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   Author  Topic: Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"  (Read 6770 times)
BillRoh
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Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« on: 2003-02-05 18:59:23 »
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In the old days, when I was reading Michael Talbot, Davies and many others, the concept of emergent properties frequently arose.

The problem I have in all the examples I have seen is that the concept of "emergent properties" seems to me to simply be an added step to understanding. I was just reading the post by RHINO and the question came up again:


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Another explanation can be found in the properties of self-organization and emergence. Water is an emergent property of a particular arrangement of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, just as consciousness is a self-organized emergent property of billions of neurons.

I dont think of water as anything different that H and O. I know that water is an arrangement of H and O. H2O is water and it's arrangement based on the variables of the physical location of the H2O. If I say "Water" I mean H2O in liquid form.

Where does emergent come in? I understand we use the word water, but only because the molecule was common and observable before the chemical understanding arrived. But when we make a new molecule and then name it, how does the name become an emergent property? How does "table salt" become an emergent property of sodium chloride? Table salt IS sodium chloride under the proper conditions. Water is H2O under the proper conditions. 

What about consciousness? If you look at my posts through the years, I have frequently described mind, or thought, or consciousness, simply as a functioning brain. I think of mind as a physical process. I have never thought of it as anything else. The notion of saying that consciousness is a self organized property of millions of neurons sounds incorrect to me. The neurons did not arrange themselves at all, this was dicated by the genetic instructions and the environement. Why call it more? Why add the extra step and call consciousness emergent instead of simply functioning? Why call consciousness anything but a physical process we happen to possess?

if emergent is not a description of function, then I simply see no use for it except as a placeholder for things lacking information. like a sky hook or a black box in a schematic.

It is only because so many intelligent people seem to think that there is meat to the concept of emergent properties that I don't simply laugh at the phrase. Obviously I am missing something and I would like to know what it is.

Thanks.
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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #1 on: 2003-02-05 19:20:47 »
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rhinoceros
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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #2 on: 2003-02-05 20:42:05 »
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[BillRoh]
The problem I have in all the examples I have seen is that the concept of "emergent properties" seems to me to simply be an added step to understanding. I was just reading the post by RHINO and the question came up again.


[rhinoceros]
Apparently this was about Shermer's article "Is the universe fine-tuned for life?" which I posted in this section of the BBS.


<quote from Shermer's article>
"Another explanation can be found in the properties of self-organization and emergence. Water is an emergent property of a particular arrangement of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, just as consciousness is a self-organized emergent property of billions of neurons."
<end quote>


I'll quote some more lines from the article, just because emergence is also mentioned here:


<quote from Shermer's article>
"The evolution of complex life is an emergent property of simple life: prokaryote cells self-organized into eukaryote cells, which self-organized into multicellular organisms, which self-organized into ... and here we are.
Self-organization and emergence arise out of complex adaptive systems that grow and learn as they change. As a complex adaptive system, the cosmos may be one giant autocatalytic (self-driving) feedback loop that generates such emergent properties as life. We can think of self-organization as an emergent property and emergence as a form of self-organization. Complexity is so simple it can be put on a bumper sticker: life happens.
<end quote>



[BillRoh]
I dont think of water as anything different that H and O. I know that water is an arrangement of H and O. H2O is water and it's arrangement based on the variables of the physical location of the H2O. If I say "Water" I mean H2O in liquid form.

Where does emergent come in? I understand we use the word water, but only because the molecule was common and observable before the chemical understanding arrived. But when we make a new molecule and then name it, how does the name become an emergent property? How does "table salt" become an emergent property of sodium chloride? Table salt IS sodium chloride under the proper conditions. Water is H2O under the proper conditions


[rhinoceros]
In the case of water, it is no big deal. Water has some physical, chemical and biological properties which neither Oxygen nor Hydrogen had. These properties emerge only when Oxygen and Hydrogen are combined to become water, hence they are emergent properties.

The name of salt is not an emergent property either. Its physical, chemical and biological properties are. The chemical elements that it was made of did not have these properties, so the properties are emergent.



[BillRoh]
What about consciousness? If you look at my posts through the years, I have frequently described mind, or thought, or consciousness, simply as a functioning brain. I think of mind as a physical process. I have never thought of it as anything else.

[rhinoceros]
Maybe someone else can add some thoughts here. I have gone over this one before, and my personal preference is to define mind as the ability to think. That way, I can have a meaningful conversation with someone who does not believe that mind is a brain function, and I can be fully aware that I'll have to present evidence that it is, rather than making it an issue of definition.
 


[BillRoh]
The notion of saying that consciousness is a self organized property of millions of neurons sounds incorrect to me. The neurons did not arrange themselves at all, this was dicated by the genetic instructions and the environement. Why call it more? Why add the extra step and call consciousness emergent instead of simply functioning? Why call consciousness anything but a physical process we happen to possess?


[rhinoceros]
The example of emergent consciousness is a little bit more speculative. As a start for the discussion, I'll just say that a single neuron or a few neurons do not have consciousness -- never have been found to have. The brain, which is a complex network of billions of neurons does have consciousness, so this property emerged somewhere along the way up the path of complexity.

So, we can assume that a certain level of complexity is necessary for the emergence of consciousness. Some researchers go further and speculate that a certain level of complexity is also adequate for the emergence of consciousness.

The latter is popular with some researchers of Artificial Intelligence who hope that they will manage to create consciousness without having to understand its specifics.

http://www.google.com/search?q=complexity+%22emergent+consciousness%22+%22artificial+intelligence%22


The issue of the self-organization of the neurons, that is, how the genetic instruction were carried out initially and how the neuron's react and change with the input they get is not an easy one; we can't know without experimental data. I have heard of some experiments where the neurons change significantly and undertake new duties after a trauma or disability has been inflicted on the brain.


Now, "Why call it more [than a functioning brain]?" Because when the "engineer's" approach to a functioning brain does not help us much to understand how consciousness works, we have to try more specific hypothesis or even alternative approaches to the problem. This is even more important for those who want to build "conscious" machines without using biological stuff. Those people have to try to understand the "nature" of thought and consciousness in more abstract terms.



[BillRoh]
if emergent is not a description of function, then I simply see no use for it except as a placeholder for things lacking information. like a sky hook or a black box in a schematic.

It is only because so many intelligent people seem to think that there is meat to the concept of emergent properties that I don't simply laugh at the phrase. Obviously I am missing something and I would like to know what it is.


[rhinoceros]
No, emergent is just something -- anything -- that was not there before and appears under some conditions.

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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #3 on: 2003-02-05 23:39:52 »
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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #4 on: 2003-02-05 23:42:06 »
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David Lucifer
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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #5 on: 2003-02-06 12:57:12 »
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I tracked down a readable version of Self-organization and the Science of Emergence
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BillRoh
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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #6 on: 2003-02-10 19:23:00 »
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I have had a few days to mull this subject over now, and am happy to report great progress. Though I am sure there is some greater detail which I have a lot ot learn about, i feel that I have grasped the basic concept somewhat.

The problems I was encountering seemed mostly to be related to semantics and a general issue of tackling the problem from the wrong end.

I'll try to phrase this as best I can, and then hopefully one of you will tell me if I am headed in the right direction. I'll stick with molecular examples (water in particular) as they seem simple to grasp.

Hydrogen and Oxygen are gasses that require near absolute zero temps to turn to a liquid. They have properties; Hydrogen is explosive, Oxygen is a catalyst, etc...

When Hydrogen and Oxygen form the common molecule of water (H2O) then several new properties come into being that were not obvious from just looking at H and O. (I am not sure if predictibility plays a part - is something still an emergent property if it is a predictable outcome of the combination? a wall from concrete and bricks for instance).

Now water has qualities that are very different than those of it's constituent atoms. It's liquid at room temperature and pressure, non-flamable, mixes nicely with loads of other atoms and molecules, etc...  These different (different than H or O) qualities are what make water (H2O) an emergent property of H and O when H and O are combined to make water.

If I am getting this right, then there must be a lot of sticky points regarding emergence when the new property takes on an intangible effect. In the case of water, it is easy to measure these properties. I can see why consciousness must fall into this category for now as well. There must be many others in the biological realm, though I can't think of any right now.

Thanks everyone for putting up with my question and helping.

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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #7 on: 2003-03-26 17:19:12 »
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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #8 on: 2004-04-15 19:58:44 »
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Re:Someone please explain to me "Emergent properties"
« Reply #9 on: 2004-04-16 00:46:58 »
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Depending on where you "live" in spacetime, your "free will" is just someone elses history. And to prove it, go break something cheap, like a stick, or a brick or anything that would have remained whole had I NOT ask you to initiate your "free will" and break it.

It has "already" been recorded as broken in someone elses "spacetime".

Fun, isn't it?

Walter

[JeffCreel spoke thusly]
While to me this seems a free action, with meaning, it is also both the product of smaller processes, and the component of larger processes, all operating under the same physical laws. the politics of a person describe three things-> 1. how the person was "brought up" by their environment, 2. what the person freely "thinks" and believes-eg. the nature of their experience and observation, and 3. the impact they are likely to have on their environment- eg. their role in a higher level system
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