This has provided for me the vocabulary to express a long-standing disagreement with the qualiite crowd.
“But there is an issue here that is, if anything, even more subtle than the reality or unreality of emergence itself: how do we distinguish “real” emergence – the “ontological” problem – from the merely logical issue of discursive machinery that cannot encompass all of reality within a single universe of discourse – the “semantic” problem?
Said another way, are emergent phenomena (“mind” and “consciousness” are the two commonest examples) emergent because the “stuff” of physical reality is unable to provide a meaningful, credible foundation for these phenomena? Is the issue an ontological one?
Or is the problem, rather, that the language we use to talk about physical phenomena inadequate to characterize, describe and explain the other phenomena we find within the scope of our experience, such as mind and consciousness? Are the logical and semantic relations adequate to, and focused upon, talking about physical structures insufficient when we wish to talk about other types of relational structures (such as mind and consciousness)?”
What does it mean to say that some thing, quality, relation, or constellation of combinations of any of the above (as well as whatever I might not have mentioned) is “emergent”? What does it mean for something to be genuinely new, for the universe to be genuinely creative?
One obvious response falls out along the lines that, “Well, something is there now that wasn’t there before.” Despite its initial plausibility, I would suggest that such an account is badly off-base. For one thing, the reliance on a difference over time is quite naïve. The evolution of eukaryotic cells on the primordial Earth took place over time, and in a sense such nucleated cells “emerged” from an earlier situation where they did not exist. But this is a kind of “weak tea” emergence that is easily accounted for within ordinary evolutionary theory. No, when philosophers speak of emergence, they…
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