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Emergent Acedemic Phenomena

The realization of emergent phenomena and the study of them is the absolute zenith of an increasing number of academic disciplines. For all the differences in method and content of study, understanding the behaviors of any system leads to the manifestation of emergent phenomena that operate on a seemingly new set of rules which are needing of a new scholarly tool-set. The archetypical and perhaps most emotionally jarring example is that briefly explained by our first dives into the science of the brain. The apparently wonton nonsense of neural circuitry and interrelations following simple deterministic patterns on a large enough and sufficiently intricate scale give way to the brain's capacity to sense and understand the world along with the confounding elements of consciousness and self-awareness.

As brains ourselves, we have a high and highly personified view of ours and other people's brains, viewing them as unpredictable and seemingly spiritual instruments with natures far exceeding what we know them to be made of. Of course the mind is an emergent phenomenon of billions of dull neurons; in practical purposes it is more than a sum of its parts and cannot only be explained by looking at simple reactions, but the relations between them.

Most of neuroscience is a study of precisely how this emergent phenomenon is built up and how it can be explained. The opposite problem is felt by departments of computer science and artificial intelligence; machine intelligence is well explained on a mechanical level (indeed it would have been difficult to develop it without that knowledge), but there seems to be a long trail of higher-level language and computation before machines experience the emergence of characteristics of the human mind.

Emergence is realized when machine behavior can no longer be explicated in code of any of the descriptions of its individual parts; a fully intelligent machine's behavior would be more succinctly described in language built to carry its emergent behavior in the same way that human behavior, for generalities sake, must be explained in generalizations, emotions, drives and sentiments rather than in precise neural behavior.

Thus emergence is the gradually accumulation of predictable patterns (code in the machine, neurons in the brain, atoms in daily life) until a point where their general result does not, as a whole, follow the behavior of the parts, yet it seems to take up a "mind" and "objectives" of its own, although such terminology is deceptive for their anthropocentrism. Nonetheless, the accumulation of like patterns generates an overall pattern which many have systemic tendencies far different from its components.

Layers of Science

Of course emergence is not merely a realization of the behavior of minds, be they mechanical or swishy. Much of the way that humans have taken to explaining the world rests on finding the patterns of systems to make general observations and then again using the behavior of the system as a whole to account for a component in a new, higher system. It may not be too egregiously incorrect to say that there is only one true "science," but that it is divided into different systemic layers depending on the behaviors of systems below.

Atomic physics may be the only study that directly and deductively describes apparently straight-forward mechanical behavior; within the last century, the image of physical reality has become highly convoluted, but for all intents and purposes it is science at its most direct, disregarding the difficulties of observation. We can, of course, describe the behavior of atoms and how they interact with each other, each of them having minutely distinct behavior, but gradually patterns emerge that would be better explained in a chemical marco-model that ignores the specifics of atomic reactions. Thus chemistry arises to serve as a higher level model for the behavior of the system.

And then the coincidence of continuing chemical reactions eventually provides for the basis of biological science, which further generalizes the atomic details in favor of looking at the generalities and results of still higher level systems. The process of meta-explanation continues from there (albeit with many gaps of knowledge, but still resting on the outcomes of the lower-level systems). Neuroscience is an attempt to explain the biology of the brain and the systemic results of it and its evolutionary history. The study of psychology, borrowing even more loose and anthropic terminology attempts to explain human behavior with our knowledge of the brain as given. When human behavior is generally understood, even higher-level studies can make sociological or economic generalizations about the results of behavior in groups in different occasions.

Naturally it is not as if man's venture in science has been one from the bottom up. We had acquired an understanding of human behavior far before we understood the nature of the atomic world to the extent we do now. What is important is that each topical layer makes assumptions of the system it describe that coincide with the results of lower-level systems. There are unfortunate tendencies in many of the higher-level disciplines to ignore when new knowledge at the lower level confounds their expectations, but often the precise mechanism of behavior is not perfectly understood. Many psychologists may continue to use Freudian terminology when dealing with the behavior of subjects, despite the fact that Freudian science is quite baseless at a the level of neuroscience. Many economists may base their rational modeling on an exaggerated understanding of human decision-making or dogmatically overlook new findings in the psychological underpinnings of human behavior.

Good Generalizations on Bad Facts

To an extent, the specifics of those underpinnings can be ignored if the modeling of any system is admitted to be sufficiently limited, but that limitation hampers the range of applicability of any generalization. Our understanding of human psychology is valid if it makes predictions of human behavior even if every mechanism of the brain is not fully understood (indeed if some are misunderstood). The aforementioned fact that some psychoanalysts utilize Freudian terms to explain human behavior illustrates that even with a hydraulic and fanciful view of the mind according to Freud can theoretically account for behavior. That is obviously not reason to not reform these primitive ideas into ones based more directly on knowledge of neuroscience, but even superficial theories can be superficially valid. (Of course this is not said as a point of sympathy with Freudian psychoanalytics seeing that its true flaw is its lack of falsifiability rendering it by definition non-scientific.)

Nonetheless, any general theory is useful for its generality, but generality implies inaccuracy in a way. It's very possible to conceive of a similar theory that is so fanciful and obviously untrue, yet manages to make predictions of a system in given circumstances. This is no different from acknowledging that Ptolemy's modeling of the solar system, even with its geocentrism and primitiveness did indeed manage to explain the visual movements of the planets across the night's sky despite the fact that its assumptions were untrue. Ptolemy's theory of the universe was not disproven when behavior was observed that contradicted its predictions, rather a superior heliocentric model of the universe was conceived of that explained the same data with more intuition and also accounted for the behavior of future predictions which would otherwise simply be out of the range of Ptolemy's conception.

The central paradox of the emergence of new patterns of study on top of each other is that the higher the study goes, the less it has to do with the analyzable physical reality underpinning it. This is why whenever a radical truth is uncovered about the molecular nature of the universe it may gravely affect the work of physicists but even in chemistry, a study which is compounded onto physics, the effects are far less important. Sociologists and economists need not flinch at such discoveries as they read of them in the newspaper, although in a fundamental way mankind's view of every particle in the universe may have changed.

The further we climb the ladder of emergent studies, the more inductive, general, synthetic and provisional they become. The minute lack of knowledge in one subject exponentially increases in all others above it necessitating generalization or refusal to comment (and academics are not paid to do the later). Again however, the lack of certainty and analytic nature in economics for example does not mean that generalization, even generalization without psychological consensus is possible.

The Crisis of the Social Sciences

Of course economics is one of the first studies which became conscious of its emergent nature; indeed it was the founding principle of political economy. In a sense, the central doctrine of economics is that net human society is different from and greater than the sum of its parts, and fails to reflect the nature of individual agents. Individuals may act in the market with rapacious selfishness, but that does not mean that society itself bears behavior that would be isomorphic of selfishness. Instead, a society in which all must compete for the market activity of other is one in which all agents must go their farthest to please others with their own production and services.

Now the common error of many social scientists is to carry the emotions and intentions of the individual to the group, as if the interface between them is 1 to 1. Indeed one of the ludicrous assumptions of Marxist thinkers and their descendents was that the same incentives of the individual apply to those of classes in that classes are viewed as direct personifications of there members, not true emergent phenomena. While Marxists predicted that classes would clash against each other in the same way as individuals would, they overlooked where the incentives lied for individuals who would end up undercutting and compete with their competitors in the market. (Hence comes the Marxist doctrine of "False Consciousness" which is the equivalent to "repression" in the Freudian lexicon i.e. a clever way to avoid falsifiability.) As it happens, economic warfare exists at an inter-class, not intra-class basis, as people in similar class stations compete for their livelihood.

In many respects, economics and sociology are trying to be the same science, but sociology is the tradition of thought that has ignored the specifics of compounding action and emergence (this doesn't mean that some economists do the same). The primitive outlook of looking at groups as ideological incarnations of their members leads to the thought that people are extensions of their group and vice-versa. It is a crude personification of a system no different from anthropomorphizing a pantheon of emotive gods from natural forces. Even if it were valid to use the human emotional vocabulary on societies or cultures, it would not follow that the tendencies of the groups would follow those of the agents in the same way that a brain functions differently from a neuron or a atom functions differently from a molecule.

Paradoxical Modeling

Social sciences often face the same kind of modeling paradox as did Ptolemy's model of the universe. Finding correlations between various factors is not particularly difficult, nor is mapping out mathematically or conceptually trails of interactions. What is difficult is rigorously explaining how why because of what such a relation exists. Not knowing the origin of the behavior of the model also means that a researcher using it will not be sure of when it is viable to use and what variables will confound it.

Of course the same still happens in the "hard science." The Bohr Model of the atom, commonly taught in high-school classes and even in some at the college level is a totally inappropriate representation of the actual atom as we now know it. Regardless, the model is still useful for plugging into chemistry problems and understanding how atoms interact.

Part of this is a metaphorical problem. Our brains are easily capable of explaining and comprehending occurrences within our own system of emergence, but not necessarily on lower or higher levels. It's difficult to conceive of an electron "cloud" around a nucleus apparently "made up" of a handful of electrons.

Emergence in Close

The paradox of emergence is that it creates systems which are intimately intertwined with each other in the fabric of reality yet seemingly irrelevant to the nature of each other. Each is so seemingly self-contained and uninfluenced by its basis. Again, new information about neurons, atoms, or chemical reactions do not cause us to predict new stock market aberrations or cultural fads, but all of those events are intimately linked theoretically. Perhaps if we truly did have the full capacity to predict the future with a supercomputer that traced the behavior of every sub-atomic particle, we would change all our views of psychology, biology and sociological events based on the realization of new atomic knowledge, but seeing that are knowledge is imperfect, our necessary generalizations satiate the need for constant change in higher-level systems.

So as it happens know, no size of atomic discovery would change our views on highly complex social occurrences, giving us the paradoxical illusion that such phenomena are unrelated to empirical reality (it is truly just that their relation to reality is too difficult to trace). In lieu of perfect knowledge, limitations are placed on models thus allotting them provisional usefulness. In many cases however, especially if underlying knowledge is imperfectly comprehended, the said justification of a model may be farcical, despite the fact that it produces confirmable empirical results.