Emergence: not understood (Evolution)

by dhw, Thursday, August 15, 2019, 10:14 (285 days ago) @ romansh

dhw Some people claim that the mind/consciousness “emerges” from the interplay between the various cell communities that make up the brain and the rest of the body, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, much like an ant colony producing structures no single ant could ever design.

ROMANSH: How about ...
Some people claim that the mind/consciousness results from the interplay between the various cell communities
Greater than the sum of the parts ... Is this this us having an incorrect model, in fact do we even have a model for being greater than the sum of the parts?

I suggested the ant colony as an example. And I’d take life itself to be something that emerges from the combination of all my separate bits and pieces. It only takes one bit to go wrong, and life then ceases to emerge from the sum of the parts.

dhw It could be argued, then, that all our decisions are predetermined by our cells. Other factors prohibiting free will have nothing to do with emergence as such, apart from the influence they have on what emerges from our cells ...

ROMANSH: Personally I would not go as far as predetermined ... just determined [caused] will suffice.


dhw A counter to these arguments is that the cells, regardless of their provenance and all the influences exercised upon them, are what constitute “me”, and this me and nobody and nothing else, makes my decisions.

ROMANSH: This is fair enough but the question remains ... could 'my' cells have done otherwise? Assuming we live in a causal universe and those causes could be deterministic or perhaps indeterministic. My cells by definition do not control the indeterministic causes.

You are simply repeating my own argument against free will. If my point is fair enough, why repeat the argument which it is meant to counter?

dhw: ... but again I can’t see how this proves that we do or don’t have the ability to make our own decisions once we are confronted with a choice, regardless of whether we are dualists or materialists.

ROMANSH: We don't deal with proof in a scientific sense. We certainly appear to make choices, but it's the properties of those choices that I find interesting. Also how we might end up handling our actions in a no free will context also becomes interesting.

It’s all “interesting”. I was simply asking you where “emergence” fitted in, and I tried to explain the two sides of the argument, which together leave me sitting on my usual fence.

ROMANSH: To me its a little bit like the agnostic conundrum. I don't understand I can't have knowledge of God, but I can simply lack belief or perhaps I have been caused to believe in god regardless. I am in a similar position regarding free will, I understand I can't know whether I have free will, but the concept of free will is itself such a shemozzle I can't help but lack belief.
But if you have a model of how we might get around this shemozzle, I am all ears. (But please not by changing the definition of free will, as compatibilists are want to do).

No, I don’t have a model, but I would point out that lack of belief is very different from disbelief. I am an agnostic because I neither believe nor disbelieve in a God. Ditto free will. There are clear arguments for and against both God and free will, and I can’t choose between them. However, your point about definition is crucial. I vaguely remember you coming up with one that automatically precluded free will: something along the lines of decision-making that is independent of the universe. I don’t know what you mean by “changing the definition” anyway – we must agree on a definition before we even begin a discussion. I wish I could remember my own, which I know I modified after our discussions. Perhaps something like: an individual’s ability to make choices and decisions independently of external constraints and influences. At least that would provide a starting point. Then we would enter into all the pros and cons we have already discussed.

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