In my polymathic peregrinations I've been revisiting the concept of emergence, about which I suppose I haven't seriously thought for two or three decades, being that it is only a mystery -- or cosmic brick wall -- in the context of a stubborn prior ideological commitment to purblind a- or antitheism.
Since I'm okay with God, I'm okay with the existence of a lot of things -- emergence being one of them -- that must frustrate the bejesus out of anyone who seriously wishes to understand how we and everything else got here.
For them, it's analogous to figuring out how to power a modern civilization without fossil fuels. That it is impossible in principle doesn't enter into it. Likewise the elementary biological fact that a man can never actually be a woman, or the monetary fact that buying votes by printing trillions of dollars is going to be a tad inflationary.
Anyway, I'm reading a couple of books on the subject, including one that surveys the history of the concept -- the emergence of emergence -- from the 18th century on, called Emergence, Complexity, and Self-Organization: Precursors and Prototypes.
Once upon a time I was indeed big into the subject, as evidenced by the portentous title of a monograph I published in 1994 called Psychoanalysis, Chaos, and Complexity: The Evolving Mind as a Dissipative Structure.
What happened? Why did Bob throw away a seemingly promising academic career for... this, whatever this is? No offense, but you people aren't tenured elites, just smelly deplorables and Christo-fascist MAGA insurrectionists (properly woke trolls excepted).
I guess the problem is, I kept on thinking after 1994, which inevitably led to God, of all things, and now what? That's a nonstarter for any mere psychological journal.
And not just any God, a la new agers and the like, but the one and only n-dimensional Creator of this or any other hypothetical cosmos. Problem is, I fell between the crackpots and therefore constitute a population of roughly one; or one + whoever reads these words and sometimes finds themselves silently nodding in the affirmative.
Now, when I first began thinkin' & scribblin' about God, I could have squeezed myself into the new age camp -- e.g., quasi respectable types like Ken Wilber, William Irwin Thompson, or Joseph Chilton Pearce.
Looking back, the course of my devolution took a similar path to my deterioration from left to right: never in my wildest did I ever expect to become a rightwing kook, and I resisted mightily until finally admitting to myself in 2001 or so that It Was Accomplished: goodbye Chomsky, goodbye The Nation, goodbye NY Times, hello Hayek, hello Sowell, hello Prager, and worse.
Similarly, although I found myself hot on the trail of O in the waning days of the second millennium, never did I imagine it would all end in Christian orthoparadoxy. But here we are.
The book is dedicated To the Memory of Ilya Prigogine. I certainly remember Ilya Prigogine, since his theories were the basis of both my doctoral dissertation and the 1994 paper mentioned above. No offense, but does he still matter to me today? Or have subsequent discoveries and experiences rendered him superfluous?
The latter, if only because metaphysics trumps even the most perfect scientific model. He is a kind of weigh station between reductive materialism and something beyond, although with no ontological anchor in the latter.
We see the identical problem in any non-reductive psychology: let's suppose you are bold enough to affirm the ontological reality of human consciousness. Okay, now what? By virtue of what principle is this consciousness possible?
You say it "emerged." But what does this even mean? How is it different from saying "it just magically appeared out of nowhere, and for no reason we can identify"? Which comes down to: We see that it can't be reduced to matter, but since God doesn't exist, we know that can't be the explanation.
Once again we see how science without metaphysics is condemned to its own self-limiting circle, a la Gödel. All you have to do is remove your own arbitrarily self-imposed limit, and voila! The whole cosmos comes into view. This is when things really get interesting, because it's very much like discovering a new dimension to the cosmos. Literally.
Imagine a science strictly limited to two dimensions (plus time), AKA Flatland. There is and must be a third dimension, and the two-dimensional people will indeed see evidence of it everywhere. For example, let's say a sphere passes through Flatland. The two-dimensional scientists will exhaustively describe it as a point that expands into a circle, only to gradually shrink down to a point and disappear: a complete explanation.
Yes, but how did the changing circle "emerge" to begin with? What if it is actually the result of a higher dimensional object passing through our spacetime?
Now, as we mentioned a few posts back, we see clear evidence of an explosion into the psycho-pneumatic space of humanness around 70,000 years ago; this big bang is every bit as dramatic and explosive as the prior ones into Existence (13.8 billion years ago) and Life (4 billion years ago).
Metaphysically you are faced with only a couple of options to explain the sudden emergence of these dimensions. You can say that they aren't actually discontinuous, rather, that any so-called emergence can safely be tucked back into the ontological flatland of matter and physics (while stopping short of wondering where they came from).
Or, you can be like that enterprising Flatland dweller who peeps outside his cave and has a close encounter with the sphere, O.
We're only just getting started, but one has to stop at some point. To be continued....