Weak and Strong Emergence, what is it?

  • Thread starter Q_Goest
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Hi Dr. Dick...

In this context, I mean absolutely not deducible at this time.

Regarding your post, "my deduction", I did open it last night after returning from a late evening...it was a lot of text! Screenfulls and screenfulls. Then I googled you...there are a lot of Richard D. Staffords out there...could only find 2 entries, of posts to websites such as this, that seemed at all relevant. However, you've clearly put a lot of work into your thinking and analysis. Do you have a website listing your publications? Also, do you have an area of specialty? Thanks.

Chestnut
 
Causal Forces in Biological Sciences...emergence? downward causation?

Dear Q-Goest,

I've gotten off on a bit of a tangent, I'm afraid...have you read anything by Rupert Sheldrake? I've just begun his "A New Science of Life", and it appears he will be addressing causal forces as well...and appears may be in agreement with Chalmers' belief in necessity for new physical laws. The book jacket said the Royal Academy voted it the book most needing to be burned when it was published, while Nature had kudos for it.

As an aside, I find fascinating the various arguments that God exists, or that there is a purpose or meaning of life, couched in scientific or analytical philosophical terms. From Thomas Aquinas' 7 Proofs of God, to physics-as-explanation for the unprovable in the movie, "What the Bleep do we Know", to everything in between, it seems for centuries there has been a quest to couch the unprovable in scientific or analytic terms. Apparently simple belief isn't enough. I've got a love of science and philosophy, and what I believe to be a knowledge of their limits, at present. What I love to do is read the attempts to discuss the intangibles, the sums that are greater than the parts, something a layperson would call believing, or faith, or even self-evident, and see if it can be done. If it can...what a paper that would make!

At any rate, Sheldrake first discusses the physico-chemical processes/paradigm as
the framework of thought within which questions about the physico-chemico mechanisms of life processes can be asked and answered.
It is mechanistic, but he believes it
will be the only framework available to experimental biologists until another alternative is discovered.
He states
Any new theory capable of extending or going beyond the mechanistic theory will have to do more than assert that life involves qualities or factors at present unrecognized by the physical sciences; it will have to say what sorts of things these qualities or factors are, how they work, and what relationship they have to known physico-chemical processes.
He addresses the idea of a new type of causal factor, unknown to the physical sciences, which interacts with physico-chemical processes within living organisms, and describes the vitalist philosophy, the organismic philosophy and the morphogenetic field philosophy and their contributions to this idea. Vitalist: there exists a new type of causal factor, unknown to the physical sciences which interacts with physico-chemical processes within living organisms. Conclusion: no repeatable results or predictions, therefore not valid scientifically.

Organismic: not everything in the universe can be explained from the bottom up in terms of properties or atoms or hypothetical particles. Recognizes the existence of hierarchically organized systems that possess properties which cannot be fully understood in terms of the properties exhibited by their parts in isolation from one another (not deducible). Sheldrake favors A.N. Whitehead's description of everything as an organism, where "biology is the study of larger organisms...physics is the study of smaller organisms". Conclusion: no testable predictions, therefore not valid.

Morphogentic fields:
the term itself seems to imply a new type of physical field which plays a role in the development of form.
Conclusion:
the concept can only be of practical scientific value if it leads to testable predictions that differ from those of the conventional mechanistic theory.
Sheldrake's book is said to demonstrate the last conclusion. I find this interesting because it feeds right into our discussion of emergence and downward causation. There are hints that his work supports LePoidevin (cited in another post), so am looking forward to reading more.

Hope all well in your world!

Chestnut
 
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Q_Goest

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Hi Chestnut,
I haven't read anything by Sheldrake, so I looked him up on the net. Wikipedia has this on him:
His best known book, A New Science of Life, was published a week after the New Scientist article. He put forward the hypothesis of formative causation (the theory of morphic resonance)[3], which proposes that phenomena — particularly biological ones — become more probable the more often they occur, and therefore that biological growth and behaviour become guided into patterns laid down by previous similar events. He suggests that this underlies many aspects of science, from evolution to laws of nature. Indeed, he writes that the laws of nature are better thought of as mutable habits that have evolved since the Big Bang.
Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rupert_Sheldrake

also:

Sheldrake observed:
"The instructors [at university] said that all morphogenesis is genetically programmed. They said different species just follow the instruction in their genes. But a few moments' reflection show that this reply is inadequate. All the cells of the body contain the same genes. In your body, the same genetic program is present in your eye cells, liver cells and the cells in your arms. The ones in your legs. But if they are all programmed identically, how do they develop so differently?"
Sheldrake then became interested in "holistic" ideas after reading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's works on the topic. He developed a theory to explain this problem of morphology, with its basic concept relying on a universal field encoding the "basic pattern" of an object. He termed it the "morphogenetic field".
The morphogenetic field would provide a force that guided the development of an organism as it grew, making it take on a form similar to that of others in its species. DNA was not the source of structure itself, but rather a "receiver" that translated instructions in the field into physical form.
Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morphic_resonance

Is that an accurate description of any of his ideas? If so, I guess I'd understand why "The book jacket said the Royal Academy voted it the book most needing to be burned when it was published,".

I see the intro of his book is also given online at Amazon.com:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0892815353/?tag=pfamazon01-20
It seems to confirm what the Wiki article is saying. I don't believe there's any need to resort to morphogenetic fields though. What little I know about biology is that there are chemical concentrations throughout the body during growth which are responsible for organ development. I think someone in the biology area here could shed some light on this if you're interested.

Chestnut said: What I love to do is read the attempts to discuss the intangibles, the sums that are greater than the parts, something a layperson would call believing, or faith, or even self-evident, and see if it can be done. If it can...what a paper that would make!
Yes! Stapp's paper doesn't quite make it, though I'd agree with his conclusions. Do we need something more than reductionism and "weak emergence" to understand life? I believe we do, but I disagree with Sheldrake on the level at which that operates. Sheldrake from what I understand, is suggesting something along the lines of what Chalmers is suggesting, though Chalmers is careful not to say anything that might get his books burned! lol

I think the level at which 'strong emergence' operates (if you can call it that) is this mesoscopic level. Protein folding is discussed quite a bit in the Laughlin paper I mentioned. Is that physically irreducible? I think so, and I think there are a number of irreducible phenomena at this mesoscopic level. I think consciousness and life in general are also irreducible below the mesoscopic level, but not above. Above that level, I see no reason to resort to irreducible physical laws such as Sheldrake's morphogenetic field.

You quoted Sheldrake however in this statement I believe:
Any new theory capable of extending or going beyond the mechanistic theory will have to do more than assert that life involves qualities or factors at present unrecognized by the physical sciences; it will have to say what sorts of things these qualities or factors are, how they work, and what relationship they have to known physico-chemical processes.
Interesting. It's a valid point, though I don't think it necessarily supports his ideas about morphogenetic fields. I can understand now why you're interested in this topic though. I'd agree his ideas about this field is a form of strong emergence. It seems strong emergence ideas are rather vague. In Sheldrake's case, he seems to be much less vague but unfortunately I disagree with his concept as I don't believe we need anything more than classical mechanics to account for any phenomena at this level.

Have you given any thought to the difference between classical mechanics and quantum mechanics when it comes to emergence?
 
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