Menu
Categories
 
The Myth of Emergence

Emergence

There is a very serious conundrum. We as humans have very many complex properties like intelligence, consciousness and life itself. But where do these properties come from? Are they also properties of the stuff we are made from or do they magically arise out of thin air at a certain stage of development? The theory of emergence states that complex properties do indeed magically emerge out of thin air when simple systems not having these properties interact to form a larger system. Unfortunately though you can’t get something from nothing. This notion of divine creation is completely incompatible with the conceptions of modern science. Instead, a far better explanation is that emergence is actually best seen as an illusory phenomena.

The Fallacies of Division and Composition
Physics tells us that all matter is just energy bound up into systems. That means we are ultimately just a big collection of energy. The fallacy of division occurs however if you claim that properties like intelligence, consciousness and life itself must then be properties of the energy that we are ultimately composed of. For example, a jet can fly. Since the property of flight can’t magically arise out of thin air all the parts of the jet must be able to fly. Therefore an instrument panel from a jet can fly. Of course this is also absurd. So how do we resolve this serious problem? The problem is actually one of misattribution. The energy that composes us has certain properties. When this energy is bound up into a complex system like a human being, it appears that novel properties have magically been created out of thin air. However, if you look at these properties under a proverbial microscope they are really just the same properties of the energy. Take for example the fact that iron has the property of hardness. The iron atom does not have this property. But the property hardness doesn’t really exist, it is just how our primitive senses interpret the properties of the iron atom when they are combined together. So emergence really does happen but it happens only in our minds not in reality. The concept of emergence, like chaos, is an illusion that exists only in our imaginations.

Take this common example of the “fallacy of composition”: “This fragment of metal cannot be broken with a hammer, therefore the machine of which it is a part cannot be broken with a hammer.” Now lets reinterpret this example using the less-illusory reality of the atomic world. When a specific amount of force is applied to an expanse of tightly packed atoms the atoms will not break apart. When the metal is placed in a machine you now have a much larger expanse of atoms with many areas that are not tightly packed together (weak points) and a similar force can therefore break the machine.

The “fallacy of composition” as well as the “fallacy of division” then apply only to illusory emergent phenomena not actual properties. Actual properties are based on universal laws of physics. We are energy, the Universe is energy. Energy is energy. The properties of energy are the properties of energy. All systems have only the properties of the component parts and nothing more when viewed from the non-illusory level of the parts.

Types of Properties
There are two types of properties then: actual properties and emergent properties. Actual properties exist (in a lower level of reality at least), like iron atoms have a property to pack tightly together after being heated and then cooled. Emergent properties are illusory and don’t exist in at least one lower level of reality. Emergent properties are created by our primitive sensory systems. Hardness is an illusory property because it exists only in our minds. Emergent properties do indeed magically arise out of thin air as all illusions do but they are only in our heads. All non-existent emergent properties are ultimately based on actual properties that do exist though. Consciousness may be an emergent property. But we have no evidence of that and no indication as to what actual property it could be based on. So to believe consciousness to be emergent seems highly illogical. At any rate, if we are conscious and consciousness is a real property it is also a property of the Universe. If consciousness is emergent the real property it is based on is also a property of the Universe. We exist and God exists either way.

Category Properties
It can be argued that there is actually a third type of property called a category property. For example, you have a pail of wet sand. You take the sand and create a castle out of it. The property of castleness has been created out of nothing since the pail of sand did not originally have this property. Category properties like castleness require a loose collection of subproperties to be present in order to classify something as having the property. Each of these subproperties is either an illusory emergent property or another category property. For example, most sand castles have a sandy color which is an illusory emergent property. Sand castles must have the extension property which is the ability to extend upwards and from side to side. This is an illusory emergent property based on the cohesiveness property of wet sand. Sand castles may have the turretness property which is a category property based on the extension property. So if category properties are composed of illusory emergent properties or other category properties they are in actuality also just a form of illusory emergent properties.

The Problem of Scale
Part of the emergence problem is scale. Complex systems are composed of other smaller complex systems. A system is complex when its subsystems are highly organized to allow more communication amongst the subsystems. All actual properties the systems have are properties of the subsystems. Larger more complex systems have more communication with more subsystems and thus have a stronger implementation of the property. So people might say only humans are conscious. But really, humans just have human-level consciousness. Lower forms of consciousness can and do exist.

Universal Implications
The energy that makes up the Universe must have the properties of proto-life, proto-consciousness and proto-intelligence that when combined into sufficiently complex systems our mind interprets as life, consciousness and intelligence. That is indisputable and to argue otherwise requires the invocation of magic. Whether the Universe as an entity has such sufficient complexity for these advanced “emergent” properties is a remaining question to be answered. However, you can in no way say the Universe cannot have these properties and still be aligned with science.

Good and Evil

*