getting past emergentism

Alex Green dralexgreen at
Fri Apr 20 15:17:35 EST 2001

Richard Norman <rsnorman at> wrote in message
news:wBFz6.3064$uh5.86367 at
> "Xander Marion" <xandermarion at> wrote on Sat, 07 Apr 2001:
> > I'm banging my head against the wall trying to figure out
> > how to get past the theory that conciousness is an emergent
> > property of the brain. Anyone have any thoughts on how this
> > might be better understood while still focusing on a
> > neuroscience perspective?
> What is the problem with emergent properties?   All complex
> systems made of a hierarchy of levels of organization show
> emergent properties.  No individual component of a negative
> feedback circuit "knows" how to regulate, yet a negative
> feedback system can result in regulation.
> The brain is made of cells which are made of molecules which
> are made of ....  But certainly consciousness is not a property
> of cells or molecules.
I am not convinced that you can prove that statement.  If you were to define
consciousness clearly and then show how it was not linked to material things
I would believe you.

> A computer is (or can be) made of logic circuits.  But the
> notion of "a computer running Microsoft Outlook Express
> to display this email message" is not a property of those
> logic circuits.  It depends on a particular configuration of
> circuits plus the particular configuration of data.
Plus the person observing it.  Remember that computers can form part of the
superposed system in the Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment.

> So why couldn't the notion of consciousness be an
> emergent property of the neurophysiological properties
> of neurons (plus glia) plus the particular configuration of
> synapses and chemicals and cell signaling machinery
> plus the particular configuration of cell metabolic process?
I'm sorry but you need to define consciousnes before you can convince me
that what you say is true.

> The existence of emergent properties does not mean that
> neuroscience does not explain the machinery of the
> mind.  It is just that knowing how the machinery works
> is not enough for a full explanation of what the machinery
> does.
For an emergent property to be "consciousness" you must first know how to
describe consciousness and then compare the attributes of your emergent
property with this description.  If the two things are the same then
consciousness is indeed an emergent property of your system.


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