Re: Memes and Emergent Properties

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Wed Feb 13 2002 - 00:09:13 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Memes and Emergent Properties
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    On Tuesday, February 12, 2002, at 10:08 PM, John Croft wrote:

    > Hi Folks
    > I have been reading up on emergent properties, and
    > wonder whether the conception of Emergence applies to
    > memes. Emergence is being used increasingly in a
    > number of fields. ...
    Emergence was initially defined WRT evolution by Jan Smuts, CL Morgan,
    Samuel Alexander, CD Broad and RW Sellars in the 1920s. Bergson was in
    there as well, but the overall idea goes back to Mill and _A System of
    Logic_ c 1848.

    Generally, emergence has been superseded as an ontological concept by
    "supervenience (see Jaegwon Kim's book _Supervenience and mind_) but the
    notion remains popular in philosophy of mind and computation.

    I have to ask what the concept implies other than the fact that there
    are things at one level of organisation we may not have expected, either
    because we hadn't been capable of the derivation, or because we did not
    have a full account of lower level phenomena. This is, of course, the
    holism versus reductionism debate, and very sterile it is too, IMO. I
    prefer GC Williams' characterisation of reductionism and holism in
    biology as a function of the size of the glassware used.

    John S Wilkins
    Head, Communication Services
    The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
    Parkville, Victoria, Australia

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