The Emergence and Nature of Laws

Published in the journal, Scientia, Annus Lxvii, III-IV - V-VI - 1973, Vol. 108. (with minor corrections and additions).  Read at the Inaugural conference of the New Jersey Regional Philosophical Association on January 15, 1972 and Queens college on March 9, 1973.

The view that the "right theory" or "enough information" will enable prediction of original novelty is a special case of petitio principii (begging the question) -- what I call the sufficiency fallacy.  There is, also, a subtle analogy between the "logic" of the sufficiency thesis and that of teleology.  Furthermore, a hypothetico-deductive framework for deducing emergent novelty involves a triviality and constitutes a restrictive use of the term 'deduce.'  The reductionism derived through such a strict deductive system applied to laws and theories is not applicable to substantive and qualitative emergents.

Emergent Evolution, which is commonly defined to mean the emergence of what "has hitherto not been in being," [Conwy Lloyd Morgan, Emergent Evolution (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1927), p. 111] is generally associated with such concepts as non-predictability, preformationism, discontinuity, and teleology.  I shall show the misconceptions entailed in these associations.
Because emergent qualities can be predicted under certain circumstances, it is often denied that they are emergent.  It has been suggested also (shades of Laplace) that given the right theory or enough information, original novelty can be predicted.
The view that "the right theory" or "enough information" will enable prediction of original novelty is, however, a special case of petitio principii -- what I call the "sufficiency fallacy."  It leads to a circuitous deduction of recurrent novelty.  Moreover, the use of the hypothetico-deductive technique as a means for deducing such qualities involves a triviality and, furthermore, constitutes a restrictive use of the term 'deduce.'  
What is surprising about anti-emergentists is their failure to recognize that there is abundant evidence that new qualities have never been known until after they had emerged.  And before new emergent qualities appeared, we were not, and had not been, aware of ways to predict them until we were in a position of direct or indirect hindsight to predict their recurrability.  It does not matter that there is a point of truth in the argument that if a deductive system already includes the terms (to be predicted), that such emergents would be predictable.

Some philosophers of science play on the word 'deduce' as if its meaning is merely logical.  They claim that it is statements, not properties, which are deduced.

It is not properties, but statements (or propositions) which can be deduced. Moreover, statements about properties of complex wholes can be deduced from statements about their constituents only if the premises contain a suitable theory concerning these constituents--one which makes it possible to analyze the behavior of such wholes as "resultants" of the assumed behaviors of the constituents.  [Ernest Nagel, p. 368, Structure of Science]          

Conclusions cannot be deduced unless they are already "stated" in the premises.  This is obviously correct considering this limited use of the term' deduce.'  However, deductive reasoning may be either propositional prediction (linguistic, i.e. the use of symbols) or experiential expectation (sans symbols).  The reasons for not being able to predict the qualities of water from experiential expectation are different from the reasons for not being able to deduce the qualities of water from propositions.  
Every scientific law is an idealization, an approximation (even though there may be a practical use for distinguishing between ideal laws and "non-ideal laws"), and "exists" as an abstraction of "phenomena," which identifies in concept what cannot be identified in the physical world.  It is we who tailor laws to fit the phenomena we abstract, though we generally ignore the relationship of our instruments (extensions of our sense faculties) to the phenomena about which we conceive our laws.  Law is a hierarchy of abstractions, ideals, formulations; laws are neither physically "real" nor do they cause events.  Nor are formulated laws real in any way except as emergent concepts in the mind of man as he creates the kind of order which is most satisfactory to him.
Keeping this in mind, instantial terms and propositions come into existence because of experience with newly or repeatedly observed occurrences leading to theoretical expressions of protocol statements.  Those instantial terms which are demanded for purposes of deduction, themselves, emerge only upon the need for nomenclature.  Original novelty cannot be predicted in a hypothetico-deductive system, because there is no reason for constructing the statements from which the "conclusion" or emergence could be deduced.  That is to say, instantial propositions have no grounds until there are correlative facts.  Rational men do not formulate propositions about real qualities without some empirical or extrapolative ground for doing so.  Likewise, theoretical laws have no pragmatic empirical value unless they are transformable into observation sentences.
It is important to show (as did Conwy Lloyd Morgan, one of the chief proponents of Emergent Evolution), that "determinism" does not ensure prediction.  Emergents occur by causal relation.  If this were not so, we could not expect recurrent novelty. 
The important fact is not that one cannot make statements predicting that water will be translucent, but that there is no way to conceive what it will be, to imagine what it will be, prior to its first emergence.
On the basis of available knowledge, emergence has been verified.  We have empirical data for the emergence of formally and formerly unpredictable qualities.  And new laws, formulated or "factual" (recurrent patterns of physical interrelationships) have emerged as old substances have combined to give emergence to new qualities.  Some philosophers of science argue as if knowledge of emergents is obtainable only through some theory.  We need no theory to learn that water is translucent when we have seen it emerge from hydrogen and oxygen.  We need no theory to learn that we observe its emergence when it comes into existence.  To postulate that various kinds of knowledge and theories about the micro domain and about atomic structures will lead to prediction of certain qualities is to commit another version of the "sufficiency fallacy."   This would entail a theory about translucency which would in turn entail exhaustive knowledge of translucency (pre-supposing some knowledge of translucency itself before its prediction) and of existential levels (atomic or subatomic) on which translucency is not apparent, even if our cognition were not merely constructual.  But then we would need even further "knowledge" of what made the "possibility for emergence" emergent -- ad infinitum.
To be able to predict that translucency will emerge in some synthesis of elements would require miraculous thought processes, or at least that it already be within the experience of man.
The problem is not merely whether translucency is predictable from the synthesis of hydrogen and oxygen as they form water, but also discovering what causal relations exist in the microcosm which give emergence to translucency whether in water, other liquids, glass, tissue paper, etc., and whether different causal relations give emergence to it.
Let us say that the "theory" is conceived that translucency is caused by some atoms being spaced apart sufficiently to allow light quanta to pass through.  In what conceivable way could it be determined in advance that hydrogen and oxygen, for example, would combine with sufficient distance between them to allow light quanta through if we had not first acquired knowledge of how they combine with each other or how they tended to combine with various elements?  How they combine is an emergent property also.  But more than this (as Morgan over a half-century ago insisted ), though translucency is not originally predictable, it is determinate; or it would not be recurrent or recurrently predictable.
What H does in H2O as opposed to what H does in H2SO4 constitutes a change in the behavior of H, since different qualities emerge, and, hence (even if not codified in atomic or subatomic theory), in any laws pertaining to the changes of the behavior of H.  Since laws are generalized and formal predications based upon available knowledge, the emergence of new qualities and new behavior constitutes grounds for new formulations.
Sub-microscopic information is constructual, not empirical.  And new theories utilizing such information entail retrospective insights; i.e., are predicated on other and recurrent empirical knowledge; hence, they constitute statements having recourse to recurrent novelty.  The nature of some emergents precludes the possibility of constructing a theory except in terms of some prior empirical evidence.  It may be the case (though there is no way of validating that it is) that some present emergent qualities formerly unpredictable because of not yet conceived theories may become predictable with the emergence of new theories, new insights, new intuitions.  But, what theories can be devised to predict the emergence of those new theories, insights, and intuitions?
There are no formulated laws for the behavior of a substance which has not yet emerged and no factual "laws" for substances that have ceased to exist.  It can be said logically at least, beyond the problems that would be raised by epistemologists, that such "laws" (as recurrable factual events) in the latter case, have ceased to exist; and in the former have not come into existence.      
There may be, of course, factual "laws" not yet formulated.  But all our knowledge is based on available evidence, be it in the form of correspondence rules or theoretical laws; and by theoretical laws, I mean those extrapolated from sets of o observation sentences and only so.
 One cannot verify, therefore, that a first occasion is predictable without some analogous occasion which lends itself as a form of indirect recurrent predictability.  But it would appear that the ability to predict recurrent novelty is clear evidence that unpredictability is not a necessary characteristic of emergent qualities.  Such qualities emerge, predictable or not, recurrent or "original."
As for the position held by some anti-emergentists that the impossibility of deducing or predicting such qualities as translucency or liquidity from statements about hydrogen or oxygen is a formal deficiency stemming from the lack of such quality terms in premises about oxygen and hydrogen, such a consideration is trivial, amounting to no more than "You cannot draw conclusions from what you are not talking about" or "What is 'hidden' in the premises will become explicit in the conclusion."  The weakness of such an argument lies in the refusal to give predictive cognitive status to the emergence of events which have not been formulated in a purely hypothetico-deductive framework.  The reason for the formal impossibility, however, should not be ignored.  It is a result of man's previous inability to conceive the instantial possibility of theoretical ground for the emergence of a particular quality.
The consequent of the contention that one has no grounds for such a prediction without such term-inclusion is that nothing can ever be concluded except as logical facts about formal relations of statements.  If this be so, it would seem that one has to agree with the emergent evolutionist that we cannot make existential propositions about existents of which we are in total ignorance.
There seems to be no reason to include the terms 'water', 'translucency', 'liquidity', etc., in a set of statements unless they are symbols of existing attributes, or else "science without observation" becomes possible.  The impossibility of deducing a statement like "the combination of H and O in a 2 to 1 relationship will form a translucent liquid" is not as some state merely a formal consideration relative to a chosen set of premises.  It is due, rather, to a lack of knowledge as to what will occur when hydrogen or oxygen combine, as when they combine with other elements and compounds (such as S, Fe, SO3, SO4, C, etc.).  When the emergents appear, then and only then is there given instantial and hence cognitive status to a multiplicity of diverse kinds of qualities.  This lack of knowledge is not to be construed merely as ignorance.  It is also an inability to know what can come into existence that previously did not exist.  We would not, for instance, deny the predictability of qualities that are recurrently emergent.  We say only that never having experienced hydrogen and oxygen becoming water; or hydrogen, sulfur, and oxygen becoming sulfuric acid, there is nothing in the nature of the hydrogen alone and the oxygen alone that could lead us to expect that the ensuing substance, i.e., the fusion or combustible hydrogen and combustion-supporting oxygen, would form a fire-extinguishing substance, or that the fusion of hydrogen -- 2 parts, sulfur -- 1 part, and oxygen -- 4 parts will cause to emerge the quality (the power) to dissolve metal.
If Mendeleyev's Periodic Table is to be brought forth as argument that analogous predictions have been made, we should bear in mind that the approximate necessary experience in terms of families of similar elements had already been part of the history of science and, therefore, permitted extrapolation of similar emergent qualities.  What needs to be emphasized, however, is the diversity of kinds of emergent qualities for which hydrogen and oxygen are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions.
If we are to give credence to those who say, "If we know enough, . . . " we must consider all of the diverse qualities that emerge from elements in combination with H and/or O such as H20 (water), H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide), H2SO4 (sulfuric acid), C6H12O6 (simple sugar), etc.  It is inconceivable what could possibly be learned about qualities and properties of H, and O that could feasibly lead to prediction of the vast multiplicity of qualities and properties that emerge when hydrogen and oxygen combine diversely and quantitatively with other elements and combinations of elements.  One would have to postulate that each element (with its subatomic constituencies) is a limited kind of Leibnizian monad mirroring countless possible qualitative events in the universe.
The error here is that of confusing the containment of postulatory expressions (like "water" and "translucent") as necessary conditions for the deduction of other statements, with predicting existential attributive statements which cannot cognitively be declared before the fact of emergence.
Moreover, to postulate that further experimental examination (in micro domain) might give evidence leading to predictability of those qualities is to say "Anything might be possible in the future."  This is hardly a scientific statement.  It can as easily be said "might not."
Emergence is often paralleled with unpredictability.  But emergence is not synonymous with unpredictability.  Recurrent novelty is both emergent and predictable.  It is the case, however, that "the different theory" which will allow predictability (as opposed to one which will not) refers to later emergent events without which the "different" theory itself would not have emerged.  New theories, in other words, are formally predicated upon formerly unpredicted and unpredictable emergent events.
Experiences of these emergent qualities and properties or similar kinds in other elements and compounds lead the imaginative mind to new theories, new models, new concepts, which are the creative derivatives of the observations of emergents.  It is in this sense that the emergent evolutionist insists that even new laws emerge.  They are formulations and idealizations of hitherto unknown "physical" events (perceptual constructs), or the indirect and inferential derivations of such phenomena as are presumed to be the effects of theoretical entities; viz., an "electron" track on an emulsive plate.  When, for instance, we refer to knowledge about heat and magnetism, we tend to overlook the fact that it was this "observational" knowledge which would then permit prediction and deduction.  The emergent evolutionist would insist that in the absence of previous evidence of the result of impacting molecules and the alignment of metallic substances, even the qualities and theories attendant upon heat and magnetism (which themselves also emerge) could not have been predicted.
To predict, one must first conceive; to conceive, one must first have had certain minimal observational experiences leading to conception; that is, some configuration of "simple" experientially founded ideas allowing the emergence of a "new" complex idea.  Some seem to insist that if one can predict the emergence of the quality of translucency, then it is not an emergent quality and that the possibility of translucency existed all the time in the pre-formative stage.  They are at heart preformationists dressed in the garb of a deductive system.  But recurrence of novelty is predictable and is not to be confused with preformationism.  If qualities are already reducibly inherent in a given substance, then it would be logical to assume that such properties are reducible to still other unsimilar properties and qualities, ad infinitum.  Water (an object term) "can be reduced" to H and O (also object terms).  To what can liquidity and translucency (quality terms) be reduced?  And, would such demergents (if I may coin a word) be predictable without prior knowledge?
We must not equate 'water' and 'translucency' as object terms.  They are not equivalent.  "Water is translucent" or "Water is liquid" are not observation statements themselves in the manner, nor in the sense in which "This substance is water" is.  'Translucent' (a passive term) and 'liquid' (an active term') are simple quality attributive (adjectival) terms of object terms.  'Water,' on the other hand, as are 'hydrogen' and 'oxygen,' is a complex object term implying a host of quality attributive terms.  It is, of course, possible to postulate attributive qualities to object terms as sets of premises and to deduce the conclusion of statements that in fact predict substances and qualities.  But what of their confirmation status?
A trait is always newly emergent whether original or recurrent, and is not inherent or absolute in any element.  This is basic to the "emergent" principle.  It also does not exist until it emerges.  This, however, does not entail indeterminism, discontinuity, hiatuses, or "leaps."  For, continuity exists in the continuance of change, and particularly in the change of causal relationships.  If the scientist, however, accepts the concept of "potential" (a questionable term), it may be said, then, that a "potential" for the emergence of qualities exists.  But experience shows us that such qualities appear only in certain circumstances and not in others.  If I may oversimplify, the material of the eyes gives emergence to sight, of the ears to hearing, of the brain to mind, etc.  But the separate atomic or subatomic materials forming the eyes, the ears, the brain do not see, hear, or think.  Certainly elements not in relation do not give emergence to hearing or to the qualities of sulfuric acid or to the tones of singing or to human awareness.  The "potential" for the emergence of a quality is not inherent in any of the materials whose "causal" relationship itself is the new quality.  When one necessary (or sufficient) constituent of the relationship is missing, the quality itself fails to emerge.  It is obvious that the qualities of liquidity and translucency do emerge in causal relationships other than that of hydrogen and oxygen.  In this case, then, these two elements are sufficient (not necessary) conditions.  It would, indeed, be interesting to determine what super microscopic commonality exists in atomic constituents of different kinds that gives emergence to those qualities, just as it would be to discover what "common" vibrations give emergence to 9th tonalities in a multiplicity of musical chords possessing 9th or 2nd intervals and not in other chords possessing 9th or 2nd intervals.
The tonal quality of a C9th chord does not emerge from any one of its individual notes: C, E. G. Bb, D, or even from the 9th (or 2nd) interval C and D; for a D7th chord in which the root, D, and the dominant 7th, C, are spaced in a 9th (or 2nd) interval does not give emergence to a 9th tonality.  Rather, the chord gives a 7th tonality.  If the tonal quality 9th (or 7th) -- including, of course, the human sense perceptors and development of interpretation, etc. -- is "reducible," then to give the reductions cognitive status in the face of all the complex sounds that are possible, especially the emergent qualities of sounds in interaction with different kinds of material entities, is to give ontological status to what does not exist (unless one wishes to attribute to them an a priori metaphysical existence).  It would appear, then, that the concept of reducibility, though it may apply to theory, cannot sensibly be said to be applicable to substantive (water) or qualitative (liquidity or translucency) emergents unless one chooses to redefine the term to refer to particular causal relations.
One final word.  It should be apparent from the foregoing remarks that no recourse to teleological explanations was necessary in this discussion of Emergent Evolution.  It might be said, however, that there is some subtle analogue between the "logic" of the sufficiency fallacy and that of teleology; for in the former (as in the latter), a God-like mind is a necessary condition.  Aside from the above, there is not much to be said about the role teleology is purported to play in an explanation of Emergent Evolution.  It is a vacuous role, fulfilling no need except the needs of those who have recourse to the transcendency of "God's Purpose" for all ultimate explanations of the events of the universe.  Since the concept of "God's Purpose" is posited without predictive or evidential foundation of any kind, it serves no useful purpose to pursue it as an aid in explaining the concept of Emergent Evolution.


© 1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella