The Emergence of the Universe

In my last two posts I introduced Peirce’s phenomenology of thirdness. The American Pragmatists were exploring a perspective of unified emergence that was taking the implications of Darwin’s evolutionary theory into the realm of metaphysics. This work on emergence was continued in America by Alfred North Whitehead and Process Theologians to the present day.

Carl (our Behaviorist in residence) has effectively and admirably countered most of my complaints about behaviorism and tells us that Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism reincorporated the interior of consciousness that had been orphaned by some of the early Behaviorists.

In one of his last posts Carl was saying that some present day Behaviorists aim to find a way to measure thought. I am curious how they will try to measure thought? I assume that it will be through some physiological effect, but this is one of my lingering questions. If thoughts are reduced only to their physiological effects, are we missing something important? I believe that Peirce (and Heidegger) would say yes. The perceived meaning of thoughts is a higher emergence of reality that cannot be reduced to physiological effects at a lower realm of being. That is the basic principle of emergence; lower realms of being give rise to higher realms and the higher realms are dependent on, but not limited to the lower.

One of the classic thought experiments used by emergence thinkers is the common human ability to recognize faces. We are all able to recognize other people’s faces, but if you tried to create a computer program that could do the same you would find it impossible. No matter how many traits of human countenance you identify that can be in some way measured or codified and input into a computer, the computer would never be able to recognize faces with the effectiveness of the human mind.

Emergence thinkers say that this is because the human mind has the ability to take in the entire face and to make distinctions that can’t be reduced to identifiable and measurable traits. In the same way I find it doubtful that we will ever be able to take enough measurements of thoughts to reconstruct their meaning or to be able to unravel the complexities of human behavior. The original artificial intelligence explorers tried to simulate intelligence by collecting separate pieces of data for decades before stalling out. Similarly, I think that the model of the mind as the functioning of electro-chemical impulses in the brain – while certainly in many ways accurate and useful – will not be enough on its own to guide humanity into the future.

Our thinking needs to expand to take on more complexity and interconnectivity. We need to see the wholes that parts are connected to and recognize and work with subtle relationships that cannot be understood one at a time, but as whole interconnected systems. This was the kind of thinking that the American Pragmatists were pushing into. It was an evolutionary philosophy that conceived the universe as a whole that grew and was embracing a universe centered (kosmo-centric) vision of reality.

The next thing that I want to do is take Peirce’s ideas of thirdness and show how they were expanded upon by John Dewey whose philosophy was more socially oriented. In doing this I hope to be able to begin to create the vision of an emergent universe that I believe was held by the pragmatists and is at the heart of evolutionary philosophy and spirituality today.