If you knew all there is to know about hydrogen alone, and again of oxygen alone, you would not be able to describe all there is to know about water. Something happens when the two chemicals are joined: they form a new substance, with properties both similar and strangely, even bizarrely, unlike those found in hydrogen or oxygen alone. The hydrogen and oxygen disappear into the water, lose their qualities, and become One New Thing.
In some modern parlance, it is said the properties of water “emerge” from its constituents. But that is merely to given the change a name. It does not describe a force or cause, or reason for the change. “Emergence” is itself not a property; it is a description, and nothing more.
A great danger in giving some process a name is—and you knew this was coming—The Deadly Sin of Reification. Sinners come to believe the name becomes the thing described. And so emergence becomes, for some, a mysterious occult force that operates and explains how some things come to be. Yet nobody can identify the characteristics of this force, because it doesn’t exist.
If you know about hydrogen and oxygen, and you know a great deal more about causal interactions of chemicals like these, which is knowledge above and beyond knowledge of just the chemicals alone, you can attempt to grasp the causes of the “emergence” (as was done here, but only for liquid water, and probably not all of liquid water; indeed, new properties of liquid water are still being discovered).
In short, by calling on “emergence”, you have done nothing, at all, about discovering why things are the way they are. For the way oxygen and hydrogen join is not the same was the way sperm and ovum join, or how butterflies emerge (!) from cocoons, or even how one flesh forms in a marriage, and so on.
Which is all another way of saying reductionism is false. Everything is not just undead blind particles, or whatever, bumping into each other. What is going on in the world is vastly more complex, and involves causes and powers far beyond “bumping.”
Old Hoss is a doctrinaire reductionist:
…as a particle physicist by training, I have to inform you that the available evidence tells us that the whole is the sum of the parts, not more and not less. Countless experiments have confirmed for millennia that things are made of smaller things, and if you know what they small things do, then you call tell what the large things do. There is not a single known exception to this rule. There is not even a consistent theory for such an exception.
We have already seen that the central claim is false, and that exceptions to reductionism not only exist, but are the norm. Knowing only that quarks (or whatever) behave in such-and-such a way tells you nothing, or as close to nothing as you like, about why people like to see $9.99 on a sale sign and not $10. Or even how water “emerges.”
Old Hoss believes there is bumping and nothing else, that bumping is everything. As we said with AI, reductionism is always a Grand Bluff. It is to argue “We’ll prove how emergence works someday for everything, because reductionism is true; therefore, because of emergence, reductionism is true.”
She gives away her circular argument in the last sentence above: “There is not even a consistent theory for such an exception.” What would such a theory look like? It would be a theory of “emergence”, of how the bumping magnifies, in some way, to create new substances unlike their constituents. And it would be the same everywhere.
Yet this is not how things work. Substances are different from each other, having different powers and characteristics, so that no uniform and singular theory of emergence can exist.
Yet Old Hoss says:
But reductionism—according to which the behavior of an object can be deduced from (“reduced to,” as the philosophers would say) the properties, behavior, and interactions of the object’s constituents—is not a philosophy. It’s one of the best established facts about nature.
She’s bluffing again. Or boasting (“as a particle physicist by training…”), trying to embarrass you into acquiescence by shining into your eyes the light of brilliant minds who believe in reductionism. It is not an established fact, or anything even close to one, that reductionism is true, and indeed all evidence is against it.
Let me ask you this, Old Hoss, just what is life, and how does it emerge from quarks, or strings (though it seems you don’t buy string theory), or whatever?
“We’ll know someday, so we know now.”
This Everything Is Bumping runs throughout her book, most infamously in her failed attempt to show free will does not exist. It does exist. It is why I said “It does exist.” I won’t run through the arguments from her book, because they match those she gave in a video, which we analyzed earlier.
I will say the argument is shot-through with The Bluff. Example: “Because the physical part of our brain is demonstrably the thing we use to make decisions…”
I’ll leave it as homework to show why that is circular.
There is also much more to say about “Emergence”, like how some say the picture used for today’s post, ripples in sand dunes, are “emergent”. It’s surprising Old Hoss did not see her clever argument against entropy (see the second part) could be used here.
Bonus I was informed some of you have not yet watched this video. I am assuming these are false reports. But, if not:
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