Thursday, May 13, 2010


I think I see something critical and essential to the discussion in the concept of emergence. From my viewpoint there is a direct, physical causality that links me in this present moment all the way back to the Big Bang. I am at the end of a chain of successful "changes" in the physical world that go all the way back through species to and through the first organic single-celled being which all brains agree to call living into the changes that preceded that arrangement. Just because different arrangements of matter act in ways that seem different (emergent) from what came before, does not mean that the chain of physical causality has been broken.

There is a past vision I have had when I imagined myself as not different from a mountain, a tree or an atom but as just a collection of non-living chemical and electrical impulses organized so as to act in such a way as to be called "life-like" by all the physical brains interacting with and perceiving this arrangement of atoms. The body which is me is just a collection of inorganic materials, all arranged and working to represent the affect of what other brains have agreed to define as "life" and "thought". In short, there is no such thing as "life". Life is completely and totally material, turtles all the way down. That vision hit me quite strongly, early on, when I was just starting to explore this fascinating world of evolutionary psychology. I know almost for sure that this act of imagination came to me as I was reading Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett in the passages where he explains robotic behavior so as one can interpret is as "conscious" behavior, indicating "life". I believe that that moment of imagination has kept me pretty close to a physical explanation of life all this long time since. Perhaps that is the distinction that keeps some of us passing in the dark.

If nothing else, my vision of reality eliminates the difficulty of defining and explaining the emergence of life, since life itself is just a definition for a certain arrangement of materials in the material Universe.

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