Emergence and epiphenomena

Rob Freeman lists at chaoticlanguage.com
Wed Mar 1 21:55:36 UTC 2006

On Thursday 02 March 2006 00:26, Jordan Zlatev wrote:
> And if the referenences that Ă–sten 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).

Sure Jordan. There is no real mystery about it. There are causes.

Still, there is a difference. I've tried to express the difference by 
distinguishing "direct causes" and "indirect causes".

In the Conway's Life sim. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life) 
you see this in the glider gun. The gliders move, but their movement is 
caused only indirectly (by rules for the birth and death of cells.) You can't 
formulate a single "rule of movement" to describe the movement of these 
"gliders", and yet they move (with apologies to Galileo :-)

You can draw a parallel between this and grammar. We perceive grammar 
(movement), but if grammar is emergent then it will be impossible to 
formulate a "rule of grammar" to describe it. We must look for indirect 
causes to model grammar, like ways of generalizing over usage.

There is no real mystery about saying something is emergent, but it does have 
consequences. In the case of language it means if we look to directly 
describe grammar in terms of rules we will fail. We must attempt to describe 
grammar indirectly (for example, in terms of rules for generalizing over 

By the way, this is a good thing for functionalists. It fits nicely with a 
model which sees language as a product of systemic contrast (indirect 
causes), and not something which can be described in terms of formal rules 
(direct causes).


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