The origin of emergent properties

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Nov 5, 2012.

  1. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

    Yes, I think that modeling the elements and relationships between them explains emergent properties of the system.
    Not in finite time. There is no limit to how complex a system can be, so there are potentially infinite possible emergent properties.

    Are you including relationships between the parts? If no, then yes. If yes, then I don't think so.

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  3. universaldistress Extravagantly Introverted ... Valued Senior Member

    We are talking about starting at zero and then moving through, allowing said simulation to evolve, and observing properties emerging as they do emerge. In effect we are talking about a perfectly accurate simulation of the physical universe but in a computer: physical constituents interacting randomly within 3D space etc.

    Surely as the simulation runs the interactions between the cybermatter/matter will start to exhibit the so called "emergent properties" their physical properties dictate. And if the simulation runs indefinitely, yet at an accelerated rate, it will catchup with reality and overtake producing emergent properties that haven't come about yet in reality (once read an award winning short story about developing a new universe within a simulation, that ran at an accelerated rate and eventually became more advanced than its atavistic creators; but can't remember for sure the title/author).

    I generally agree with you but I don't believe an emergent property can have no connection to the constituents of the system (as in be unpredictable to entities who have sufficient knowledge). Everything, for me, is predictable given resources required to explore fully (I'm with Rav on this one).

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  5. universaldistress Extravagantly Introverted ... Valued Senior Member

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  7. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

    Such a scenario allows potentially infinite emergent properties, unless it is bounded in all scales (ie minimum and maximum space and time periods).
    So yes, given the assumption that the universe is bounded on maximum and minimum scales, then I agree that it is potentially completely modellable... if we ignore the issue that the simulation is itself part of the universe.
    Let's agree that it a simulation could potentially discover and explain all possible emergent properties of a bounded universe, up to the point that the simulation began.
    It might be able to do so up to the present (ie realtime). I suspect that's a question worthy of doctorate theses in computer science, quantum physics, and cosmology.

    The emergent properties thus discovered are dictated not only by the properties of the elements, but also by the interactions between them.
    Those interactions are dictated by the relationships between elements as well as the properties of individual elements.
    I think that these relationships are distinct from the physical properties of the individual elements, ie the relationships do not emerge from the physical properties.

    I agree

    I don't understand why you wrote "but".
    I'd be surprised if anyone believed that an emergent property can have no connection to the constituents of the system.

    I'm just being anal pedantic about separating properties of discrete elements from relationships between elements, and excessively hammering the point that emergent properties depend on both.
  8. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I fail to see the difference.

    I quoted the SEP as saying: "We have some of our properties purely in virtue of the way we are. (Our mass is an example.) We have other properties in virtue of the way we interact with the world. (Our weight is an example.) The former are the intrinsic properties, the latter are the extrinsic properties." Then I suggested: "So... one of the questions in this thread (certainly not the only one) might be whether it's possible to derive extrinsic properties purely from intrinsic properties, without introducing more global information about the rest of the world (the whole)."

    Plugging that into your sentence: "The aspect of all this that I'm most interested in is the question of whether or not any new properties [I'm interpreting these to be the extrinsic properties] emerge that can't be explained by properly considering the nature [I'm interpreting that to mean the intrinsic properties] of the constituent elements." In other words, how could we know that two masses will exert a attractive gravitational force on one another, if we're only considering the properties of one single mass in isolation? The gravitational attraction is something that only appears when we have two or more masses, located some distance apart from one another.

    What I'm thinking about is that we can't ascribe properties like 'displays TV shows' to individual atoms, despite the fact that a TV set is composed of atoms. The 'displays TV shows' stuff is something that the whole TV does, without any of its individual parts being able to do it. So we could study a television's parts all day long individually, but we still wouldn't know what the TV does until we start thinking about how the parts come together into a system. I'm noting that the system appears to have new properties of its own that none of its individual components possess in isolation.

    That would seem to depend on how we interpret the word 'sum'. If we interpret 'sum' as I'm doing, to mean multiple items linked by nothing more than the word 'and' or the mathematical operation '+', then I'd answer your question with 'yes'. Wholes are more than the mathematical sums of their parts.

    Others seem to want to include all the relations and interactions between all the individual parts in the description of the sum, which in my opinion would make it a lot more than a simple sum.

    But yeah, if we decide to do that, then I might be more inclined to answer your question with 'no'. I'm certainly not suggesting that new and ostensibly non-natural forms of being like a vitalistic 'life-force' or a mysterious 'mind' substance suddenly and magically pop out of 'wholes'. I realize that some of history's 'holists' did want to make claims like that. I disagree pretty strongly with them on that, but I don't want to make the error of veering too far in the opposite direction either.

    In other words, I'm suggesting that wholes do seem to be something more than simple mathematical sums of their parts, as if we just tossed everything into a big pile. I don't think it's right to say that all of the properties of the whole must therefore be properties of the individual parts. But I certainly don't intend to suggest any violations of naturalism either.
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2012
  9. ughaibu Registered Senior Member

    Presumably, if one concludes, by considering whether or not all new properties which emerge can be explained by properly considering the nature of the constituent elements, that all new properties which emerge can be explained by properly considering the nature of the constituent elements, that process itself, of considering, would be amongst the things explained by that considering. So, I suspect that one will be unavoidably involved in some manner of question begging. If so, and if the question begging is vicious, either the conclusion that all new properties which emerge can be explained by properly considering the nature of the constituent elements is thereby established to be false or the project of considering the dilemma has been shown to be futile.
  10. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Yazata, do you think the mind or consciousness is an INTRINSIC property of matter or an EXTRINSIC property? It would seem we would have to upgrade our definition of what matter is if consciousness is intrinsic to it's nature. OTOH if mind is really a 100% truly emergent property, then we are left hanging with some sort of Cartesian dualism. I sort of sense that mind arises out the interaction of the brain with the world, real being defined for me as whatever can be interacted with. JMO..
  11. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Emergent properties always bring to mind Conways "Game of Life", where four simple rules are applied to a random pattern of black or white square tiles / pixels.
    From these 4 simple rules you get surprising/unexpected results... patterns that "emerge" from the otherwise random pattern.

    Now, because this starts at the most simple level of the underlying properties / laws / rules and applies them to a random pattern, the emerging patterns can be fully understood with reference to those rules.

    But imagine that you see the higher-order patterns only and are not aware of the underlying rules - only of the black/white pixels.
    Would not the relationships that we observe, the self-replicating items, the "gun" etc that the rules can create, would the properties of these higher-order object of these not be considered emergent properties?
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2012
  12. Pete It's not rocket surgery Registered Senior Member

    Yes, Conway's Game of Life is a classic example.

    It's a great educative illustration because the fundamental properties and relationship rules of the entities are simple and easy to fully understand inividually, the emergent entities are obvious to see and simple enough to understand, and yet are unexpected despite understanding the fundamental entities.

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  13. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    I think that mind and consciousness are certainly extrinsic properties on the level of atoms and molecules. I don't believe that it makes any sense to ascribe mentalistic predicates to atoms and molecules by themselves, in isolation. (In other words, I'm not a panpsychist.)

    I'm less sure what I'd say about properly functioning nervous systems. Is mind and consciousness intrinsic at this (arguably emergent) level of complexity? Or do mind and consciousness still depend extrinsically on the nervous system's causal interactions with its environment? (There's intensionality and stuff, our thoughts are about things.)

    Cartesian dualism is a substance-dualism. I don't want to go there. In other words, I don't think that mind is a separate substantial realm alongside physical reality.

    I'm much more inclined to see mind not as a thing, a substance in its own right, but rather as a data-processing activity that functional systems in the physical realm sometimes perform. Mind isn't its own independent and self-existent kind of stuff in my opinion, rather it's activities that more mundane kinds of stuff sometimes do, when that stuff is configured in the necessary ways.

    My 'emergentist' speculations arise from the suspicion that it's going to be awfully hard, maybe even impossible, to predict everything that all the different possible assemblages of more basic physical entities might prove capable of doing, simply from study of the physical properties of those entities.

    That doesn't mean that I'm denying physical reductionism. I think that explanatory reductions are probably always going to be possible. That's how physical science does what it does. I'm very much a reductionist, as opposed to a 'holist' in the 19'th century sense.

    But given all the complexity, the unbounded and effectively infinite number of possible physical permutations, and the sometimes chaotic and nonlinear evolution of the simplest processes, the explanatory reductions are probably always going to be vastly easier to perform top-down, from observed phenomena down to the underlying physical behaviors of the simplest subunits, then it will be to move in the opposite bottom-up direction from the intrinsic properties of the physical subunits upwards towards some ultimate exhaustive inventory of everything that interacting compounds of those subunits might be capable of doing.

    I think that physical reality will probably always retain the ability to surprise us.
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2012

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