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Reflections about Emergent Knowledge The Enigma of Emergence

by Nicolas Mathey,translated by Maurice Brasher

Translated Sunday 11 December 2005, by Maurice Brasher

Reflections about Emergent Knowledge
The Enigma of Emergence
From the special number of Sciences et Avenir, no. 143, july/august, 2005
How can we conceptualise the unforeseeable in the midst of systems which are determined? can a system be studied without paying attention to its exchanges with the rest of the universe? How is it possible to think at one and the same time that the whole is composed exclusively of its own component parts, and yet that this whole presents properties which belong to none of them individually? These questions constitute the “paradoxes of emergence”. This concept of emergence is at the heart of current epistemological debates. These debates are broadly laid out in this well documented and illustrated dossier, which [aims to put] domains as different as evolution, automatic cellular responses, biological systems, and morphogenesis ‘through the mill’ of the emergence concept. This scientific research turns up paradoxes and contradictions which themselves call for reflection of a philosophical nature.
An alternative to reductionism, emergence as a concept can itself be reduced to a kind of new « vitalism » founded on the notion of spontaneous generation, with an accompanying whiff of mystery. Of a different nature is the “explosive logico-philosophical pertinence” of rejuvenated dialectics with the express purpose of resolving the paradoxes created by the concept of emergence, underlined by Lucien Sève in an off the record interview.
In the obvious development of analyses developed in the collective work « Emergence, complexity and dialectics » (see l’Humanité of 220605), and in the spirit of a rich exchange between the sciences and various philosophies (several philosophers contribute to this number), the author launches an appeal for dialectics shorn of its excesses and misuses, developed as a method, hand in glove with the “theoretical creation” at work through the activities of science, which is dialectical in its very nature. From now on the only method, according to him, which is capable of resolving the paradoxes raised by emergence, the revitalized return to a renewed dialectics can independently reveal itself as a conception of the whole. “There is no doubt that we shall find that this principle of dialectical identity- that identity includes difference- has a lot to do with the fundamental contradictions of our social state.” So there is an urgency to bring together philosophers and scientists in order to conceptualise the sciences, but also for a conceptualization of society taken as a whole.
Nicolas Mathey

Article paru dans l’édition du 15 septembre 2005.

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