Emergence/Continuity/Discreteness

06Jul09

In their mostly fascinating text The Collapse of Chaos Jack Cohen and Iain Stewart make a strong case for a nuanced emergentism – arguing that patterns in the universe point to a actually real things stating that patterns are not only ideal constructions.  On one level it does seem impossible to reject weak emergentism – that, for example. a succession of falling snow flakes creates a pile of snow which creates real differences or structural changes.

That is, the arrangement of certain things (or the work of certain forces and powers) creates a difference or different effect – an ant passing through the snow would have to change it’s behavior given a pile of snow and not necessarily with a slow snow fall melting as it lands.  Such an argument has been used to say that emergence cannot be seen as a subjective category since real differences happen without human sensorial jurisdiction.  In a flatly ontological fashion we can say that difference does not require consciousness or even sense (replace the ant with a stone) but does this objectify emergence?

Clearly objects can emerge but does this point to a deeper ontological truth to their emergence – what is the ontological purchase of rearrangement? This is the old question of identity which, in regards to the aforementioned flat ontology Levi addressed here by appealing to temporality – that an object is stretched across time thereby taking into account the permeable bounds of the object.

As Martin Hagglund discussed in his piece at the 21 Century Materialism event the old opposition of any discussion of time is continuous versus discrete entities an issue which was short circuited in Bergson by making time a continuum of nows – discrete entities are used to support the continuum of successive time.  The flat ontological solution mentioned above seems to do the opposite – it uses succession in the service of discrete entities.

Stretched objects downplay the whole whereas the succession of moments downplay discrete objects however both hold unacknowleged metaphysical biases.  The first seems to validate the presence of discreteness through phenomenological access (there are discrete entities we see discrete entities all the time) and the second seems to work off of the plasticity of experience.

Here the problem of thought and matter rears its ugly head and while Graham Harman noted at the 21 Century Materialism event that realism (following Lee Braver’s list of realisms) is too concerned with mind independent reality (at the cost of other relations) it seems that mind needs to be addressed as embodied in matter and as a product of matter.  That is, the issue with thought and matter is not merely trying to determine what mind independent reality is but how material/real is thought and how immaterial (unreal) is matter?

Steven Shaviro’s recent discussion of emergence in relation to panpsychism seems to address the first half of the question whereas ontic structuralism would seem to address the latter.  The question becomes how does vitalism (and of course specifically a dark vitalism) fit in?  Opposed to Hagglund’s dismissive comments in regards to vitalism (as asserting non-material life, and dualism of all things) I would argue that dark vitalism is close to his radical atheism – one that asserts time’s radical destruction on matter.

Another shared theme is the critique of the virtualization of time – a purely diachronic notion of time must be asserted.  That is there are no objects outside of phenomenal appearences and discreteness is not decided by human experience but by the limits of fields and forces.  Temporality becomes integral to any discussion of immanence – as one commentator pointed out – how can one reconcile emergence and the negativity of time?

Saving that for next time

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