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Neil Tyson And The Value Of Philosophy

Reprinted from Scientia Salon. You can read the original here.It seems like my friend Neil deGrasse...

What Does It Mean For Something To Be Metaphysically Necessary?

I mentioned before, this semester I’m teaching a graduate level seminar on David Hume, and having...

David Hume And The Missing Shade Of Blue

This semester I’m teaching a graduate level course on “Hume Then and Now,” which aims at...

Is Theologian Alving Plantinga For Real? Alas, It Appears So

I keep hearing that Notre Dame philosopher and theologian Alvin Plantinga is a really smart guy...

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Massimo PigliucciRSS Feed of this column.

Massimo Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York.

His research focuses on the structure of evolutionary theory, the relationship between science and philosophy

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There has been a debate on morality brewing of late over at LessWrong. As readers of this blog know, I am not particularly sympathetic to that outlet (despite the fact that two of my collaborators here are either fans or even involved in major ways with them — see how open minded I am?).
This semester I’ve been running a graduate level seminar at the City University of New York, on the difference between philosophy of science and science studies. The latter is a broad and somewhat vaguely defined term that includes (certain kinds of) sociology of science, postmodern criticism of science, and feminist epistemology. It’s the stuff of the (in)famous science wars of the 1990s (think Sokal affair, or perhaps this most recent disgraceful episode).
Here is an interesting statistic: if we multiply the (approximate) number of computers currently present on planet Earth by the (approximate) number of transistors contained in those computers we get 10^18, which is three orders of magnitude larger than the number of synapses in a typical human brain. Which naturally prompted Slate magazine’s Dan Falk to ask whether the Internet is about to “wake up,” i.e., achieve something similar to human consciousness.
The previous three installments of this series have covered Robert Batterman’s idea that the concept of emergence can be made more precise by the fact that emergent phenomena such as phase transitions can be described by models that include mathematical singularities; Elena Castellani’s analysis of the relationship between effective field theories in physics and emergence; and Paul Humphreys’ contention that a robust anti-reductionism needs a well articulated concept of emergen
So far in this series we have examined Robert Batterman’s idea that the concept of emergence can be made more precise by the fact that emergent phenomena such as phase transitions can be described by models that include mathematical singularities, as well as Elena Castellani’s analysis of the relationship between effective field theories in physics and emergence. This time we are going to take a look at Paul Humphreys’ “Emergence, not supervenience,” published in Philosophy of Science back in 1997 (64:S337-S345).
Last time we examined Robert Batterman’s idea that the concept of emergence can be made  more precise by the fact that emergent phenomena such as phase transitions can be described by models that include mathematical singularities (such as infinities). According to Batterman, the type of qualitative step that characterizes emergence is handled nicely by way of mathematical singularities, so that there is no need to invoke metaphysically suspect “higher organizing principles.” Still, emergence would remain a genuine case of ontological (not just epistemic) non-reducibility, thus contradicting fundamental reductionism.