The study of emergences is an alternative to reductionism, the reduction of problems to their elements. An emergence is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Harold Morowitz is a master in the study of emergences. He died in 2016, but he left us a great book, The Emergence of Everything: How the World Became Complex.
He identifies 28 emergences from the big bang to spirit. Each emergence is something new in the universe and provides a foundation for the next emergence. With each emergence, he provides a list of books by authors who have the deepest insights into that emergence.
The Table of Contents provides a map of the book.
The Emergence of Emergence
Ideas of Emergence
The Twenty-Eight Steps
The First Emergence: The Primordium
Why Is There Something Rather Than
The Second Step: Making a Nonuniform
The Emergence of Stars
The Periodic Table
Planetary Accretion: The Solar System
The Emergence of Metabolism
Cells with Organelles
Crossing the Geospheres:
From Fish to Amphibians
The Great Apes
Hominization and Competitive
Exclusion in Hominids
Technology and Urbanization
Athens and Jerusalem
Science and Religion
The Task Ahead
When the author begins chapter 32 The Spirit, he introduces and follows Teilhard de Chardin up to a point. At the time Teilhard wrote, he introduced a new term noosphere. Morowitz’s interpretation of this term was that the term was actualized by the World Wide Web. He states that we are all part of the noosphere. He says, “in this chapter, we focus on what to expect as the next emergence beyond the noosphere. It is the move from the mind to something more spiritual.” He confesses that he never realized how difficult it would be. The other emergences were in the past, while now he was trying to see the future.
He reviews several possibilities without favoring any. He states that Teilhard has a more teleological view of a new and final state, the omega point. He says, “At this point, I neither understand nor follow him.” At the end of this chapter, Morowitz lists two books, Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 1959 and Hans Moravec, Robot, Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind, 1999.
Chapter 33, Analyzing Emergences. The first is the greatest surprise of all. There is something rather than nothing. The second emergence says, not only is there something, it is structured. The universe is now made of many kinds of entities not previously present. Complexity has increased. Stars are the next emergence. The next emergence occurs when parts of the nonuniform universe cool enough for nuclei and electrons to come together. This is the periodic table. The next emergence is planetary accretion – the solar system. The last of the astrophysical and geophysical emergences is the organization of the surface of the Earth into the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. The chemical organization of the planet includes massive amounts of water, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in the hydrosphere, carbon in the lithosphere occurs as calcium carbonate. The first seven emergences are studied by cosmology, high-energy physics, astrophysics, geophysics, and geochemistry.
At this stage, a set of organic molecules emerges and the method of complexification changes to making information-rich polymers from a restricted set of monomers. Procaryotic cells emerge in the transition from chemistry to biology. Mutation in the genome led to a new kind of complexification, a world of microorganisms with distinguishable features. Speciation entered the unfolding of the Earth’s history. The next emergence is that of the eukaryotes, the combining of features that different species had succeeded in evolving individually. Multicellularity is the next emergence. Successful multicellularity demands morphogenesis. This requires a language of types of sticky spots, rules of sticky-spot interaction, and differentiation of cells by function to put the right function in the right place in the organism. This is the morphogenetic code, analogous to the genetic code.
The neuron is selected as an example of the kind of emergence by cell type. The neuron emergence is important because it is on the main pathway to the ultimate emergence of the brain, mind, and higher cognitive function. The next series of emergences leading to the group of chordates, vertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, arboreal mammals, and primates are the classical Darwinian domain. It is here that emergence theory and evolution operate in the same arena. The agents are genes and gene clusters, but unlike the earlier agents, these get their meaning through an elaborate series of operations. The whole hierarchical problem puts a large gulf between genes and organisms. In part, the appearance of novelty lies in the ill-understood intermediate steps. A description of a checkers-playing program that over time defeated the program designer illustrates this problem.
The series of emergences following the great apes includes a shift to learned information between the generations and between individuals having a larger role. The pace speeds up, language, writing, printing, and computers. In the beginning, there was a small group, but now it extends to the global population.
At the level of agriculture, control of the environment by a single species emerges. With urbanization, affairs are moved up one level and the state emerges. Emergence has moved from protons to philosophers, a closing of the loop.
The next emergence candidates are on the horizon. Morowitz sees two contenders. One is robotics, silicon takes over from carbon. See Hans Moravec’s Robot. The other is Teilhard de Chardin and the emergence of spirit.
In chapter 34, Athens and Jerusalem, Morowitz reviews the history of theology, natural and supernatural. This chapter is remarkable in documenting 2,500 years showing little progress in reconciling Aristotelian, Jewish, Christian, and Moslem views of God. Thomas Aquinas successfully reconciling Aristotle with Catholic teachings is an exception.
“It is our contention that the concept of emergence that has come out of complexity theory in just the last 30 years had much to say about dialog that has been proceeding for 300 years before the birth of Jesus. We will try to place it in context.” He ends the chapter by saying, “I suggest that we are now in an era that is ready for a dialog between faith and reason.
Chapter 35, Science and Religion
“The first break between science and religion covers the period shown in Table 9”
Table 9: Scientists in the controversy with religion
Nicolaus Copernicus 1473-1543
Giordano Bruno 1548-1600
Johannes Kepler 1571-1630
Galileo Galilei 1564-1642
Rene Descartes 1596-1650
Benedict Spinoza 1632-1677
“Copernican astronomy placed the sun at the center of the universe in disagreement with the biblical view, which had the Earth at the center.” “The Church tried to suppress these ideas through the execution of Bruno and the house imprisonment of Galileo.”
“With Spinoza’s essay ‘On Miracles’ the argument was fully engaged. Spinoza identified God with the laws of nature and then argued that miracles are violations of the laws of nature. This left God violating his own laws, which Spinoza found impossible.”
“I argue that the understanding of emergence is not only vital to understanding science, but it is also crucial to natural theology in the ongoing effort to seek the relation of the created to the creator.”
“We homo sapiens are the mode of action of divine transcendence.” … “Among the emergences was mind, with the possibility of understanding the universe and the ability to respond in a nonprogrammed way to the multiple emergences that led to some degree of volition and free will. Once this happens, we are partners of the immanent God in directing the further unfolding of local events in time.” … “The immanent God is knowable to us through our science, and the transcendent God is knowable to us through our actions. It is not the God of our ancient and revered faiths, but the world has changed, and we must change our thinking.”
Chapter 36, The Task Ahead
“Transcendence for traditional religions is within God rather than being in us as emergent from God.” “This is where the dialog begins. I suspect that it will remain a dialog for a long time, but it is too important to let it go on. It is the point of difference between our religion of emergence and traditional religions.” “To those who believe that we are the mind, the volition and the transcendence of the immanent God, our task is huge. We must create and live an ethics that optimizes human life and moves to the spiritual.”
David C Shaw
What is your view?