Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Emergence Illustrated: From Dust to Us™

How do we get minds from matter? How do we get volitional agents from non-volitional matter in a closed-system?  How do we go from slime to the sublime?

Simple. We emerge. Emergence is a great all-purpose explanation. Take two parts H, one part O, mix them together, and voila, you've got the emergent property of "wetness"!

Materialists rely on the concept of emergence to explain the sublime -- things like consciousness, will, mind, etc. emerging from the slime of unconscious matter by purely natural, uncreated processes. And they do so, apparently, without a flicker of second-thought. From dust to us!

Here's emergence illustrated.

Take strips of imprinted cellulose, a projector, a bulb, some electricity, a sound system, and a white screen. Not much going on here. No sound or motion -- just objects on a table.

But, let these elements "self-organize", flick the switch, and, voila, gloriously large images and sounds of people, places, and events emerge on the screen before your dazzled eyes.

I will leave it to the reader to figure out what is wrong with this analogy -- and the concept of emergence itself, when used as a "proof" of either materialism, atheism, or darwinism.

And that's the way the self-organizing Ball emerges.


P@J said...

your "illustration" is not of emergence.

Once again with the Strawman fallacy

The_Iceman said...

Basically everything you write is about religion. Your site would be much hosted at a Religious bloggers page, not political.

metasyntactic variable said...

groove like mark, if you could be like mark.

Anonymous said...


P@J is correct. Your example is a strawman. I had already listed three prequisites for self-organisation to occur:
(i) A collection of suitable components.
(ii) A flow of usable energy through the system
(iii) local coupling mechanisms.

Your example meets the first two very poorly (your components are hardly "suitable", approximating to no known forms of self-organisation, your energy is not a "flow") and completely fails to even attempt to meet the third.

If you want to learn more on the subject, I would suggest you read 'Self Oraganization and the Origin of Complexity', Niall Shanks and Istvan Karsai, in Why Intelligent Design Fails, Matt Young and Tanis Edis (Ed.s).

One good reason why you should read up on this subject BEFORE disparaging it is that your argument is an excellent example of an Argument from Personal Incredulity (a variant of an Argument from Ignorance). Arguing that something couldn't be true because you don't understand how it would work, WHEN YOU KNOW ALMOST NOTHING ABOUT A SUBJECT, is the sort of thing that gets you laughed at, rather than gets people to take your arguments seriously.

RkBall said...

Is volition material or immaterial? If immaterial, how does this fit with a materialistic/atheistic/mechanical worldview? If material, is the material doing the volition part of the seamless cause/effect evolution of the universe, or somehow standing apart from it, with true volitional capabilities that the universe itself does not possess?

RkBall said...

Of course its not a perfect illustration -- no analogy is. But it is making a point which neither of you have so far acknowledged.

RkBall said...

Iceman -- I posted about healthcare this week. I will post on things political when the Groundhog stops seeing his shadow.

jonathan said...

The first question is perfectly fine to be asked, no descrepencies there. The second question however, is that of a widely misunderstood and widely used religous argument stating this: "How can we get volitional agents from non-volitional agents if the science behind it defies and breaks the second law of thermodynamics?" That is essentially what your argument is here, that because we're in a closed system we should be going towards a higher state of entropy. This would be true if we were in a closed system, but we're not. We are in an open system, we get a constant supply of energy, in the form of heat, from the sun. This invalidates the rest of the argument you suggest.

RkBall said...

" Arguing that something couldn't be true because you don't understand how it would work"

No-one knows how consciousness "works".

RkBall said...

J-man. Sorry, by "closed system" I meant a volitionally closed system with no immaterial force/being at work to breathe life into it, as it were. In other words, a mechanical universal without infused purpose, design, etc.

jonathan said...

Like I've stated in my previous posts on here, there does not need to be a conscious mind behind the beginnings of life in any way at all. The fundamental physical laws govern these actions. Why does there have to be a infused purpose, design, etc.? I've never understood this line of reasoning where one cannot exist unless some conscious entity purposefully made it so. Could you explain why you think a concious entity is the only way that life started?

RkBall said...

"there does not need to be a conscious mind behind the beginnings of life in any way at all."

But this is not what you said. You didn't say there doesn't need to be one, you said there wasn't one -- which is a much stronger, unproveable statement.

The reason I say there must be is because

* Every contingent thing including the universe itself, its material components, and, importantly the "laws" which govern it, must have a sufficient cause. This is a philosophical/scientific argument.

* The existence of immaterial abstracts like numbers, and logic -- which encompass all possible worlds -- must have a sufficient cause.

* To be an authentic human being, with authentic moral sense, authentic desires, authentic feelings of e.g., love, I must be the product of a Person, and not an Impersonal universe. I have decided that I am an authentic entity. This is an existential argument.

Recognize your authenticity. Rebel against the atheist machine, Jonathan!™

Anonymous said...

No Ricky:

It is not merely "not a perfect illustration" it is A PERFECTLY USELESS ILLUSTRATION in that it fails utterly to capture any essential element of the topic that it attempts to illustrate.

It is like attempting to use a chocolate bar to demonstrate the digestive system of an elephant. Not only is it a very bad analogy, but the only thing it would illustrate is how little the speaker knows about elephants.

The "point" is that you, Richard K. Ball, know sweet F.A. about self-organising systems or emergence. I neither know, nor care, what "point" you were trying to make, because it appears to have nothing whatsoever with what scientists actually study. That is all the 'acknowledgement' your half-baked example deserves.

Anonymous said...


1) You have failed to establish that the laws of nature are contingent.

2) "Numbers, and logic", and most abstracts are human inventions, to allow us to abstract information from the environment into simpler models that in turn are easier to put into language and to analyse.

3) Your "authentic" point is simply a bald assertion, lacking any rationale why this authenticity requires that you be the product of artifice. Given that natural beauty can be every bit as beautiful and as 'authentic' (if not more so) than artifice, I find this assertion completely uncompelling.

P@J said...

“No-one knows how consciousness "works".”

Yet another Argument from personal ignorance.

I suspect you don’t know how it “works”, but there are people who have (instead of just filing it under “magic”) taken the initiative to study the subject, and know an awful lot about how it works. See my earlier post about studies done on the functional operation of the brain and consciousness. It is only a mystery to those who have not bothered to learn.

Let’s try one of them fancy analogies on for size: just because you have never heard of the Bernoulli Principle, doesn’t mean birds fly by using “magic”.

RkBall said...

The Wright Brothers learned the secrets of flight by studying the design and body-mind coordination of birds (who had mastered flight with bird-brains).

If dumb-as-a-rock nature can produce consciousness, without even trying or intending to do so, surely we should be able to do the same. After all, nature is stupid, as in brainless, mindless, dumb-as-a-rock, right?

P@J said...

Wrong. Mostly because you, once again, rely on the logical fallacy of false analogy. Flight and consciousness are two very different things. But let us explore the terms of your analogy:

There is a reason the Wright Flyer did not look like a bird, and it functioned very different than a bird. We still don’t use “bird” flight dynamics for aircraft, a different solution was engineered (actually several better solutions, given the different needs of different aircraft, from the Goodyear Blimp to a 747 to a Bell Jet Ranger) that served to make better use of the materials and technology available (mechanical engines in lieu or muscles, rigid or semi-rigid control structures in lieu of complex flexible wings, etc.). If the Wright Brothers “studied the body-mind coordination of birds”, it was surely not applied so much as their study of Bernoulli and their use of flexible foils in a wind tunnel.

When comparing to the “problem” of artificial consciousness, this is akin to using integrated circuits to mimic memory, logic and decision-making systems found in our “consciousness”. Given the current limits of technology, we have done a pretty good job making machines do things that the brains of most animals cannot: calculus, playing chess, hosting your little blog so you can use it to question science…

RkBall said...

I'm not talking about making artificial consciousness. Why not make actual consciousness, now that we understand how consciousness works? I mean, how complicated can it be when a mindless process does it without even trying?

P@J said...

I hate to be semantic, but if it was made by man, it would be artificial, by definition, no?

Anonymous said...


Do you have any idea how complex powered (as opposed to mere gliding) avian flight is? As far as I know, no human artifice has every successfully fully duplicated its method, which involves such things as rotating wings between up and down strokes (so that it pushes down but not up). A fairly full (but full of anatomical terms) description can be found in 'Evolutionary Paths to Irreducible System: The Avian Flight Apparatus', Alan D. Gishlick, in Why Intelligent Design Fail.

I would suggest that this is yet another example of artificial mechanisms working along far more simple principles than their naturally-occurring analogues -- in direct opposition to the premise underlying many ID arguments.

RkBall said...

It would be intelligently designed.

Anonymous said...

"It would be intelligently designed."

A bald assertion lacking context (which of the several "its"s under discussion is it asserting is designed), or evidence. A perfect illustration of the vacuity of ID-creationist thinking.

RkBall said...

"international drug routes" cf. chinese restaurants

"... nothing intellectually compelling or challenging.. bald assertions coupled to superstition... woefully pathetic"