He was inspired by a post from enemyindustry (Flat Ontology II: a worry about emergence) to offer a proof (sort of, in a metaphorical way) that emergence is possible through the interplay of differentiation, where multiplicity is a norm and the potential for divergence is high, and specialization, where small specialized clusters can decide for the whole -- and the exemplar he gives in the 2nd post is the brain.
This is what democracy and difference look like when combined together. This is what is known as complexity.And . . . .
What brains do best is adapt, and they skirt right in between specialization and flexibility, by means of a higher level of democracy. For in the type of democracty we see in brains, it is not so much that everyone votes in terms of which direction the vortex as a whole should go, and which particular water molecule decides to do this, but rather, which particular cluster of brain cells gets to determine the decision made by the whole brain.Great, though slightly geeky, posts for those interested in philosophy.
What is emergence? Without question, in the sciences, this term has been essential. But what would a philosophical concept of emergence entail? David Roden has a really great, smart post up at enemyindustry about emergence. It asks all the right questions about emergence (a key term in my networkologies project), and brings to light several concerns about this term that I think need to be addressed before it’s philosophically useful.
Firstly, the philosophical import of the concept of emergence, as described by figures like Manuel Delanda, for example, is, as David rightly states, that emergence allows for the construction of what many have called a ‘flat ontology.’ This term, as used by Deleuze, Delanda, and Bryant, has slightly different meanings for each. I’d like to argue that an ontology should not be fully flat, lest it be univocal (Badiou’s take on Deleuze), rather, it should be ‘flat yet thick’, not a one, but a oneand, without a transcendent, but with space for a wide variety of potential transcendentals (which is closer to what Deleuze describes himself). I think Guatarri does a great job of this, as shown in a text like Machinic Unconscious, and further developed in Thousand Plateaus.
I agree with David: weak emergence is not enough. That is, most scientists describe emergence as non-predictable behavior, in which a series of micro-agents produce macro events which cannot be deduced from the rules which govern the micro-agents. But this approach implies that emergence depends upon the limits of the knowledge thereof. Is there a more ontologically useful concept of emergence, one which does not rope human knowledge and it’s limits into the mix?
I think so. And I agree with David – without this, no flat ontology, no workable assemblage theory. A lot rides on this. But where to start?
A Networkological Theory of Emergence: First, the Issue of LevelsEmergence, firstly, depends on the notion of level. This notion is implicit in any discussion of emergence. But who gets to determine macro, meso, and micro? From a networkological perspective, this is all relative to the ‘network of reference’ employed to ‘know’ an entity. This network of reference can be employed by anything, from an electron to a human.
Read the whole post.
Complexity: Why Brains Beat Vortexes
But are brains more democratic than vortexes? Certainly they are more complex, and the question is getting at precisely what this distinction means. In a vortex of water molecules, all the molecules that compose the vortex are exactly the same. That is, while there’s macro and micro levels, beyond this, there’s no long term structure. And this is why as soon as metastable energetic conditions vanish, the vortex collapses.
Brains, on the other hand, make sure that they have a continually meta-stable supply of energy, by means of the support structure commonly called a body, which eats food, etc. But this means that the brain must also support the body in question, they don’t just exist ‘in vats’, so to speak. Unlike vortexes, bodies are specialized for the environments in which they were evolved. And brains are full of specializations as well, and specialization implies differentiation and limitation.
Brains are specialized in highly specific ways, however. What brains do best is adapt, and they skirt right in between specialization and flexibility, by means of a higher level of democracy. For in the type of democracty we see in brains, it is not so much that everyone votes in terms of which direction the vortex as a whole should go, and which particular water molecule decides to do this, but rather, which particular cluster of brain cells gets to determine the decision made by the whole brain. Of course, this happens at many levels of scale, and this is what is so wonderful about emergence, the fact that it opens up many quasi-levels of scale in between the macro in the process of emerging and the micros from which it is composed. Each cascades up and down until equilibrium is reestablished.This is what deep, complex democracy looks like, and the brain is the model.