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Converging on emergence. Consciousness, causation and explanation

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Abstract:

I will argue that emergence is an empirically plausible and unique philosophical/ scientific framework for bridging the ontological gap and the explanatory gap with respect to phenomenal consciousness. On my view the ontological gap is the gap between fundamental ingredients/parts of reality that are not conscious (such as particles and fields) and beings/wholes (such as ourselves) that are conscious. The explanatory gap is the current lack of a philosophical/scientific theory that explains how non-conscious parts can become conscious wholes. Both gaps are of course conceptual as well as empirical in nature. Section I will be devoted to these issues as well as providing other general criteria for an account of consciousness. In section II, different types of emergence will be defined in the context of a more general taxonomy of reduction and emergence. Emergentism about consciousness becomes much more plausible when we see that the ancient ‘atomism’ (i.e., mereological and nomological supervenience) that drives physicalism on one end, and fundamental property dualism on the other, is probably false. Backing up this claim will be the primary burden of section III. In section IV I will conjecture that phenomenal consciousness is mereologically and perhaps nomologically emergent from neurochemical/ quantum processes, just as many other properties are so emergent. In section V I defend my view of emergence against the objections that: (1) it cannot bridge the explanatory/ontological gap between matter and consciousness and (2) it cannot account for the causal efficacy of consciousness in itself. Finally, in section VI, there is speculation about where all of this might take us in the future.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Wenger Center, Elizabethtown College, One Alpha Drive, Elizabethtown, PA 17022, USA. Email: silbermd@etwon.edu

Publication date: 2001-09-01

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