Emergence and epiphenomena

Jordan Zlatev jordan.zlatev at ling.lu.se
Wed Mar 1 11:26:53 UTC 2006

And if the referenences that Östen mentions are not enough - the latest  
number of Journal of Consciousness Studies (vol 13/1-2) (which I have  
yet not read...) is entirely devoted to "Epiphenomenalism"...

I admit that I have not made up my mind on these issues, but one thing  
is clear: even epiphenomena are phenomena (that need to be described  
and eventually explained).


2006-03-01 kl. 10.52 skrev Östen Dahl:

> In my previous posting, I said:
>> The term "emergence", by the way, is arguably even more ambiguously  
>> used
> by
>> linguists and others. I discuss the two terms "emergence" and
>> "epiphenomena" in my book "The growth and maintenance of linguistic
>> complexity", Benjamins 2004.
> Rob Freeman says:
>> Can you outline the main issues for us? I would like to hear what you  
>> have
> to
>> say about "emergence" (especially in the epiphenomenal sense of  
>> "having no
>> direct causes" rather than the evolutionary sense of gradual change!!)
> Actually, the gist of the argument can be found by digging into the  
> archive. On July 30, 1999, I had a posting with the title “What is  
> emergence
> anyway?”
> (http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa? 
> A2=ind9907&L=FUNKNET&P=R349&I=-
> 3), with quite a few comments from other people, which can be read on  
> the
> Linguist List website. I quote the concluding part of my own posting  
> (which,
> as can be seen, hooks onto the original definition of “emergence”  
> quoted by
> Steve Long):
> “In the older tradition, … "emergence" stands for new and
> interesting higher-order structures that are not reducible to the
> lower-order ones. MacWhinney and Hopper, on the contrary, seem to use  
> the
> same term precisely for the opposite: seemingly complex systems  that  
> are in
> fact derivable from -- "epiphenomenal by-products" of -- other simpler
> systems. One may ask how such a radical shift in meaning may have  
> occurred.
> It seems that we can find the seed of the conflict in the original  
> notion of
> emergence. On one hand, the target has new and interesting properties  
> that
> cannot be described in terms of the source, on the other, there is
> presumably some kind of causal chain that leads from the source to the
> target. The essence of the notion of a self-organizing system seems to  
> be
> precisely the fact that unexpected things happen as it were by  
> themselves.
> Depending on whether one is more fascinated by the novel or the  
> predictable
> component in this process, one may come to see different and seemingly
> contradictory aspects of "emergence" as criterial. Hopefully, we will
> eventually be able to see both sides of the phenomena at the same time.
>> Steve Long writes:
>> Perhaps Dennett has made the same unappreciated observations about
>> inconsistencies with regard to such terms as "cognition" or  
>> "language" or
>> "evolution"?
>> He certainly has a lot of opportunity to do a lot more pointing out  
>> that
>> someone might care about.
> It seems to me that Dennett has in fact made quite a few observations  
> about
> troublesome concepts of this kind (after all, that’s what he’s paid  
> for,
> being a philosophy professor), but to say that they have been
> “unappreciated” would certainly be rather misleading.
> We have to live with ambiguous terms, but the trouble starts when  
> people
> think they mean the same thing, although they don’t, or when terms are  
> used
> as convenient labels to sweep things away. In my book, I point out that
> although “emergence” was originally used in an anti-reductionist  
> spirit,
> later uses in linguistics of “emergence” and “epiphenomenon” reveal a
> reductionist attitude. I conclude with the following which I think is
> essentially in the same spirit as Suzanne Kemmer’s comments: “There  
> seems to
> be a reductionist hiding in all of us, although many tend to claim
> otherwise. It may well be that the readiness of the “other side” to  
> define
> away the notions that we ourselves find useful should make us wary of
> reductionist tactics.”
> - Östen
Jordan Zlatev, Associate Professor
Department of Linguistics
Center for Languages and Literature
Lund University
Box 201
221 00 Lund, Sweden

email: jordan.zlatev at ling.lu.se

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