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Kieth Ward, Materialist reductionism, semiotic meaning and the mind-brain problem, trains and cakes.

by Findo on December 12th, 2010

Andrew Skegg recently posted a blog post called Is empiricism self-refuting? It was a little confusing as the issue in question was actually more about whether Materialism is self-refuting, and to further confuse things, the opening quote (which I suspect was taken from this wikipedia article – but we’ve all quoted people we haven’t read) of Professor Keith Ward was actually about Scientism being self-refuting. He seems to suggest that quantum physics shows materialism to be self-refuting, but Andrew doesn’t quote the actual argument – without actually reading his argument on why this is, it’s impossible to comment (see his lecture at the bottom of this post). The post then goes on more to look at whether things like consciousness and ideas and meaning can be reduced to physical constructs.

I was initially puzzled as Andrew appeared to oscillate between materialist reductionism and emergentism, but it soon became clear that he was mis-appropriating emergentist language to describe his reductionism Though, in fairness, as wikipedia puts it:

Reductionism does not preclude the existence of what might be called emergent phenomena, but it does imply the ability to understand those phenomena completely in terms of the processes from which they are composed. This reductionist understanding is very different from that usually implied by the term ‘emergence’, which typically intends that what emerges is more than the sum of the processes from which it emerges.

We’ve discussed the mind-brain problem previously, and we got into a little bit of a discussion once again, on the point of meaning and concepts and whether or not they can be reduced entirely to physical constructs. I’d recommend having a read of the discussion, as it’s quite interesting. What was a little amusing is that we both thought each-other’s illustrations demonstrated our own point.

Now, I had no plans to blog about it, except that Andrew wrote this:

Please take the time to think about your position and post an entry on your blog explaining the nature of meaning and exactly how it transcends the physical. Please be as clear as possible for simpletons like me.

Of course, Andrew is no simpleton, but is no doubt viewing things, as we all do, through the paradigm of prior assumptions.

If I could explain in detail the nature of meaning and it’s emergent (‘transcendent’ is a term that might easily be misunderstood, which is why I have not used it) non-material layer I suspect I’d be up for some kind of prize. We must remember that there is much about this issue that we simply do not know, and recognise that there is still a huge debate in academic circles. The ‘jury’ is far from out. In fact, Ward, in that wiki argues that materialism as a philosophy is still a minority view amongst professional philosophers. Quite simply, there is no requirement that a full detailed explanation be given when one is simply noticing that something cannot be reduced to ‘nothing but’ the physical constructs and seems to be an emergent, non-material layer. To suggest that something must be fully explainable before we can comment about how it seems to be strikes me as fallacious. I don’t need to explain the complete workings of emergent layers to note that they appear to be there, and that materialist reduction doesn’t work and leaves a remainder.

Essentially our disagreement is that while Andrew thinks things like concepts and meaning can be reduced to nothing but physical constructs, I see them to be carriers of the meaning – the passenger on the train.

If you have a cake with the words ‘Happy Birthday Jimmy’ on the top, no amount of physics and chemistry will tell you about the semiotic meaning of those words. To try and reduce it to physical constructs leaves a remainder. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The physical construct of the icing and shapes of letters carry the meaning, but it cannot be reduced to that. Likewise, a concpet may origninate in one mind, somehow connected to biochemical constructs but it doesn’t remain as that when transmitted /  transported (in the way a cake remains flour and sugar etc.). It may take the form of sound waves or digital code or ink on paper – the physical construct changes, yet the meaning remains. This indicates to me that the physical constructs simply carry the meaning, and that the meaning cannot be reduced to these constructs. The passenger is not the train (he agrees) and the message is not the means of transmission.

Of course, if one is a materialist and assumes that the only things that exist are matter, energy space and time, then you are effectively forced to conclude that it has to be reduced to physical constructs – there’s no room in such a worldview for non-material. But that’s begging the question. I suspect too that such reductionism has particular deterministic implications, a point on which Andrew has mentioned plans to write about.

Professor John Lennox, himself a philosopher of science at Oxford University tells the story when a long-time committed reductionist recognised the inability of semiotic meaning to be reduced to physics and chemistry:

I’d be very interested to see what some of the philosophically minded (or is that brain-structured?) have to say on the issue, either here, or over at Andrew’s blog. Clearly he and I are not going to find too much philosophical agreement here, but that’s ok. It is an interesting discussion never-the-less.

If you have an hour to spare, I highly recommend this lecture by Prof. Ward, where he covers a number of the issues raised. In particular he points out that “nobody has come within miles of reducing personal explanation to physical explanation”, and points out why materialism is a minority philosophy (and one he thinks will soon be as extinct as logical positivism):

Keith Ward: “Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins from Metanexus Institute on Vimeo.

37 Comments
  1. Seems to me the difference of opinions is about how to deal with our prevailing ignorance as a species.

    As you said, we simply don't understand very much about emergent phenomena such as conciousness. No disagreement on either side there.

    The reductionist camp seems to be dealing with this ignorance by not overextending our understanding. We have a good understanding of the 'material' facets of the universe (and some understanding of what we don't understand) and there is a clear relationship between such components of reality and the emergent properties they can produce. For example, changes in personality as a result of brain damage.

    The emergent camp seems to be pointing to the gap in our understanding and saying it is the result of some kind of synergistic effect where the parts all produce something greater than the sum total of the individual components.

    I must admit I'm more towards the reductionist position but mostly because I find something slightly circular in how you present the emergentist position you hold.

    While you say no amount of physics or chemisty can account for the meaning of the message it seems the emergentism can't either. There seems to be a hidden piece of circular logic – to discern this meaning an already emerged paradigm of semiotics must be applied to it. The meaning of the shapes of icing on the cake are not self-evident, if you can't read english you will not discern the message.

    From where did this paradigm come from? To me it seems paradigms of language and writing have evolved in complexity over time, once the minds were capable of producing and maintaining such paradigms. The biological reality is there is little difference between the homo sapiens of 100,000 years ago and those alive today, however the cultural, social and technological advances of the last 10,000 years are immense. This to me seems the bridge in time and biology but the bridge in chemisty and consciousness is simply too far right now.

    To me it seems the position of emergentism relies on assuming a certain additional component of the total phenomena has emerged when it has often (but not always) been added by an external agent (in the case of understanding a message on a cake). The distinction between such emergences as the meaning of a collection of shapes considered letters and the consciousness of human minds is vastly different and would deserve greater dissection and discussion. However I admit, to fully account for reductionism this gap must also be bridged and our current knowledge is insufficient to do this. It all seems to be an argument over the mystery.

    It seems to me the reductionist position does rely on a faith (or trust) in scientific research to identify what exactly takes a brain and results in something as amazing as human consciousness – it is not enough to simply say the two are the same.

    I haven't watched the videos yet and I'm just commenting on what you've written but I'll hopefully find time to watch.

    • Thanks David.

      The meaning of the shapes of icing on the cake are not self-evident, if you can't read english you will not discern the message.

      I think it was Lennox who writes an example of an archaeologist who comes across some scratches on a cave wall – even though they don't understand the meaning, they recognise that they carry some meaning (though I suppose that's really a slightly different issue – whether semiotic meaning requires and author)

      It all seems to be an argument over the mystery.

      Sort of – it's an argument between two opposing philosophical viewpoints.

      It seems to me the reductionist position does rely on a faith (or trust) in scientific research to identify what exactly takes a brain and results in something as amazing as human consciousness – it is not enough to simply say the two are the same.

      Hmm… I would say it's a faith that everything can be reduced to physics and chemistry. I don't think it has a monopoly on scientific research. Though I'm glad you agree that 'faith' can be defined as trust ;)

  2. I think it was Lennox who writes an example of an archaeologist who comes across some scratches on a cave wall – even though they don't understand the meaning, they recognise that they carry some meaning (though I suppose that's really a slightly different issue – whether semiotic meaning requires and author)

    Well yes an archaeologist can identify scratches on the wall as a potential message because they are not a natural formation of the stone, there is an agency behind the scratches. Discerning what they may mean is far more difficult if there isn't already an established understanding of what they probably mean. However, it isn't incorrect to simply describe them as scratches on the wall, indentations made by a foreign object of a harder material. Where the meaning 'comes from' or can be said to emerge is by introducing or applying an array of assumptions about the agent who made the scratches. An additional ingredient must be added for the meaning to emerge. How could semiotics not have an author? Not in the simplistic sense but certainly someone or some population is responsible for the evolution or emergence of a particular semiotic, consider modern internet abbreviation memes for example.

    Though I'm glad you agree that 'faith' can be defined as trust ;)

    Some forms of faith may be more accurately described as trust. I'm not someone who simply blocks 'faith' in to a large basket of 'crazy'. There are varying degrees of confidence and trust in the sources of holding positions and there are multiple definitions of faith depending on use. Often atheists online limit 'faith' to a definition along the lines of "holding a position in the absence or opposition of evidence" which is a faith of sorts but not necessarily the only form of faith people can have on a particular issue. I think the definition above is often used to deal specifically with religious belief but I still find it too narrow but it is convenient in allowing you to focus criticisms but ultimately it doesn't address the majority of believers I think. Tangent I know…

    • However, it isn't incorrect to simply describe them as scratches on the wall, indentations made by a foreign object of a harder material. Where the meaning 'comes from' or can be said to emerge is by introducing or applying an array of assumptions about the agent who made the scratches. An additional ingredient must be added for the meaning to emerge.

      Right! That's emergentism – there are additional layers that cannot be reduced simply to the physics and chemistry. I think if you watch the Lennox clip, you'll see that this is his point.

      I still find it too narrow

      Me too. (don't know if you ever read this one?) ;)

      • Right! That's emergentism – there are additional layers that cannot be reduced simply to the physics and chemistry. I think if you watch the Lennox clip, you'll see that this is his point.

        Well I'm sorry, if that is emergentism then I have severely misunderstood the philosophy. As I described, I see no emergence of meaning – I see an application of meaning. As far as I'm concerned the layers must be an intrinsic property of the thing in question.

        A rock which played a crucial role in a family memory for me is simply a rock to anyone else – I have to explain the symbolic importance of the rock to others for the meaning to be of any significance or even existence to others. This property of the rock has not emerged, it has been applied. This is an addition not a synergistic effect of the rock's material components to produce a symbolic value.

        Dealing with Lennox's example from the video. The words don't 'carry meaning' they are applied meaning by the readers who see a collection of shapes and they both use a similar enough paradigm for pattern recognition to apply the same meaning. If the menu had been in wingdings and neither of the two had been able to read it then no emergent property would be recognised – no meal would be ordered using the menu. I'm not sure if you covered this ground with Askegg on Godless Biz (I didn't read your whole interaction).

        If this is emergentism then I'm definitely not accepting of this philosophy, it is 'arbitrary-assigment-of-meaningism' and vulnerable to some absurd conclusions of emergent properties of anything one cares to apply an additional property (or layer) towards.

        As I said originally, the issue of emergent properties of clearly man-made objects or concepts with a specific purpose in mind is problematic, we are mutually aware of the intended purpose of the product and find it difficult to separate the two when in fact they are not necessarily causally connected. A phone isn't intrinsically a means to communicate with others, we all just choose to use them as such because we know they were intended to be (and are useful for such purposes).

        Emergentism (as I understand it) is on stronger ground when considering properties which emerge from two ultimately identical things which behave or interact in different ways due to some distinctly different relationship.For example isomers are molecules formed with the exact same atoms but with a slightly different arrangement (their empirical formula is consistent between each other). Due to their slightly different arrangement they have different chemical properties. There are other examples of this sort with hard scientific evidence and on this field I would find emergentism to have merit although in some cases (such as isomers) critics seem to argue the different emergent behaviours are the result of physical or chemical processes not currently understood. However, this is not what you nor Lennox have argued because in this example the emergence isn't an applied significance or meaning by an external agent, this is simply how the compound behave regardless of what we would prefer or agree to.

        Also, Lennox using the argument from analogy of 'we recognise alphabets having authors but people won't recognise the arrangement of genetic code as having an author' to be particularly facile. The 'code' is our schematic for understanding the consistent manner in which these chemicals interact and the consequences of those interactions. Such interactions and consequences are completely accounted for within reductionist philosophies as far as I know. Certainly not what I would have expected from an Oxford Professor.

        • I see an application of meaning

          I think what you are calling 'application' I would call recognition.

          I have to explain the symbolic importance of the rock to others for the meaning to be of any significance or even existence to others. This property of the rock has not emerged, it has been applied. This is an addition not a synergistic effect of the rock's material components to produce a symbolic value.

          I think that's a slight equivocation of 'meaning' there. Never-the-less if we go with this other idea of 'meaning' (not in semiotic terms but emotional terms) then it to is a layer, yes added by you, but a layer still, which cannot be reduced, as you point out, to the physical properties of the rock.

          Dealing with Lennox's example from the video. The words don't 'carry meaning' they are applied meaning by the readers who see a collection of shapes and they both use a similar enough paradigm for pattern recognition to apply the same meaning. If the menu had been in wingdings and neither of the two had been able to read it then no emergent property would be recognised – no meal would be ordered using the menu.

          Here is where I think you're conflating applying and recognising. They are not the same thing. An author applies meaning, and a reader recognises it. Just because a given reader does not recognise it does not mean it was not given and that the object carries no meaning. I was once in a Korean restuarant in Barcelona with Korean friends – they recognised the meaning in the symbols on the page, I didn't. But there was still a layer of meaning there, and which could not be reduced to the physical ink on the page.

          The 'code' is our schematic for understanding the consistent manner in which these chemicals interact and the consequences of those interactions. Such interactions and consequences are completely accounted for within reductionist philosophies as far as I know. Certainly not what I would have expected from an Oxford Professor.

          I suspect that Prof. Lennox would reply that you're confusing two different kinds of explanation. You might very well show how DNA is physics and chemistry in terms of how it works (it's mechanics) but that doesn't even begin to explain why it should be so (a causal explanation).
          A Code is always, in the reductionist view, a schematic for physical and chemical structures and interactions, is it not? So why then can we not come to the same conclusions about this code? Why could we not make the same objection you do to a computer code?

          • "I think what you are calling 'application' I would call recognition."

            And there is our major difference in a single sentence. How exactly do you recognise meaning? Surely recognition itself holds the same issues emergentism does, so I might argue it is self refuting.

          • I don't quite understand your point – you'll have to point out the issues that you think make emergentism self-refuting.

          • I think what you are calling 'application' I would call recognition.

            Recognition doesn't help you. There is nothing intrinsic to the form of the letter 'A' which gives it the concepts we have of the letter in our paradigm of the english language. The letter could be used in a variety of purposes and be designated different sounds, meanings and linguistic rules. I simply can't see how this is emergence in any of the definitions I've encountered. It is imposition of a property not emergence.

            This is why I raised isomers because it is a case of emergent properties which can't reduced entirely to their material components. The same atoms and bonds are present in the two different isomers and yet they behave differently due to the relationship of the those atoms in three dimensional space. No one is 'recognising' this property, there isn't a better word for this phenomena than emergence.

            I think that's a slight equivocation of 'meaning' there. Never-the-less if we go with this other idea of 'meaning' (not in semiotic terms but emotional terms) then it to is a layer, yes added by you, but a layer still, which cannot be reduced, as you point out, to the physical properties of the rock.

            The layer doesn't exist as a constituent of the rock, the 'layer' only exists to me or those whom share the knowledge. This purely subjective approach to emergentism makes it ubiquitously meaningless. Any 'layer' can be applied to anything at anytime and be claimed to be an emergent property of said thing. This is absurd and amounts to 'if someone can imagine it then it is a property of the external object'. If someone decides a phone is a sex toy then it is. If someone decides metal bolts are a food then they are. Etc…

            I don't understand why you persist with this form of emergentism (still not sure you can call it that) when there are other, well supported, instances of emergent properties which are more challenging to reductionism. I can't even find a similar form of emergentism online and the wikipedia entry gives two different definitions which are not consistent with your application of this theory. Everything I read doesn't even go close to using language as an example and I think because you (and Lennox) are misapplying the theory.

            I suspect that Prof. Lennox would reply that you're confusing two different kinds of explanation.

            I don't think I misunderstood, one sentence followed the other in that video it couldn't be more clear they were intended to be analogous in relationship.

            You might very well show how DNA is physics and chemistry in terms of how it works (it's mechanics) but that doesn't even begin to explain why it should be so (a causal explanation).
            A Code is always, in the reductionist view, a schematic for physical and chemical structures and interactions, is it not? So why then can we not come to the same conclusions about this code? Why could we not make the same objection you do to a computer code?

            No codes are not always a schematic for physical and chemical structures and interactions – they can be purely linguistic but if you meant in terms of science then yes but this is because science is a descriptive process (codes are a tool of the descriptive process science is engaging in). The genetic 'code' is simply our schematic for the consistent manner in which the chemistry operates. Nothing more needs to be brought in to account for it. You say this doesn't account for why it should be so. Should it be some other way? Should the atoms not interact with each other to form molecules? Is there any reason to think it shouldn't be so?

            How can you not see this for the argument by analogy this so clearly is? I must admit immense frustration here.

          • There is nothing intrinsic to the form of the letter 'A' which gives it the concepts we have of the letter in our paradigm of the english language.

            Right – that is Lennox whole point! The semiotic meaning cannot be accounted for in terms of the the physics and chemistry of the letter. Materialist reductionism fails in this instance.

            I simply can't see how this is emergence in any of the definitions I've encountered. It is imposition of a property not emergence.

            Then take this one:

            "In philosophy, emergence is often understood to be a much stronger claim about the etiology of a system's properties. An emergent property of a system, in this context, is one that is not a property of any component of that system, but is still a feature of the system as a whole."

            That seems very much like what semiotic meaning is.

            The layer doesn't exist as a constituent of the rock,

            Again – right, and that's Lennox's point.
            Take what he writes in his book 'God's Undertaker', describing an analogy from Michael Polanyi (pp53-4):

            "He asks us to think of the various levels of process involved in constructing an office building with bricks. First of all there is the process of extracting the raw materials out of which the bricks have to be made. Then there are the successively higher levels of making the bricks – they do not make themselves; bricklaying – the bricks do not 'self-assemble'; designing the building – it does not design itself; and planning the town in which the building is to be built -it does not organise itself. Each level has its own rules. The laws of physics and chemistry govern the raw material of the bricks; technology prescribes the art of brick-making; brick-layers lay the bricks as directed by the builders; architecture teaches the builders; and the architects are controlled by the town planners. Each level is controlled by the level above. But the reverse is not true. The laws of a higher level cannot be derived from the laws of a lower level – although what can be done at a higher level will, of course, depend on the lower levels. For example, if the bricks are not strong there will be a limit on the height of the building that can safely be built with them.
            Or take another example, quite literally to your hand at this moment. Consider the page you are reading just now. It consists of paper imprinted with ink (or perhaps it is a series of dots on the computer screen in front of you). It is surely obvious that the physics and chemistry of ink and paper (or pixels on a computer monitor) can never, even in principle, tell you anything about the significance of the shapes of the letters on the page; and this has nothing to do with the fact that physics and chemistry are not yet sufficiently advanced to deal with this question. Even if we allow these sciences another 1,000 years of development it will make no difference, because the shapes of those letters demand a totally new and higher level of explanation than physics and chemistry are capable of giving. In fact, complete explanation can only be given in terms of the higher level concepts of language and authorship, the communication of a message by a person. The ink and paper are carriers of the message, but the message certainly does not arise automatically from them. Furthermore, when it comes to language itself, there is again a sequence of levels. You cannot derive a vocabulary from phonetics, or the grammar of a language from its vocabulary, etc.
            As it is well known, the genetic material DNA carries information… [it] can be thought of a a long tape on which there is a string of letters written in a four-letter chemical language. The sequence of letters contains coded instructions (information) that the cell uses to make proteins. But the order of the sequence is not generated by the chemistry of the base letters.
            In each of these situations described above, we have a series of levels, each higher than the previous one. What happens on a higher level is not completely derivable from what happens on the level beneath it."

          • "In philosophy, emergence is often understood to be a much stronger claim about the etiology of a system's properties. An emergent property of a system, in this context, is one that is not a property of any component of that system, but is still a feature of the system as a whole"

            So systems are built from part which cannot perform the function of the system. So what?

            As I have said before, there is no "cake" property of flour. There is no "car" property of tyres, seats, or steering wheels. There is no "train" property of tracks, passengers, or coal. What does all this show exactly? That systems are built from smaller components.

            At each layer we may assign a word to point to the entity we are talking about – that's exactly why we have different words. Your argument seems boil down to "because we have different words, then those describing entities built from smaller components must be more than the sum of their parts. This excess we shall call "emergent".

            However, I contend (as most reductionists might) that the sum of the parts is always equal to the sum of its parts. There is nothing excess which requires explanation.

          • That systems are built from smaller components.

            But that is not to say that everything is reducable to the physics and chemistry (or the 'parts') without there being a remainder. David has already alluded to some other examples where this is case.

            Your argument seems boil down to "because we have different words, then those describing entities built from smaller components must be more than the sum of their parts. This excess we shall call "emergent".

            No. That's not it. It is recognising that some aspects of the whole cannot be accounted for by the parts it's made from.

            However, I contend (as most reductionists might) that the sum of the parts is always equal to the sum of its parts. There is nothing excess which requires explanation.

            That's circular – you're begging the question. Yes, very obviously to say "the sum of the parts is always equal to the sum of its parts" is a tautology. Where you beg the question is to blatantly assume that the total = the sum of the parts. What you've done is nothing but restate the reductionist axiom, and we both no that simply stating it doesn't make it so!

            Again – Lennox's simple example of a menu gives a clear example of a case where the total is greater than the parts. The semiotic meaning simply cannot be accounted for in terms of the parts – the physics and chemistry of the ink on paper. It simply cannot be reduced to that. You've yet to show it can be.

          • "…genetic material DNA carries information… [it] can be thought of a a long tape on which there is a string of letters written in a four-letter chemical language."

            It can be *thought* of as a sequence of letters, but is it NOT a sequence of letters. DNA is a sequence of chemicals we label as letters to allow our brains (already familiar with language after years of learning) can more readily understand what's going on.

            "The sequence of letters contains coded instructions (information) that the cell uses to make proteins. But the order of the sequence is not generated by the chemistry of the base letters. "

            Here Lennox is being dishonest. Bricks don't self assemble, but chemical structures certainly do. The sequence of "letters" in a DNA strand ARE determined by the chemistry. His analogy fails.

          • It can be *thought* of as a sequence of letters, but is it NOT a sequence of letters.

            And neither are the pits on a DVD or the magnetic information on a Hard Disk.. and? In fact, many recognise that computer code is a very good similarity to DNA. When he says they are letters – he says they are chemical letters, in that they carry information the same way that printed letters (which is nothing but chemicals anyway, right?) do. In any case, DNA is a code that carries information.

            Here Lennox is being dishonest. Bricks don't self assemble, but chemical structures certainly do. The sequence of "letters" in a DNA strand ARE determined by the chemistry. His analogy fails.

            Well.. you're quick to assassinate his character, aren't you! Of course he couldn't be simply mistaken, now could he? Really…
            Poliyani's brick analogy was to show that emergent layers don't necessarily arise automatically from the level below. Lennox adds and analogy from language – that meaning and information doesn't arise automatically from the physics and chemistry.
            In any case, you say that the DNA sequence is ordered by the chemicals? You seem to argue that the layer of encoding information arises automatically out of the chemical layer below? Please show how! I'm not simply going to accept your assertion that it is so, especially when a more credible source argues (in much more detail – remember I've read the whole book, not just the quotes here!) the opposite. I get the feeling that you perhaps just assumed that it must (you are after all, arguing for a reductionist philosophy!) but if you're going to make that assertion, we really need to see that it actually does.

          • I'm sorry, I still think what you and Lennox (in the quoted passge and the video) are describing is not emergentism. Taking the two definitions from the wikipedia entry on emergentism please explain to me how they fit with what you have described with regards to a written message.

            a property P of composite object O is emergent if it is metaphysically possible for another object to lack property P even if that object is composed of parts with intrinsic properties identical to those in O and has those parts in an identical configuration.

            and…

            Put in abstract terms the emergent theory asserts that there are certain wholes, composed (say) of constituents A, B, and C in a relation R to each other; that all wholes composed of constituents of the same kind as A, B, and C in relations of the same kind as R have certain characteristic properties; that A, B, and C are capable of occurring in other kinds of complex where the relation is not of the same kind as R; and that the characteristic properties of the whole R(A, B, C) cannot, even in theory, be deduced from the most complete knowledge of the properties of A, B, and C in isolation or in other wholes which are not of the form R(A, B, C).

            In the above definition you can quickly see why something such as isomers or conciousness can be described as emergent but I can't see this with written text.

            As I see it, you're claiming a superimposed 'relation' (such as semiotics). This doesn't fly, as far as I am concerned it must be a relation that is intrinsic to the nature of the whole, the R(A,B,C) of the above definition. If the relation is applied, but not intrinisic, to the whole by an external agent then it hasn't emerged, it has been superimposed. It is called emergentism for a reason.

          • a property P of composite object O is emergent if it is metaphysically possible for another object to lack property P even if that object is composed of parts with intrinsic properties identical to those in O and has those parts in an identical configuration.

            O = letters: black ink on paper

            There are two examples on the paper of letters written in ink. Example 1 is:

            "Please write back to me soon"

            While example 2 is:

            "9p8u45f ohn^&#ber@###ygb%^54VGc"

            (perhaps we could compare a line drawing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a squiggly line of the kind one makes when testing a pen)

            In terms of the physics and chemistry there is the same configuration – put them all under the microscope and you'd get the same thing. That is the O.
            Yet, one carries meaning (the P), and the other doesn't. The intrinsic properties of 1 and 2 are the same, yet one has P and the other doesn't. By this definition then, it is an emergent property not reducible to the physical layer below.

          • pt 2:

            How can you not see this for the argument by analogy this so clearly is?

            Who said I didn't.. so what? It's not a fallacious argument by analogy. (If you think it is, please elaborate on why – I've fleshed out his DNA analogy in the quote).

            While I'm quoting (Andrew has seen these before)
            p55:

            "Are we going to say with Francis Crick: 'You, your joys identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules'?
            What shall we think, then, of human love and fear? Are they meaningless neural behaviour patterns? Or what shall we make of the concepts of beauty or truth/ Is a Rembrandt painting nothing but molecules of paint scattered on a canvas? Crick seems to think they are. One then wonders by what means we would recognise it. After all, if the concept of truth itself results from 'nothing more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells' how in the name of logic would we know that our brain was composed of nerve cells? As Fraser Watts has pointed out, Crick himself seems to realize that there must be something more to it than this, for he radically modifies his 'astonishing' hypothesis by weakening it to the almost innocuous statement 'You are *largely* the behaviour of a vast population of neurons'. But such a modified hypothesis ceases to astonish. Come to think of it, even if the astonishing hypothesis were true how would it astonish? For how could we begin to know or understand it? And what meaning would 'astonishment' have? The idea is intrinsically incoherent.

            By far and away the most devastating criticism of ontological reductionism is that it, like scientism, is self-destructive. John Polkinghorne describes its programme as 'ultimately suicidal. If Crick's thesis is true we could never know it. For, not only does it relegate our experiences of beauty, moral obligation, and religious encounter to the epiphenomenal scrap-heap. It also destroys rationality. Thought is replaced by electro-chemical neural events. Two such events cannot confront each other in rational discourse. They are neither right nor wrong. They simply happen… The very assertions of the reductionist himself are nothing but blips in the neural network of his brain. The world of rational discourse dissolves into the absurd chatter of firing synapses. Quite frankly, that cannot be right and one of us believes it to be so.'
            Precisely. There is a patent self-contradiction running through all attempts, however sophisticated they may appear, to derive rationality from irrationality. When stripped down to their bare bones, they all seem uncannily like futile attempts to lift oneself by one's bootstraps, or to construct a perpetual motion machine. After all, it is the use of the human mind that has led people to adopt ontological reductionism, which carries with it the corollary that there is no reason to trust our minds when they tell us anything at all; let alone, in particular, that such reductionism is true."

          • Seems my thoughts of determinism are now warranted.

          • Well, they're certainly consistent with your reductionism.. I don't think either are warrented ;)

            But, I am very interested to see what you make of thinks like personal responsibility and human will in such a framework. I'm interested to see what you make of human thought in that sense – isn't what I think just determined? How do I know what is true then? It really doesn't seem to gel with our everyday experience IMO.

          • Who said I didn't.. so what? It's not a fallacious argument by analogy. (If you think it is, please elaborate on why – I've fleshed out his DNA analogy in the quote).

            I'm not going to give you a course on molecular biology. However the internet might http://tinyurl.com/33fkwcz

            All that quote reads to me as:

            "If you can reduce the activity of driving a car to the interactions of the parts of the vehicle and the driver's controls then how can you justify you've gone anywhere?"

            Do you see the missing piece?

            However, even if the criticisms specifically in that quote were accurate it doesn't argue the 'self-destructive' or 'suicidal' nature of such a view. To point out the philosophy as flawed is one thing but to argue it is ultimately suicidal is another, I'd hope there was more to the argument than that.

            As far as I'm concerned there is the biological account for how things happen (which is certainly incomplete) and then from a conciousness level we experience reality and make value judgements about emotions and situations as we perceive them (which is also incompletely understood). I'm not claiming to bridge the gap but I'm not jumping in to the with appeals to 'something more' or 'nothing more', I'm waiting for the evidence of what this 'something more' is or a better understanding on both sides before being satisfied there is 'nothing more'.

            I find no contradiction (certainly no cognitive dissonance) to acknowledge the constituent components at the various levels but to also consider things from a 'higher' frame of reference. I'm not firmly set on reductionism or emergentism, as I said in my first comment here – there is a mystery (if not many) around these issues. However, my methodological naturalism leaves me to suspend a decision one way or another until I have more evidence.

          • I'm not going to give you a course on molecular biology.

            Lennox spends a chapter giving a DNA for Dummies kind of overview actually.. and both he and Francis Collins amongst many others talk about DNA as a kind of instructive code made up of a four-letter chemical alphabet. I don't see how that's a fallacious analogy.

            All that quote reads to me as:

            "If you can reduce the activity of driving a car to the interactions of the parts of the vehicle and the driver's controls then how can you justify you've gone anywhere?"

            Do you see the missing piece?

            No – I don't see the analogy you're drawing.. what does the journey correlate to?

            However, even if the criticisms specifically in that quote were accurate it doesn't argue the 'self-destructive' or 'suicidal' nature of such a view. To point out the philosophy as flawed is one thing but to argue it is ultimately suicidal is another,

            It's self-destructive if it undermines the philosophy itself – for example, Scientism by definition rules out the kind of philosophy that is used to make Scientisitic statements. It seems that Ward is arguing that because philosophies are physical constructs, then any philosophy that asserts everything can be reduced to physical constructs is thus self-defeating.

            I'm not claiming to bridge the gap but I'm not jumping in to the with appeals to 'something more' or 'nothing more'

            Great – my point is really against the 'jumping' to the 'nothing more' conclusion that Andrew seems to make.

          • Lennox spends a chapter giving a DNA for Dummies kind of overview actually..

            Now my university units in Human Biiology, Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology seem so unnecessary…

            and both he and Francis Collins amongst many others talk about DNA as a kind of instructive code made up of a four-letter chemical alphabet. I don't see how that's a fallacious analogy.

            I don't care because I've already described why it isn't necesarily a code with an author compared to an alphabet which is why the analogy is fallacious. An argument from analogy is fallacious when a principle component of the analogous comparisons is not actually similar. The only way the analogy isn't fallacious is by assuming the existence of the very entity the argument is being made for… circular by definition.

            Great – my point is really against the 'jumping' to the 'nothing more' conclusion that Andrew seems to make.

            You (and Lennox) are still misusing the philosophy by equivocating a superimposed property by an external being to an internally caused property resulting from (but not reducible to) the constituent components of the object in question (as per my post above including emergentism definitions).

          • Now my university units in Human Biiology, Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology seem so unnecessary…

            Indeed – it was all just a google search away! ;p

            I've already described why it isn't necesarily a code with an author compared to an alphabet which is why the analogy is fallacious.

            Can you link me back to the comment where you did that? I can't seem to find it.

            You (and Lennox) are still misusing the philosophy

            I may well be misusing it – Lennox has simply likened the meaning layer too the building layer which is emergent from the bricks but not without the input of an architect. OK – if that's not "emergentism", fine.. it's still an emergent layer – albeit one that requires authorial input. In any case, the main point that Lennox is making, which I think stands, is that materialist reductionism fails in this instance because you cannot account for the meaning via the physics and chemistry of the letters themselves – it requires an author.

          • Indeed – it was all just a google search away! ;p

            It is a start. I wouldn't expect someone to do a university degree to challenge their preconceived philosophical assumptions about the world.

            Can you link me back to the comment where you did that? I can't seem to find it.

            http://www.thingsfindothinks.com/2010/12/kieth-wa...

            I may well be misusing it – Lennox has simply likened the meaning layer too the building layer which is emergent from the bricks but not without the input of an architect. OK – if that's not "emergentism", fine.. it's still an emergent layer – albeit one that requires authorial input. In any case, the main point that Lennox is making, which I think stands, is that materialist reductionism fails in this instance because you cannot account for the meaning via the physics and chemistry of the letters themselves – it requires an author.

            The etymology of emerge is based on a latin concept of rising up from. It isn't about coming to or be applied to an object. While common use can be for something to become apparent, a meaning or significance being applied to an object by external authors is neither or these things.

            I can't help but feel this persistence on authored emergence is really just a large ploy to argue for a god to account for the emergence of minds from brains.

            In reality the example from Lennox and yourself regarding applied meanings as unaccountable by physics and chemistry (as if they are the totality of science) is poor. The only point, ONLY point, where this capacity to reduce the process down to understood aspects of reality is with the mind and how it actually works and no one knows enough to make any call in that area. Everything else is understandable from matter, light, biology, sociology, linguistics, etc.

            As I've said before, there are better example of emergentism but they don't seem to work to your advantage on the points you're trying to make. Unfortunately, neither do those you're using.

          • While common use can be for something to become apparent, a meaning or significance being applied to an object by external authors is neither or these things.

            Even if we grant that semiotic meaning is not an emergent layer of letters, it still remains that letters can have semiotic meaning which cannot be reduced to the physical layer of the letters carrying it (and yes, the reductionist view is that all things can be reduced to physics and chemistry!). I think you're getting caught up in the usage of the term 'emergent' and missing the actually point – against reductionism – that Lennox is actually making. As I said, it's not an argument for emergentism so much as an argument against reductionism.

          • But my point is this does nothing for positive reductionism. You and Lennox are offering as an example of a non-reducible emergent property which is not actually affiliated with the object in question intrinsically. The reason it isn't a problem for reductionists is because what you're claiming they must be able to reduce isn't something that even should be reduced for the object in question it is for a different object entirely.

            Even if we grant that semiotic meaning is not an emergent layer of letters, it still remains that letters can have semiotic meaning which cannot be reduced to the physical layer of the letters carrying it (and yes, the reductionist view is that all things can be reduced to physics and chemistry!)

            So here you're saying reductionists should be able to identify the materialistic components of semiotic meaning in letters when the semiotic meaning isn't part of the letters – its part of the minds (currently not reducible) of everyone who views the letters (perfectly reducible).

            The reason I think you're both over stepping the mark is this:

            1. We don't know everything to get us from brain to mind, so reductionism is grasping. So while there is not evidence there is a 'ghost in the machine' there is also some parts we simply don't know about and how they work exactly.
            2. To claim reductionism is intrinsically false because of prevailing ignorance is a fallacious argument – and will always be an appeal to ignorance. It could be what fills the void in our knowledge is more of the same, we don't know yet.

            I said earlier I lean towards reductionism because most of the reality we interact with can be reduced to the material components we understand somewhat. However, I know there are missing pieces and things we are ignorant of and will not pronounce a position one way or the other because it ultimately doesn't matter. It has no impact on any part of my life, on none of my prevailing philosophies and beliefs.

            I've enjoyed the discussion (even if it has been frustrating at points) because I like to think and debate.

          • re: your point 2. – I don't think that is their argument at all. They are claiming reductionism is false because they feel they have demonstrated an example where it cannot be fully applied (though you argue that their example is flawed).

            While I agree that semiotic meaning is not found in the physical properties of the letters (and I'm not saying that reductionists should be able to do their thing when this is the case, but because this is the case, it shows that it can't be done), I'm not not convinced they're not a connected layer or existent only in the mind – as separate or as subjective as you seem to suggest. But you have certainly given much to keep thinking about, thanks.

          • It is a start. I wouldn't expect someone to do a university degree to challenge their preconceived philosophical assumptions about the world.

            Well yes – as is a chapter in a book by an Oxford scientist.

            Thanks for the link – I still can't see that you've actually demonstrated the point you think you have. You seem to have simply argued that it's not a code that needs and author – "it does what it does, and why shouldn't it?" is the gist that I get. Does it not instruct? I trust you can see why I'm confused – seeing as two leading scientists say it is a code, and you say that it isn't… saying:

            The genetic 'code' is simply our schematic for the consistent manner in which the chemistry operates.

            Are you saying that DNA doesn't give instructions? It's just what happens to happen?

          • Well yes – as is a chapter in a book by an Oxford scientist.

            Oh he's a biologist too? Here I was thinking he was a mathematician (which isn't necessarily a scientist). as best as I can find Lennox has only published in peer-reviewed mathematics. While many maintain maths is the purest science it does not necessarily involve dealing with the real world and all the issues this brings when conducting science. Those mathematicians are are called statisticians. This may be his field but I can't find anything to suggest this.

            Are you saying that DNA doesn't give instructions? It's just what happens to happen?

            No DNA does not instruct. The arrangement of the various nucleotides are interacted with chemically by proteins which undergoe changes resulting in new reactions combining other compounds to each other (amino acids). Ultimately forming new proteins or new nucleotide structures (RNA).

            There is no instructions, it is simply a chemical process. These reactions will gradually become expressed in what many might consider the instructed result but I think terms instruction, blue print, plan, design, etc are more often used with a seperate agency in mind carrying out the tasks. In reality, for DNA, the seperate agency are simply other chemical molecules which obviously have no thought patterns or intent, they are simply reacting with each other via the described laws of chemistry.

            It is also a habit of humans to personify objects and processes as if there is a mind behind the goings on of things. DNA is somewhat deterministic (in that it ultimately decides what colour your eyes will be or can contribute to increased risks of certain diseases, etc) but the difference between this and instructing is important.

            Also, the two 'leading scientists' (of which I will grant one is actually a scientist and prominent) they may have other motives to using the terminology. However, the flip side is of course I'm against the terminology for the same reason they might be in favour of it. As far as I'm concerned it smuggles in the notion of an author or instructor of which we have no evidence. Furthermore, none of my lecturers, lab instructors or professors used such terminology that I can recall.

          • Hey, fair go, David – I never implied that Lennox was a biologist, I simply noted that he gives a 'dna for dummies' summary in his book, and seeing as he is a philosopher of science, and fairly well read outside his immediate discipline of mathematics and philosophy of science, I don't think he's entirely disqualified from doing so. My point was that you did, after all, suggest I needed a basic introduction and to learn about it from google.

          • The only point, ONLY point, where this capacity to reduce the process down to understood aspects of reality is with the mind and how it actually works and no one knows enough to make any call in that area.

            Tell that to @Askegg ;)

          • I don't agree with Askegg on everything and I think there are genuine issues with positive reductionism but you're not hitting the mark.

          • I didn't say you did – just noting that he's the one who seems to think that this process can be reduced down while we both think it can't necessarily be.

          • I realise you're frustrated – but I am trying to understand why you say DNA isn't a code. So far, I cannot see why that is the case.

  3. R(A, B, C) cannot, even in theory, be deduced from the most complete knowledge of the properties of A, B, and C in isolation

    If R is the word Roast Chicken, A is the ink, B is the paper and C is the semiotic meaning or the framework of English, then it follows that definition.

    The example of a drawing doesn't use the 'agreed' rules of english

    Nothing has emerged from the relationship of the constituents

    Yes it has – a sentence has emerged, but not without the input of an author.

    The property is not intrinsic to the object, it is arbitrary and external.

    No – it's not intrinsic to the physical object, which is Lennox's point as I understand it – like a building from bricks he argues that it does not emerge automatically from the layer below. That does not mean it's arbitrary or unconnected.

  4. Update: Andrew has turned his post into a video (pretty much the same thing):
    [youtube PGflsDxXuUw http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGflsDxXuUw youtube]

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