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The Demise of Formalism (Part 4) - The Rise of Emergence

SERIES: The Demise of Formalism
AUTHOR: Jim Schofield


In the mid 1980s this author wrote an article entitled The Demise of Formalism. It was about Mathematics and the work of contributors like Gödel and Turing, who had proved that Hilbert’s conception of the nature of Mathematics was incorrect, and it was neither complete nor coherent, or even entirely consistent, as he had asserted. But that was then!

The content at that time only addressed the discipline of Mathematics and nothing beyond that. After a further 25 years since then many new ideas have been developed, which take the area involved well beyond Mathematics alone, and well into Philosophy in general. The most obvious extensions were, as you might imagine, in the ideas involved in Formal Logic, and, of course, then into all disciplines which use Formal Logic as their “banker technique”. Even further it had become more and more clear that the techniques involved had very limited areas of application, and in particular excluded all disciplines which involved significant Qualitative Change, and most especially in those interludes in development which were covered by the revolutionary Events termed Emergences. To be able to tackle THE most essential areas of Reality just had to involve these crucial Events, for otherwise they would only be addressing entities and relations embedded in totally stable periods. Science would then be limited to the study of what was possible within Stability. Ideas such as the Origin of Life on Earth as well as its subsequent Evolution would be left out of the areas for study, and it soon became clear that the development of Planet Earth itself, not to mention the Cosmos, were also evolving systems and had to have their Emergences too.

Now these Events are remarkable interludes involved concentrated avalanches of Change, and each one, on completion produces its own entirely New Level, containing entirely new entities, properties, relations and indeed processes. To make matters worse, it had also become clear that the methods universally used in the Sciences up to now were totally inadequate to such cataclysms of Change within Emergences. Indeed, the nature of any Emergence could NOT be derived from knowledge of prior conditions, no matter how full they were. Nothing could be predicted from before the crucial Event that would pertain after the Event!

Now though these features seemed to make this an impossible area to study, such Emergences had been identified as such in the past, and the touchstone and template for such Revolutions had to be the First Appearance of Life on Earth. In addition, once recognised and described, these Events seemed to be cropping up everywhere, from interludes within the development of the Cosmos, to the emergence of Human Consciousness in Man.

By October 2007, the research of this author had reached the stage where another, much wider Demise of Formalism was necessary, and this is it! But what is included here was by no means the last word in this area, which by October 2009 had resulted in the publication (in SHAPE on-line Journal) of The Theory of Emergences. This paper can be seen as the immediate precursor to that Theory, and as such, several important differences will be evident between the two.


1.It is now indisputable that we cannot predict the Form and Content of a New Emergent Level from the conditions immediately prior to its commencement. And this completely contradicts Reductionism, where causes are assumed to form continuous sequences throughout Reality.

2.And this was universally rejected, as incompatible with all established beliefs and methods: so Emergences were almost universally denied. And those who insisted upon the reality of these Events were considered speculative dreamers and their whole standpoint rejected wholesale. Now, this reaction was made all the more unavoidable by the political standpoint of those who accepted Emergences, for they were generally socialists and even Marxists. There could be no agreement with such people.

3.Yet the increasing pre-occupation of these researchers with politics, and the consequent involvement in practical activities meant that the likely major gains in Science that would be consequent upon the improvement in philosophical standpoint just didn’t happen

4.But there was no hiding place for scientists, and those who were left to tackle the major crisis, which ensued in Sub Atomic Physics, were simply not equipped to cope with it.

5.In spite of the remarkable advances in Evolution due to Darwin, the study of Emergences outside of Social Revolution were almost completely neglected, and the course decided upon in Physics was the major retreat of the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory.

6.Much later the study of Emergences was again taken up, but this time not by Marxists. And, in spite of emergent ideas in Cosmology, no general Theory of Emergences was attempted. Even Evolution itself was distorted by making its real active force merely Random Damage of genes.

7.Description replaced Explanation particularly in Physics, but more and more often elsewhere in Science too, and this meant that the traditional processes of Science often stopped short at technological use, and any accompanying narrative was at best pure speculation.

8.But there were splendid attempts to address Qualitative Change by a few remaining explorers. Miller’s Experiment, though it proved impossible to follow up, because of inadequate methodologies, did point the way. The study of Emergences was now imperative.

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