Saturday, January 27, 2007

Consciousness and Emergent Properties

Materialists argue that consciousness is an emergent property of matter. There are not many options available to those claiming that matter and energy is all there is. Joy, from Telic Thoughts, had this to say in response to another comment. Some of her remarks follow along with my comments about them. My comments are in bold type. Her remarks begin with a one sentence quote from another comment in the next paragraph. Joy's reaction is italicized.

Joy would have us believe that "nonlinearity" and "emergence" are just fancy words for "magic"

Keith, in the application to consciousness, these labels have specific meaning. Yes, non-linear science tackles self-organization of matter, complex systems, condensed matter, etc., and in physics attempts to define 'rules' (sort of sub-laws) governing the spontaneous emergence of such things from inadequate substrates. There is no law or minor rule of the universe named "Joy," yet here I am.

Joy being a living example of consciousness.

The definition of "emergent property" is a property (quantity or quality) that is not reducible to any properties or collection of properties of the substrate. Look it up, it's not hard. Irreducible to the substrate. Merely calling it "emergent" does not explain where it came from or how it operates beyond the inadequate substrate.

Joy points out how the term emergent property has been loosely bandied about, yet it has a constricting definition. The mere labeling of something by that term indicates a lack of explanatory utility; a point ably made by Joy.

You assume that if we added up the number of neurons and multiplied by the number of brain 'modules' dedicated to certain tasks of information processing, consciousness must 'emerge' as a matter of physical course. A lot of the AI guys who put a lot of funding into consciousness researches think the same thing, hoping to create a conscious computer one of these days. But it hasn't happened yet (that they've let any of us know about, anyway, and it would be a big deal) and isn't likely to happen, imo.



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