Very early in these pages I bet my 'kingdom' on the fact of emergence. It is an issue that will continue to warrant much attention.
What is the issue? On one account it is whether the world can be explained purely in terms of physics. Right there we have a problem. If physics is unable to reduce itself, how can it be in a position to bring about the reduction of any other disciplines. Even if we had in our grasp the so-called 'Grand Unified Theory' of physics, the question of the closure of physics would be far from being answered. For example, after almost a century, fundamental aspects of quantum theory remain unresolved, quite independent of the existence of any GUT. Solid state physics is showing no signs of running out of new phenomena to study, and our understanding of many of the older phenomena remains purely phenomenological. The ultimate targets for reduction are biology and psychology. Biology continues as a robust, self-contained discipline. Biophysics remains a minor sub-discipline.
On the other hand, no one can point to any vital force that emerges only in living systems. What we do have is a rapidly expanding sense of the functional intricacy of all living systems. No one ever expects to be able to look at the laws of physics and be able to predict life as we know it. The question is then whether this gap is purely epistemic, or if it contains an ontology of actually emergent entities.
As I explained earlier, this is not an idle question. At the very least, it could be that emergence is explainable in terms of something like 'morphic resonance.' This would constitute a non-local connecting principle whose main effect is to facilitate evolution. Just in itself such an effect would upset our current understanding of physics, and would probably force us to confront the problem of teleology, and that should be sufficient to open up the rest of the metaphysical issues being dealt with here. Once these issues become resurrected they are very unlikely to go away again.
But we have only considered physics and biology. The problem of emergence is much more flagrant in the realm of psychology. We can study the neural correlates of our minds until the cows come home, but all the correlations in the world will not explain the existence of what is at least a very fortuitous dual aspect of matter. Furthermore it does not directly address the issue of whether a mind could also exist in an uncorrelated state.
Putting together these most obvious facts of physics, biology and psychology, the case for emergence should be open and shut. The fact that it is not, simply reflects the social conservatism around having to confront the issues of ultimate concern that we are delving into here at this isolated outpost of cosmic rationality.
It is not for nothing that people are reluctant to rock the intellectual boat that is modernism. I strongly suspect that thoughtful people can sense, even if subliminally, that there is something out there of biblical proportions.
There is already a small army of Intelligent Designers who are nipping at the heels of the Darwinists within the narrow confines of biochemistry. Their narrowly sectarian interests seem to inhibit their straying into these deeper and swifter metaphysical currents. But there are many fish in the ocean.
<-- Prev. Next -->