emergence.

The paradigm of essentially synchronic and nomologically strongly supervenient emergence, aka static emergence, aka phony emergence, is what Kim aptly called mereological supervenience (Kim, 1993c), whereby the global properties of a natural system, supposedly, locally nomologically strongly supervene on its compositional atoms; whereas the paradigm of essentially diachronic and non-supervenient emergence, aka dynamic emergence, aka genuine emergence, is natural growth. Therefore it should be already obvious that whereas the concept of static emergence is an inherently mechanical notion, the concept of dynamic emergence is an inherently organic notion.

Or otherwise put, the concept of static emergence is how the mechanistic worldview “murders to dissect” and tries to turn natural growth into its dialectical contrary.

Essentially Synchronic and Nomologically Strongly Supervenient Emergence, aka Static Emergence, aka Phony Emergence

A natural system (supposedly[i]) has essentially synchronic emergent properties or states if and only if new properties or states of that system come out of old properties or states of that system such that (i) necessarily, the new properties or states of that system occur at a less ontologically basic level than the old properties or states (for example, the system’s temperature vs. its mean molecular motion), and (ii) necessarily, the new properties are global properties of the system that simultaneously locally nomologically strongly supervene on the non-relational or relational properties of its local proper parts (for example, the local nomological strong supervenience of the system’s temperature at any given time on its mean molecular motion at that same time, or the local nomological strong supervenience of the system’s being water at any given time on its being H2O at that same time).

More generally, the doctrine of static emergence (mistakenly) says four things.

First, nature contains physical wholes, or systems, whose local proper parts relationally interact over time in a way that yields novel global properties of these systems.

Second, these novel global properties cannot be predicted from scientific knowledge of the proper parts alone.

Third, nevertheless these novel global properties do locally nomologically strongly supervene on the local intrinsic, non-relational fundamental physical properties of their proper parts, together with the extrinsic relational properties of those proper parts, and are not identical with any of those properties.

Fourth and finally, this local nomological strong supervenience is only accidentally diachronic, and time-reversible (symmetrical with respect to its temporal direction, temporally bidirectional), hence essentially synchronic.

Essentially Diachronic and Non-Supervenient Emergence, aka Dynamic Emergence, aka Genuine Emergence

A natural system has essentially diachronically emergent properties or states if and only if new properties of that system come out of old properties of that system such that (i) necessarily, the new properties or states of that system are instantiated later than its old properties and do not exist in that system at any time prior to the existence of its old properties or states (for example, the system exemplifies being a thunderstorm later than it exemplifies being a build-up of towering cumulus clouds, and can never exemplify being a thunderstorm before it has exemplified being a build-up of towering cumulus clouds, or the system exemplifies oak tree-ness later than it exemplifies acornness, and can never exemplify oak-treeness before it has exemplified acorn-ness, etc.), and (ii) necessarily, the new properties or states of the system evolve from older,simpler, less complex, and more superficial causally efficacious global properties or states, into essentially newer, more complex, and deeper-rooted causally efficacious global properties or states of that structure or system, by means of various causal interactions between the structure or system and its environment over thermodynamically irreversible/unidirectional time, thereby making explicit what was previously only implicit in the earlier properties or states (for example, the growth of a thunderstorm out of a build-up of towering cumulus clouds, or the growth of an oak tree out of an acorn, etc.).

More generally, the doctrine of dynamic emergence (correctly) says four things.

First, nature contains physical processes, or systems, namely self-organizing thermodynamic systems, whose new properties or states evolve from older, simpler, less complex and more superficial causally efficacious global properties or states of that system, into essentially newer, more complex, and deeper-rooted causally efficacious global properties or states of that system, by means of various causal interactions between the system and its environment over thermodynamically irreversible/ unidirectional time, thereby making explicit what was previously only implicit in the earlier properties or states.

Second, the novel and causally efficacious global properties or states of such systems cannot be predicted from scientific knowledge of the proper parts alone.

Third, these novel and causally efficacious global properties or states do not locally nomologically strongly supervene on the local intrinsic non-relational fundamental physical properties of all their proper parts, together with the extrinsic relational properties of those proper parts, and are not identical with any of those properties, nor do they globally nomologically strongly supervene on fundamental physical properties.

Fourth and finally, dynamic emergence is time-irreversible (asymmetric with respect to its temporal direction, temporally unidirectional), hence essentially diachronic.

Everyday examples of essentially diachronic and non-supervenient dynamic emergence include the non-organismic growth of thunderstorms out of build-ups of towering cumulus clouds, and the organismic growth of oak trees out of acorns. But there is also strong evidence for essentially diachronic/unidirectional and non-supervenient dynamic emergence from entangled quantum systems and quantum field theory (Silberstein and McGeever, 1999; Stapp, 1993). In entangled quantum systems, the newly resulting compound determines the original constituents (particles) rather than the other way around, as mereological supervenience would suggest. Indeed, quantum field theory strongly suggests that there’s no ultimate noumenal level of ‘‘really real’’particles on which everything else is logically or nomologically strongly supervenient (Bickhard and Campbell, 2000: p. 331). Instead, quantum fields are patterns of process over time that exist in many different modes of complexity. The phenomenon of spontaneous symmetry breaking (Brading, Castellani, and Teh, 2017) similarly strongly suggests dynamic emergence. And there’s also Bohm’s profound idea of quantum potential: a pilot-wave guiding the behavior of the particle (Bohm, 1952; Bohm and Hiley, 1975; Bohm, 1982; Bruntup, 1998: p. 147). Therefore, contemporary particle physics and quantum mechanics, at least according to my neo-organicist take on the Bohmian “hidden variables” interpretation (see section 4.3 below) strongly confirms the existence of dynamic emergence.

So, the basic metaphysical claim I’m making in this sub-sub-section is that human free agency, human rationality, conscious animal minds, complex organismic life, and unicellular organismic life, all non-superveniently and causally efficaciously emerge in far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric/unidirectional, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic systems, hence they are rightly regarded as paradigm examples of genuine emergence. And leaving aside the jargon of contemporary Analytic metaphysics now, my basic point is just this: human free agency, human rationality, conscious animal minds, complex organismic life, and unicellular organismic life, all arise in nature as temporally novel, immanent structural properties or states of natural processes possessing a certain suitable level of thermodynamic complexity. As immanent-structural, such features do not metaphysically pop out of these natural processes, at all, but even more specifically they do not metaphysically pop out at-a-time, or synchronically, since the thermodynamics of the processes themselves, in asymmetric time, is inherently and internally guided and self-determined by these very same structural features: on the contrary, they evolve. By this, I mean that one less complex state of far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, and complex, but still non-self-organizing or non-living thermodynamics (for example, the Belousov-Zhabotinsky chemical reaction, with or without a catalyst and light-excitation (Prigogine, 1997: pp. 66–67; Wikipedia, 2022g[ii]) dynamically opens up and unfolds into another, essentially richer thermodynamic structure (for example, that of unicellular organismic life), just as the less complex system of the rational numbers constructively opens up and unfolds into the essentially richer system of the real numbers by means of, for example, Cantorian diagonalization, the power-set operation, or the Dedekind-cut operation; and constructive emergence in formal systems is also manifest when we move from the natural or whole numbers to the rational numbers, from sentential logic to classical predicate logic, from classical predicate logic to Principia Mathematica-style mathematical logic,[iii] or from classical logic to non-classical logic (Hanna, 2006b: esp. ch. 2).

“Opening up and unfolding into” is of course a metaphor. Nevertheless, I think that by means of an evocatively thought-shaping image, it accurately conveys the core idea that the dynamic emergence is essentially inside the asymmetric spatiotemporal processes constituting its non-equilibrium thermodynamics, just as the real numbers are essentially between the rational numbers, and the rational numbers are essentially between the natural and whole numbers. Dynamic emergence, aka genuine emergence, then, is the spatiotemporally asymmetric self-revelation of, opening-and-unfolding-into, actualization of, or rendering explicit, a previously merely implicit and potential essentially richer thermodynamic structure, with correspondingly new efficacious causal powers. Confusing synchronic nomologically strongly supervenient emergence, aka static emergence, aka phony emergence, with dynamic emergence, aka genuine emergence, is a paradigmatic example of what Whitehead aptly called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness: mistaking the abstract for the concrete (Whitehead, 1967: p. 51). But in this case, it’s also a paradigmatic example of mistaking a metaphysical myth for what’s manifestly real.

NOTES

[i] Remember, I’m arguing for the idea that static emergence is nothing but a metaphysical myth; hence I don’t want to be taken even to imply that I think that there really is such a thing.

[ii] The Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction can be excited into self-organizing activity by means of the influence of light, using tris(bipyridine)ruthenium(II) chloride as a catalyst. But even this still falls short of organismic life.

[iii] Gödel’s incompleteness theorems — whose proofs deploy Gödel-numbering, Cantorian diagonalization, and the Liar Paradox — show that this is a radical step, essentially analogous to the constructive emergence of the real numbers from the rational numbers. See (Gödel, 1931).

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Mr Nemo

Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.