Tuesday, 06 September 2016 13:41

Emergence Featured

Two young men both tried to move scraps of paper with their minds, one failed, he became a notable physicist and a bit of a philosopher and he became harshly dismissive of parapsychology, although he did develop a fondness for the utterly bizarre Everett-Wheeler (10500+) multiple universe hypothesis. The other one felt an unexpected breeze suddenly move his scrap of paper, ‘that will do’ he decided, he became a notable wizard and a bit of a philosopher but he became too sceptical to become an acceptable scientist. Oddly they shared a surname.

Emergent phenomena arise when systems exhibit properties and behaviours that their component parts do not seem to exhibit on their own. ‘Weakly Emergent’ phenomena like the bulk behaviour of many solids do seem in principle reducible to the properties of the atoms which compose them.

However ‘Strongly Emergent’ phenomena like living organisms, the weather, and economic behaviour do not seem similarly reducible, epistemologically or ontologically, to the behaviour of their component parts at lower levels. Something about the complexity of these systems allows them to exhibit properties that do not seem to come from anywhere except from the very complexity of their structures.

Even if we eventually discover a ‘theory of everything’ consisting of a small handful of equations which describe all the fundamental processes of the universe, the existence of grasshoppers or the Mona-Lisa would probably not appear as inevitable consequence of them.

At the time of writing we do have  a Core Theory, see picture above, most of the symbols in it act as shorthand for rather more complicated entire equations. It can tell us precisely what a wave/particle will probably do under certain circumstances. However it offers no clue as to which way time will flow, the reasons for the vales of fundamental constants, or much of a clue as to what forms of complexity could emerge from it, rather like the hypothesis of causality it has far better explanatory power when used backwards. Plus it only works in weak gravity situations and the Higgs part of it looks a bit dodgy. The supreme achievement of the Core Theory lies in its revelation of the enormity of what we didn’t even realise we don’t know, it has massively expanded our awareness of our ignorance.

According to Science, consciousness arises as an emergent phenomenon from matter. As biological complexity and the processing power of nervous systems becomes selected for, then the process of ‘consciousness’ gradually develops. Even if we cannot precisely specify what we mean by ‘consciousness’ we can appreciate some kind of a quantitative and probably a qualitative difference between the behaviour of ourselves and our fellows and say, rocks for example. Dogs and many other animals quite plainly exhibit something of what we recognise as consciousness as well.

A phenomenon such as consciousness plainly resists a complete reduction to the functions of the component parts of the systems which give rise to it, such as the nerve cells, the chemistry of those cells, and the particle physics underlying the chemistry. Rather the incredibly complicated arrangement of matter in a brain supports behaviour which does not seem present in its component parts.

Or does it? The philosophy of Panpsychism attempts to explain the existence of consciousness by describing it as a fundamental attribute of all matter. Thus even individual subatomic particles must have it to some degree. Well individual particles do exhibit indeterminate and thus unpredictable behaviour and they seem capable of simple communication with each other by quantum entanglement, and emergent properties arise all the way up the scale, the properties of water for example do not seem entirely defined by those of its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but they at least have the freedom to exhibit such behaviour.

The tired debate about Free Will versus Determinism usually becomes bogged down by the assumptions that matter can only behave deterministically or randomly, neither of which satisfies any criterion of free will, and so free will must either arise from something immaterial or ‘spiritual’, or prove illusory. However if consciousness arises as an emergent property of matter, then so can free will. Beyond a certain level of complexity an organism (and perhaps even a machine) will start to self-generate behaviour that does not always causally depend on its component parts, or on its inputs, or on pure randomness either.

According to many Religions, matter arises as an emergent phenomenon from consciousness. Thus some immaterial but conscious deity or other simply wishes or imagines the material universe into manifestation. Just how such deities achieved consciousness in the first place they do not say. However the material universe then seems to exhibit emergent properties and to manifest phenomena not apparently intended by deities, creating multiple failures of omnipotence and omniscience, and awkward questions about theodicy (deities permitting bad stuff).

Some religions (like many of those of the classical civilisations) had the fallible gods co-evolve with matter from a more primeval chaotic state and then muck around with it or fight over it for a while before humans appeared or got created.

The superiority of ‘mind’ over matter really seems to have taken metaphysical hold with the advent of Platonism and Neo-Platonism. The late classical thinkers became so obsessed with the very idea of ideas that they came to regard them as more fundamental than the phenomena they related to. From this point on, the interface of late classical thinking and Hebraic monotheism led to the doctrines of Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Kabala, in which ‘The Prime Consciousness’ or something of that ilk, gives rise to a series of descending thoughts and emanations which eventually result in this miserable flawed material world. Such doctrines have formed a strong thread in religion and mysticism ever since.

Today the old Pagan view appears somewhat more realistic than the top-down Monotheist view. Matter plainly tends to evolve complexity and to manifest emergent properties, and these emergent properties act rather like gods, controlling the very substances from which they emerged, to create waves and turbulence in water, to make forests out of dirt, water, air, and sunlight, and to make animals and self-aware creatures out of bits chewed off plants and/or bits chewed off other animals.

Some theorists suspect that once an emergent behaviour has developed it may set some sort of a pattern for similar behaviour to emerge in similar systems. Here we enter controversial and occult but potentially testable territory populated with ideas about Morphic Fields and the possible weak quantum entanglement of all similar phenomena and/or the ontological rather than the epistemological reality of wave-functions as in the PBR theorem.

In an odd way such ideas about Morphic Fields and the non-local effects of information begin to resemble the old Neo-Platonic ideas about discarnate Ideals or ‘Forms’, but with a crucial difference: - In the modern information theory, matter and information co-evolve, information requires embodiment, it requires matter to process it, to emit it, to receive it, and to decode it.

This implies both limitations and extensions to our ideas about the esoteric possibilities of information. Completely discarnate sentient ‘Spirits’ of deities, or of the deceased, or of events which have ceased to exist seem unlikely within the new paradigm. On the other hand, information about such things can persist in living minds (and evolve there) and possibly have effects beyond them if information can have the sort of non-local effects suggested by quantum and morphic field theories.

Non-locality in space either effectively means ‘instantaneously’ regardless of distance and lightspeed, or it means the effective cancellation of distance by the exchange of information backwards in time.

Non-locality in time does seem to occur in some quantum experiments; the present can seemingly modify the past and seemingly modify the future without actually ‘touching’ it in the classical sense. Of course the annals of the magical and the occult lie littered with such claims, most of them dubious and/or explained in terms of an antique ‘spirit’ hypothesis.

Nevertheless temporal non-locality leads to the opening of a very large can of worms which could include retroactive enchantment and divination of the future on a probabilistic basis, and maybe ‘talking’ not with the dead but maybe with the previously alive. Plus the correction to the gravity part of the Core Theory for high gravity as suggested by Hypersphere Cosmology leads to the intriguing speculation that a positively curved vorticitating universe finite and unbounded in both space and time ‘always’ has consciousness in it.

If something like a Core Theory Equation does govern the basic mechanics of the universe then the magic lies in the Emergence of improbable events yet it will always give the appearance of having happened naturally, if somewhat improbably. That will do.

Yes, I have just read this https://www.amazon.com/Big-Picture-Origins-Meaning-Universe/dp/0525954821

It contains much to stimulate and to argue with.

Finally, let us hope that Comrade Jeremy Corbyn wins the UK Labour party leadership resoundingly. He would make a splendid leader of the opposition, a proper democratic government needs a lunatic opposition from which it can borrow the very occasional sensible idea.

And, post-finally, Grammar Schools, I had the good fortune to go to one from an upper working class home, later I taught in one and in quite a number of secondary modern schools during 5 years at the chalkface. If you want a comprehensive school to have mixed sexes and mixed ability and a wide range of academic and vocational subjects then it has to become pretty large. The  largeness usually screws it up, the staff don't know each other personally, the staff don't know the pupils personally, instead of an educational community you get a dysfunctional educational factory. Inevitably the kids get heavily streamed anyway within the school. Because large schools don't work very well we should concentrate on making them smaller, to allow this they would need to become more selective. To allow for social mobility we should have much more mobility between schools that have specialisms but a smaller size. I never worked in a school with more than 4-form entry that didn't seem like a mediocre shambles blighted by disruptive behaviour.

 

 

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