Archive for the 'supervenience' Category

Emergence, cont’d

August 15, 2011

I think the first thing I need to do is to find a better example or analogy than the disease of alcoholism, because while it allowed me to reference causation located in a realm we don’t completely comprehend, the example of alcoholic and family member doesn’t provide a case in which supervenience is clearly at issue.

How about kids getting into trouble, what is going on at the level of their individual behavior and what is going on when they interact with each other and when group properties emerge?

Much as parents would like to locate contagion in someone else’s child that then infects their own, I don’t think this is accurate.  People with similar issues tend to be attracted to each other (in order to learn from seeing themselves in each other), and I think these (similar) issues, however latent in the individual, are present in all of them at the start, ready to flower, so to speak.

So, suppose life is in some ways like stream-walking, and these kids are all walking in a stream together.  They all encounter a current of cold water, they all have similar footwear on, they all have a similar experience and express it similarly — a yelp of, “Hey, that’s cold,” as the cold current runs into the holes in their sneakers.  That would be my analogy to how kids wind up together doing similarly misguided things, let’s say cutting class and meeting by chance in the parking lot of the school — they’re all being simultaneously affected by a common stimulus to leave class without permission.  For me, it doesn’t matter how they might articulate the basis for their leaving class — they could sound like different bases and still be (differing) descriptions of the same stimulus — as if some of the kids in the stream perceived that cold current as an underground spring, others as effluent from a pipe, others as influx from a tributary.

So now we have a group of kids who are AWOL from school.   I’m going to jump to the speculation that they will do as a group something slightly different (like smoke behind the dumpster) from what they would have done as individuals — that supervenience thing, if I understand it: a group property — whatever emotional state lies behind the group activity of smoking —  emerges from their interaction.

As I understand it, the next issue is to understand that (or those) group property(ies) and whence it/they come — are they reducible to the individuals’ attributes, do they have an independent basis, is it something in between that is less straightforward than direct derivation from particular attributes but less unconnected than independent existence.

For me, and here I am going to strain my use of the stream analogy, all those group properties are brought forth by stimuli already existing in that cold current the kids walked into while they were stream-walking — some sort of amplification or processing as a group was required to discern these other aspects of the cold current that stimulate.  Because I think we are always processing input, and I think those streams of input have different octaves, so to speak, and that some of them are reflected by us only when we can reach those higher octaves through the voice of a group — but I think those overtones were in the stream of input from the start.  On the other hand, if all the individuals were immune to the stimulation of the input (the stream-walking kids had on their insulated waders), I don’t think the group voice would occur, although the inputs would still be there.  (I also think that there are also probably inputs in even higher registers than we usually ever hear, even in groups — maybe these are what are reflected in behaviors like genocide, when not just individuals but groups, too, are not wearing their waders, so to speak.)

I guess for me, the whole process begins with these currents, and that I haven’t yet seen addressed in these philosophical and sociological theories of emergence.  So, I’m not sure I’m disagreeing with the observation that group properties “emerge,” I think I just think that the explanation of what is going on is incomplete — only part of the entire process is being observed, from my perspective, because some of it, including its early steps, is not located in the physically observable.  At least, that’s my thinking about it now, maybe something else will become clearer to me as I continue to read and mull it over.

Post Script:  I just wanted to add that the concept of a quorum (or a minyan), that is, of a minimum of participants necessary in order to make a decision or a vote or a prayer effective, is rooted, I think, in a similar notion to what I have been trying to explicate above  (with respect to prayers, and even decisions and votes, we are trying to gain access to higher registers in what we experience as positive currents).