Guest Blog: Emergence: An Excerpt from In Defense of the Mind


There is an idea in the philosophy of emergence that states that systems become more and more complex, and more and more properties “emerge” as a consequence. The driving force behind this growth and growing complexity is essentially, creativity.

I think there is a strong link between this conception and that of the mind.

I argue that our minds, which are subjectively creative, are contributing to an overall system (or systems) that is becoming more and more complex as subjective realities interact more and more with reality in general.

In other words: The more that people think and feel and be, and the more their minds connect with the world, the more complex that the overall system of existence increases in complexity, due to the creative potential of the mind.

Again, I want to come back to my idea of potentialities, and infinite potentialities. Our subjective minds are capable of coming up with many novel ideas and possibilities, and this process seems to be becoming more and more complex, as more books of literature and philosophy hit the market, as culture as an organism continues to evolve and continues to grow. Knowledge itself and the discovery of new knowledge also leads to this complexity. We can’t take for granted that even if there is only one objective reality, there are many subjective realities, and those subjective realities are contributing to the creatively growing organism that is humanity. Creative properties are “emerging” in this complex system of humanity, and it’s a remarkable process.

So, as an example: We started off in Western culture with myth, the myths of the Greek Gods. That slowly became more complex as the Pre-Socratics started philosophizing, and then knowledge continued to expand with the knowledge of Plato, and then Aristotle, and then all of the philosophers from the Roman period, and so on, down to the Medieval scholastics, and it goes on and on. There is a classic argument that a person must become a specialist in a field of literature, because there is simply too much literature now. This is a sign of an increasing complexity.

But the mind of humanity is becoming more and more complex not just through literature and philosophy, but also through the choices and the subjective realities of the people that exist. I have no idea how my subjective reality is contributing to the overall complex webwork of humanity, for instance. I have no idea how my subjectivity is contributing to the increasing system of existence. While physical systems in the world might be moving towards decay via the mechanism of entropy, it seems that humanity itself is actually becoming more and more complex. We are constantly learning more and more, we are constantly evolving, and it seems that every century, thought takes extreme leaps, and every interaction people have with others carries meaning, meaning that simply grows in complexity as the days go by. While I think that the unified field theory holds some promise for uniting it all, I also think the goal is a little misguided: Why would we want to limit what everything is? For instance, do we really want to say that all of humanity can be explained in a single algorithm or mathematical equation? It would seem there would be more benefit from believing that humanity is a system that is becoming more and more complex and more and more creative as a consequence of evolution and emergentism. The benefits of believing this (and even being aware of it) is that we don’t limit our subjectivity. We allow ourselves to completely connect to the infinite creativity, the infinite potentialities, that is existence, and that is our existence.

Here is an example of the increasing creativity. When I look at the decision of one person, it makes sense. But when I start looking at the decisions of multiple people, I start to lose my understanding. This is because I start to become aware of how complex the system is.

In terms of philosophy: One work of good philosophy is enough to satisfy a person for a lifetime. But that is only one philosophy among many, among an infinite potentiality, if you want to use my terminology.

Some might think that this inability to look at the bigger picture is a problem, because it is overwhelming, but I actually say the opposite: The fact that the system is becoming more and more complex seems to be useful because it shows that we as a single human will never get it figured out, because we are a part of a proliferation of subjective understanding, of complex subjective understanding and existence and reality, that is simply going to grow. And why would we want to stifle that growth? Why do we have to be able to explain everything? Why can’t we just let knowledge accumulate, and let properties start to “emerge?” Why can’t we let creativity continue to “emerge” from the human species? We are burdened with the need sometimes to understand it all, but this is a mistake. That was the problem with the logical positivists and their reductionist project: They wanted to explain everything in a neat and tidy explanation, when reality is much more complicated than that, and it’s much more complicated because the systems are, indeed, getting more and more complex. But that’s nothing to fear, as I’ve implied. It’s something to appreciate. It’s something to admire. If we only admire it because it is a creative process, then that is enough.

In other words: The humans before us are laying the foundation for us, while we are laying the foundation for the future. The problem is that we think there is something to “solve.” When really, we should allow reality, just like our minds, to be more flexible. We should be grateful to be part of an intense proliferation of subjectivity and understanding and creativity, that is continuing to grow day by day. It’s easy to want elegant theories to explain everything, but to me, the mark of a good theory is one of creativity, and one that you can slowly start to see fitting in the complex matrix of other theories, those theories of which are growing, the system itself of which is growing. There is indeed no reason why we should limit it. There is no reason why we should limit ourselves, and what we have to offer to this proliferation of creativity, that can grow forever.

All of this is complex, but I have another spin/dimension to add to it all. That is the idea that our subjectivity shapes reality. We think the world is set up as a fact. It’s easy to fall into this. We think it is objectivity that molds and shapes our subjectivity, but I argue that, at least in some cases, it is actually the opposite. And because subjectivity is endlessly creative, it isn’t long before properties, which come from our subjectivity, being to emerge in society. I indeed have no idea how my subjective reality can shape existence, but it makes sense to say that that subjectivity does indeed shape reality due to its potential, and it isn’t long before creative properties begin to emerge, due to my creative subjectivity. And I argue that this process isn’t limited to me: All of our subjectivities shape existence, and because our subjectivities are inherently creative, they slowly begin to shape the world in more and more complex ways. Essentially, our world evolves because of our subjective minds.

But the potentialities don’t just exist in reality; they also emerge via the mind. The mind gets more and more creative as it further interacts with existence and other realities, other subjectivities. And this is indeed because of how limitless the mind is, how much the mind can do. There is no reason to limit it. There is no reason to limit the creativity that occurs via the mind, and the creativity that emerges via the mind. So the mind and its subjectivity shape reality, but the mind also shapes itself as its interaction with the world increases its complexity and creativity.

When we talk about emergence, specifically the idea of reality becoming more and more complex as humanity itself continues to evolve, we have to bring up Aristotle’s notion of entelechy. This is the basic relationship between the potential (what hasn’t happened yet) and the actual (what actually exists, what has happened). This is important because one could posit that the potential is becoming the actual, specifically the more and more humanity evolves, and the more our subjectivities strive to understand the world but simultaneously allow themselves to be creative. As an example: Technology like iPads would have been a complete fantasy in the Middle Ages. And yet we live with that reality every day now. In terms of the times we’re in now, we have indeed reached a pretty creative maximum, but there is still so much more that we can do, there is so much more that can become “actual,” things that for now are only potential, but can become reality. And that, I think, is important.

As I’ve implied, the application of the philosophy of emergence to the mind is completely different from the law of entropy in physics, and this is exactly why: In the human world, via the creative mind, we never know what can become actual, just that many things can become actual, and arguably, eventually it all could become reality (potentially, at least). And this is because the systems are becoming more and more complex. The Postmodern myth of “too much information,” while an interesting way to look at reality and true to an extent, also has a good implication (the idea of an evolving and creative system of knowledge and understanding) that actually doesn’t carry negative connotations, but rather, positive connotations, and a lot of potential: The potential, via Aristotle’s notion of entelechy, can indeed become actual, it can become reality. It is the increasing complexity that helps drive this potentiality becoming actuality. We must not forget the uses of creativity. When we get overwhelmed because there are too many books to read, we should instead be grateful, because this is a representation of much potential, and so much promise, a mirror of the growing complexity of systems. And those systems, unlike the law of entropy, are just going to continue growing and becoming more and more complex, and that is because, while there may be a limit to the objective world, there is no limit to the subjective world. There is so much promise in the subjective world, in fact, which is why the body of knowledge is so solid and ever-expanding in existence, and how that is indeed important.

In conclusion: I would say that the philosophy of emergence in terms of the mind is a more powerful view than strict reductionism, because it implies that there is actually a living, breathing, creative process at work, via our minds and via our subjectivity. In that sense, via our subjectivity and our minds, it would seem that the objective world is becoming more and more complex, because there are more and more details. But rather than being afraid of this, and overwhelmed, we should appreciate the beauty of this kind of “emergence,” of the beauty in which creative properties emerge, whether in the real world or in the mind, or in both. Looking at reality as a system that is becoming more and more complex offers the benefits mentioned above, and is important because it implies all of the joys that come with living in a creative existence: At the very least, that things aren’t static, and that they are flexible, and that they grow.

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