Dialogues about Emergence

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What is Emergence? Some scientists nowadays have revitalized this already old idea, according to which, when one climbs the ladders of complexity, from elementary particles to galaxies and amebas to humankind, new properties appear. “The whole is more than the sum of its parts,” they say. Some among them even refer to a specific effect of the whole on the parts: Do not our conscious decisions change what the neurons in our brain do, thereby justifying our free will?

Going beyond the old scientific ideal of reductionism, this revival of emergence augurs a revolution to come, somewhat similar to that which occurred when Galileo argued for the inversion of the old cosmology to adopt the Copernican point of view. Here thus the return of the three protagonists of the famous book of Galileo, brought up to date: Sagredo, Simplicio, and Salviata. Each day during a certain spring in Paris, they go to Saint Germain des Près, the museum of the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers, and so forth. They meet there famous scientists, such as James Clerk Maxwell, Charles Darwin, Ilya Prigogine, or Roger Sperry. With them, they discuss emergence in their respective disciplines. By listening to them, one can measure the formidable challenges of this new debate for science and philosophy and better understand phenomena as various as the shape of molecules, the workings of the brain, or, perhaps more importantly, the nature of time.

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References

2

Ibid., 50.

3

Ibid., 323. In those days, everything bright in the sky was called a star.

4

Ibid., 340.

5

Ibid., 107-108.

6

P.S. de Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities (New-York: J. Wiley and Sons, 1902), 4.

9

Rudolf Carnap, The Unity of Science (London: Pau, Trench, Trubner, 1934).

10

Rudolf Carnap, “Autobiography,” in The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap, ed. Paul Arthur Schilpp (La Salle, pa: Open Court, 1963).

11

Ibid., 13.

13

Ibid., 67.

14

Rudolf Carnap, “Logical Foundations of the Unity of Science,” in International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, vol. 1, ed. Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap and Charles Morris (Chicago, il: University of Chicago Press, 1938).

17

In 1859, Fizeau performed a rather precise measurement of light speed on Earth, in a two-way journey of light between Suresnes and Montmartre.

23

James Clerk Maxwell, Theory of Heat (London: Longmans, Green, 1871), 313.

25

Antoine Lavoisier, Traité élémentaire de chimie, (Paris: Cuchet, 1789). [Elements of Chemistry, (London: Routledge, 2001)].

27

Conwy Lloyd Morgan, Water and its Teachings in Chemistry, Physics, and Physiography: A Suggestive Handbook (London: Edward Standford, 1882).

29

Philip W. Anderson, “More is Different,” Science 177, no. 4047 (1972): 393-96. Anderson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics 1977 with Nevill F. Mott and John H. van Vleck.

35

See Robert B. Laughlin, A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down (New York: Basic Books, 2006).

36

Robert B. Laughlin and David Pines, “The Theory of Everything,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 97, no. 1 (2000): 28.

38

Steven Weinberg, Dreams of a Final Theory: The Search for the Fundamental Laws of Nature (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992). The book contains a chapter entitled “Two Cheers for Reductionism.”

40

C. Lloyd Morgan, An Introduction to Comparative Psychology (London: W. Scott, 1894).

41

C. Loyd Morgan, Emergent Evolution (London: Williams and Norgate, 1923), 309.

42

See Peter A. Corning, “The Emergence of ‘Emergence’: Now What?” Emergence 4, no. 3 (2002): 54-71.

44

From 1906, the practice of dating rocks by measuring their radioactivity and isotopic composition led to consolidating and specifying these estimates. The most recent measurements using such methods put the age of the earth at 4.57 billion years.

50

See Ernst Mayr, Evolution and the Diversity of Life (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1976).

51

Stephen Jay Gould, Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin (New York: Harmony Books, 1996).

54

See Rémy Lestienne, The Creative Power of Chance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998).

62

Ilya Prigogine, The End of Certainty (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 26.

63

Atlan, Entre le cristal et la fumée, 56. My translation.

64

Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (London: Macmillan, 1992), 25.

70

Ibid., 191. My translation.

71

See for example, Harold J. Morowitz, The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

72

Hans Krebs, Nobel Lecture, 1953.

74

Robert B. Laughlin, A Different Universe (New York: Basic Books, 2006), xi.

76

Jean-Pierre Changeux, Neuronal Man (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), chap. 5.

79

Roger Sperry, “Neurology and the Mind-Brain Problem,” American Scientist 40, no. 2 (1952): 291-312.

81

Roger Sperry, “Mind, Brain and Humanist Values,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 22, 1966, 3.

85

Ilya Prigogine, The End of Certainty. Time, Chaos and the Laws of Nature (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 60.

89

Carnap, Autobiography, 37.

Figures

  • Portrait of Galileo according to a Giusto Sustermans painting (1640). Palazzo Pitti, Florence.
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  • Rudolf Carnap
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  • James Clerk Maxwell
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  • The ammonia molecule.
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  • Charles Darwin, as he meets Salviata, Sagredo and Simplicio.
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  • Ilya Prigogine
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  • Roger Sperry
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  • Our global field of vision is a combination of the fields of vision of the right eye and left eye, which partly overlap (binocular field of vision). The nerve fibers stemming from each retina convey the visual information corresponding to the left part of the field of vision towards our right brain, and that corresponding to the right part of our field of vision towards our left hemisphere.
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  • The brain seen on its left side. Areas implied in the production and the comprehension of language are indicated.
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  • The brain seen from the top. The dense bundle of nerve fibers connecting the right and left parts of the brain, the corpus callosum, is represented split as it is it in patients studied by Sperry. Functional specializations for the right (R) or left (L) parts of extracorporeal space are specified for each cerebral hemisphere. According to Roger Sperry, 1974.77
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