Reply To: Emergence is a conceptual phenomenon, not physical

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    Emerson writes:

    [In] this brief (8 min) interview with Stuart Kaufmann … he elucidates his idea of “ceaseless creativity” and his summary comment about “reinventing the sacred”.

    The idea of “radical emergence” comes up as well.

    Is this a modern version of a ‘life force’?

    Seriously, the idea of (emergent) regularities that exist, or will be displayed, once various underlying structures are in place, doesn’t eliminate cause and effect … even if we can’t predict the emergent behaviors from the parts …

    It just means there are (preexisting) regularities to be discovered at the macroscopic level like there are (preexisting) regularities to be discovered at the Newtonian level and at the quantum level.

    We just don’t generally like the term ‘life force’ … probably because of unwanted connotations.

    But the structure seems to be there. And as David says, we ARE part of that structure.

    To tie it together with our emotive side, we often “feel” the identity before we can “explain” the identity.


    I don’t think it is valid to consider “radical emergence” as a life force.

    In the posting on emergence entitled “Emergence is a conceptual phenomenon, not physical” I am trying to make the case that. contrary to the way emergence is thought of, emergence is not part of physical reality as such. Instead, emergence is better considered as part of the realm of thoughts and ideas.

    Think of it this way: Reality is what it is. This is a Taoist approach to reality. Regardless of how we think and feel, reality is deeper and more mysterious than any of our ideas or theories.

    So, as you say “there are (preexisting) regularities to be discovered” – in reality, at any level, because the level don’t exist in reality either. They are concepts. They are ways of understanding reality.

    You are certainly right that we “feel” the identity, because thought is built on feelings and emotions. It is the emotional valence of our ideas that give them meaning. A concept divorced from our feelings is abstract and meaningless.

    But we have to understand the distinction between ideas and reality. These feelings do not become a real force – of any kind.

    The unwanted connotation of postulating a “life force” is this. It is a type of magical thinking. “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”. This desire for magic has always been a part of the human condition. It even shows up nowadays with some sorts of New Age thinking. But it goes back all the way to the start of Christianity with “In the Beginning was the Word”. As if saying something made it real.

    This is the hidden danger of thinking that emergence comes out of the physics of the world. No, it doesn’t. The emergent properties of reality are preexisting regularities that were there even before we discovered them.

    Put another way, what emerges from emergence is in the mind. Its power is that it allows us to understand the world better. But the Tao is what it is. Emergence does not create a new physics or a new reality or a new force that we can harness.

    As expressed, it does not eliminate cause and effect. But it allows us to see that relationship more clearly, after that relationship has emerged and become part of our feelings and our way of explaining reality.