Complexity and Emergence

Saturday, November 15, 2014
2:30-4:30 pm

Past Event

Psychobiologist Roger Sperry proposed that, “mind and consciousness are dynamic emergent properties of the living brain in action.” This seemingly simple observation raises a host of questions. How do novel entities arise from self-organizing complex systems? If a system itself shows adaptive, self-organizing properties not attributable to its aggregate micro-potentialities—such that at each new level of complexity, new properties arise—can science ever be confidently predictive? What are the implications of the complexity of science for our understanding of the brain/mind, other biological systems, and the social and behavioral sphere—from global economics to political philosophy?


Mark Alford

Professor of Physics, Washington University in Saint Louis

Mark Alford is chairman of the physics department at Washington University in Saint Louis. He performs research at the intersection of particle physics, nuclear physics, and astrophysics, focusing on the theory of neutron stars and the ultradense matter that exists inside them. After receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard University, he held research positions at U.C…. read more »

Zosia Krusberg

Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Vassar College

Zosia Krusberg is a theoretical particle physicist and cosmologist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vassar College. She obtained her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, where she studied the physics of the early universe. She previously obtained a master’s degree in mind, brain, and education at Harvard University, and undergraduate and master’s… read more »

Timothy O’Connor

Professor of Philosophy, Indiana University

Tim O’Connor is Professor of Philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington and a member of its Cognitive Sciences Program. He specializes in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of religion. O’Connor received his doctorate in philosophy from Cornell University. He has held year-long research fellowships at the Universities of Notre Dame, St. Andrews, and Oxford and… read more »

Raul Rabadan

Associate Professor in the Departments of Systems Biology and Biomedical Informatics, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

Raul Rabadan, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Departments of Systems Biology and Biomedical Informatics, at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Previously, Dr. Rabadan has been the Martin A. and Helen Chooljian Member at The Simons Center for Systems Biology at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He… read more »

Caleb Scharf

Director of Astrobiology, Columbia University

Caleb Scharf’s research career spans cosmology, exoplanetary science, and astrobiology. He currently leads efforts at Columbia University in New York to understand the nature of exoplanets and living environments in the universe. He is also a Global Science Coordinator for the Earth-Life Science Institute’s Origins Network at the Tokyo Institute for Technology and a co-founder… read more »

2 comments on “Complexity and Emergence

  1. Weak emergentists (most scientists) believe that consciousness is just a very unobvious aspect of physical brains. Is that just ignoring the problem of how inert matter could have feelings?

    Strong emergentists (select philosophers) think that consciousness is some new aspect that emerges in complex arrangements of matter and can actually affect matter without being material itself. Is that just dualism in disguise?

    I’m sympathetic with the weak emergentists because the phenomenal feelings that they are ignoring are in principle outside the the realm of any kind of investigation. But that negative characterization is not entirely satisfying.

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