Emergence and Convergence

Emergence and Convergence: Qualitative Novelty and the Unity of Knowledge

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Emergence and Convergence
    Book Description:

    Two problems continually arise in the sciences and humanities, according to Mario Bunge: parts and wholes and the origin of novelty. InEmergence and Convergence, he works to address these problems, as well as that of systems and their emergent properties, as exemplified by the synthesis of molecules, the creation of ideas, and social inventions.

    Along the way, Bunge examines further topical problems, such as the search for the mechanisms underlying observable facts, the limitations of both individualism and holism, the reach of reduction, the abuses of Darwinism, the rational choice-hermeneutics feud, the modularity of the brain vs. the unity of the mind, the cluster of concepts around 'maybe,' the uselessness of many-worlds metaphysics and semantics, the hazards posed by Bayesianism, the nature of partial truth, the obstacles to correct medical diagnosis, and the formal conditions for the emergence of a cross-discipline.

    Bunge is not interested in idle fantasies, but about many of the problems that occur in any discipline that studies reality or ways to control it. His work is about the merger of initially independent lines of inquiry, such as developmental evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, and socio-economics. Bunge proposes a clear definition of the concept of emergence to replace that of supervenience and clarifies the notions of system, real possibility, inverse problem, interdiscipline, and partial truth that occur in all fields.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7435-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)

    The term ʻemergenceʼ refers to the origin of novelties, as in the emergence of a plant out of a seed and the emergence of a visual pattern from the juxtaposition of the tiles in a mosaic. And the convergence discussed in this book is that between initially separate approaches and fields, as in the interdisciplinary studies of mental processes and of the creation and distribution of wealth.

    At first sight emergence and convergence appear alien to each other, if only because, whereas the former is an ontological category, the latter is an epistemological one. On second thought they are not...

  5. Part I: Emergence
    • 1 Part and Whole, Resultant and Emergent
      (pp. 9-25)

      It is a truth of logic that every object is either simple or complex - in some respect or at some level. For example, words are composed of lexical units such as letters or simple ideograms, sentences of words, and texts of sentences; the integers other than 0 and 1 are sums of two or more numbers; polygons are constituted by line segments; theories are composed of propositions, which in turn are fusions of concepts; atomic nuclei, atoms, and molecules are composed of elementary particles such as protons and electrons; droplets, liquids, gels, and solids are composed of atoms or...

    • 2 System Emergence and Submergence
      (pp. 26-39)

      How do new systems emerge and dismantle? Can there be emergence out of nothing? How many basic types of system are there? And how can systems be modelled? These are some of the problems to be tackled in the present chapter. Regrettably, very few contemporary philosophers are interested in these problems. Worse yet, the very concept of a system is absent from ʻofficialʼ ontology or metaphysics (see, e.g., Lowe 2002). Yet, all scientists and technologists deal with systems and face those questions once in a while, though seldom in general terms. For instance, astronomers keep looking for extrasolar planetary systems;...

    • 3 The Systemic Approach
      (pp. 40-52)

      As we saw in the previous chapter, systemism is the view that every thing is a system or a component of one. In this chapter and the next I will argue that systemism holds for atoms, ecosystems, persons, societies, and their components, as well as for the things they compose. It holds for ideas and symbols too: there are no stray ideas or isolated meaningful symbols, whether in ordinary knowledge, science, technology, mathematics, or the humanities. Indeed, it is hard to understand how an idea or a symbol could be grasped, worked out, or applied except in relation to other...

    • 4 Semiotic and Communication Systems
      (pp. 53-69)

      Ordinary language offers one of the simplest and yet most sophisticated illustrations of the concepts of system, module, concatenation, emergence, and level: see table 4.1 (following page).

      Only a finite though open subset of the infinitely many concatenates of 0-level modules, such as letters, constitute a vocabulary. Likewise, not all word combinations are phrases, and not all combinations thereof result in sentences, questions, or commands. Signification (the linguistic counterpart of meaning) emerges on level 1, and carries through to all higher levels. However, only a subset of all possible sentences signify: the relation between signs and meanings is many-to-one. And...

    • 5 Society and Artefact
      (pp. 70-81)

      The concept of a system is unavoidable in the natural sciences, because all natural things are systems or are about to be absorbed or emitted by systems, from atoms to crystals, and from cells to ecosystems. Something similar happens in society, the supersystem of all social minisystems and mesosystems. The orphans Romulus and Remus are only the stuff of legend, and the few feral children that have been found had to be trained to become fully human. Robinson Crusoe was alone only for a while, and he survived largely thanks to the supplies he found in the shipwreck, an unwitting...

    • 6 Individualism and Holism: Theoretical
      (pp. 82-96)

      Ordinarily we deal now with wholes, now with their parts; and we analyse or synthesize according to need. It is only when we are in a metaphysical or ideological mood that we tend to believe that there are only wholes (holism) or else only parts (individualism), and correspondingly exalt either synthesis or analysis – as if they were mutually exclusive rather than complementary. Given that ʻpartʼ makes no sense apart from ʻwhole,ʼ and conversely, both individualism and holism are logically untenable. Yet, this logical hole is rarely if ever noticed, partly because the part-whole relation is seldom analysed.

      Here is...

    • 7 Individualism and Holism: Practical
      (pp. 97-111)

      The world can be seen as either a pile of things (individualism), a solid bloc (holism), or a system of systems (systemism). Consequently, our actions upon our surroundings may also be seen in either of three ways: the individual against the world, the world against the individual, or the individual interacting with his surroundings. The first view emphasizes autonomy, the second heteronomy, and the third interdependence. Equivalently: Individualism promotes self-reliance, independence, rights, and selfishness; holism emphasizes dependence, duties, conformity, and altruism; and systemism favours a combination of autonomy with heteronomy, independence with cooperation, selfishness with altruism, and rights with duties....

    • 8 Three Views of Society
      (pp. 112-126)

      The natural scientists tackled and solved their main philosophical problems in the seventeenth century. They did so when Galileo, Kepler, Gilbert, Huygens, Boyle, Harvey, Torricelli, and their followers jettisoned both supernaturalism and apriorism, criticized both conventionalism and phenomenalism, and adopted more or less explicitly a radically new philosophy. This consisted of a naturalistic ontology together with a realist epistemology that combines the experimental method with mathematical modelling. Whereas naturalism encourages the study of reality and discourages myth-making, experiment tests guesses, and mathematical models unify and sometimes explain.

      By contrast, the social sciences are still in the grips of ontological and...

  6. Part II: Convergence
    • 9 Reduction and Reductionism
      (pp. 129-148)

      The convergence of disciplines can be either horizontal or vertical. The former occurs when two or more disciplines merge on an equal footing, as in the cases of cognitive neuroscience and socio-economics. In contradistinction, vertical emergence is the subordination or reduction of one discipline to another, as in the case of the reduction of thermodynamics to statistical mechanics.

      In turn, there are two kinds of reduction: downwards and upwards, or micro-reduction and macroreduction respectively. Whereas micro-reduction is analysis or decomposition of wholes into their parts, macro-reduction is synthesis or aggregation of individuals into wholes. And reductionism is of course the...

    • 10 A Pack of Failed Reductionist Projects
      (pp. 149-167)

      So far we have examined reduction and reductionism in general terms. We have found that reduction, though often successful, is necessarily limited by the occurrence of emergence along with the formation of systems, and submergence along with their dismantling. It was therefore suggested that the moderate version of reductionism is superior to the radical one. In the present chapter it will argued that some of the fashionable reductionist projects are not just limited but utter failures.

      Reductionism has been rampant since the 1600s. Nowadays it is found among the believers in a ʻtheory of everythingʼ - if not quantum theory...

    • 11 Why Integration Succeeds in Social Studies
      (pp. 168-178)

      The social studies are notoriously fragmented. For example, the typical economist does not listen to demographers; political scientists are rarely interested in cultural studies; and most students in the field of cultural studies pay no attention to economics. Worse, every discipline is divided into equally isolated subdisciplines. For example, educational sociology is usually pursued independently from economics and politology; and the study of social inequality, gender discrimination, and racism are ordinarily disjunct from political science and the sociology of religion. I submit that such fragmentation is artificial and an obstacle to the advancement of knowledge.

      Such fragmentation is artificial because...

    • 12 Functional Convergence: The Case of Mental Functions
      (pp. 179-195)

      Everyone knows that a car is a complex system composed of many modules, such as spark plugs, wheels, and measuring gauges. Each of these modules carries out a specific function that no other component can perform. However, we also know that, when a car is running properly, all of its essential components work synergistically as a higher-level unit - a self-moving vehicle. Most other machines, such as computers, TV sets, and hydroelectric plants, are parallel. Their components are modules, and while they can be dismantled, rebuilt, and even upgraded up to a point, they function together as higher-level units. That...

    • 13 Stealthy Convergence: Rational-choice Theory and Hermeneutics
      (pp. 196-212)

      It is well known that the convergence, amalgamation, or syncretism of originally disparate ideas and practices has occurred more than once in history. The fusion of early Christianity with Oriental mysticism, and of the many ancient superstitions jumbled together in New Age mumbo-jumbo, are only two outstanding examples. Convergence has also occurred throughout the history of philosophy. A classic example is Thomas Aquinasʼs synthesis of Christian theology with Aristotleʼs basically naturalistic cosmology. Another is Marxʼs attempt to fuse Enlightenment principles with Hegelʼs idealism and Feuerbachʼs materialism. A third is the so-called Critical Theory of Adorno, Horkheimer, and Habermas - an...

    • 14 Convergence as Confusion: The Case of ‘Maybe’
      (pp. 213-236)

      So far we have been concerned with the rapprochement, correct or wrong, of clear and distinct ideas - approaches, theories, or entire research fields. This chapter will deal with a convergence of a different kind, namely conflation or confusion. More particularly, we shall examine the confusion among different members of the vast family of concepts behind the innocent-looking word ʻmaybe,ʼ such as those of possibility, likelihood, probability, frequency, plausibility, partial truth, and credibility. These confusions, inherent in ordinary language, have given rise to some philosophical games and even entire academic industries.

      Confusion is likely to occur at the beginning of...

    • 15 Emergence of Truth and Convergence to Truth
      (pp. 237-249)

      What is factual truth, as exemplified by ʻIt is true that rain wetsʼ? What type of fit, matching, or correspondence is involved in a statement of the form ʻThat hypothesis fits the factsʼ? Further, what can be truth bearers: propositions, sentences, pictures, or all of them? Are truth and falsity born or acquired? That is, are propositions true or false whether or not we know it, or do their truth values emerge sometimes from their test? Can a sequence of partial truths converge to a total truth? And what is the point of seeking the convergence of data, hypotheses, methods,...

    • 16 Emergence of Disease and Convergence of the Biomedical Sciences
      (pp. 250-267)

      When in good health we may enjoy joking about egregious medical mistakes. But when resurfacing after a successful medical treatment, we may be willing to admit that physicians often solve amazingly tough problems. Further reflection shows that medical failures are often due to the intrinsic difficulty of the problems they tackle rather than to professional incompetence. I submit that there are three main reasons for such inherent difficulty.

      First, physicians are expected to inspect, understand, and repair the most complex and one of the most vulnerable of all systems in the universe: the live human body. This system crosses all...

    • 17 The Emergence of Convergence and Divergence
      (pp. 268-284)

      The history of human knowledge is that of the search for truth (science and the humanities) or efficiency (technology). This search is punctuated by events of two types: branching out or specialization (or divergence), and branching in or integration (or convergence); see figure 17.1. Specialization is required by the diversity of the world and the increasing richness of our mental tools, whereas integration is called for by the contrast between the fragmentation of knowledge and the unity of the world.

      In this chapter we will examine a few telling examples of both divergence and convergence, with a view to understanding...

  7. Glossary
    (pp. 285-292)
  8. References
    (pp. 293-314)
  9. Index of Names
    (pp. 315-322)
  10. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 323-330)