Emergence is not Evolution

I have previously written about emergence in “Five types of change in philosophy”, even comparing emergence and evolution in types four and five. Nevertheless, I wanted to say something more focused on the distinction here. In my previous post, I alluded to there being a fallacy of absent agency, and this fallacy I believe to be a result of an insufficient understanding of what differentiates emergence, and why it is distinct from the more well known idea of evolution. The following is something I wrote about Hayek‘s The Constitution of Liberty.  I am no great fan of Hayek’s, and this was part of a larger piece of work to try supplement his failings via the liberating hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur. Necessarily this has a fragmentary feel, but I have left it more or less as is.

What is often overlooked in readings of Hayek is that his politics implies an epistemology. To miss this point, is to misread Hayek. Continue reading


Hermeneutics of Evolution: metaphor not truth

This is from Jaron Lanier’s One Half of a Manifesto (which I discovered via Dale Carrico’s Amor Mundi) written about ten years ago. It’s an excellent piece of technoskepticism which encourages us to consider technology (specifically, the writing of software) as it is, rather than lazily to give in to considering analogies with biology as representative of some putative, deeper “truth”. If read more widely, it would be an excellent antidote to the more hysterical fantasies of abstract intelligencers, singularitarians, techno-hucksters, and all those others Carrico refers to as “robo-cultists”.

Darwin created a style of reduction that was based on emergent principles instead of underlying laws (though some recent speculative physics theories can have a Darwinian flavor). There isn’t any evolutionary “force” analogous to, say, electromagnetism. Evolution is a principle that can be discerned as emerging in events, but it cannot be described precisely as a force that directs events. This is a subtle distinction. The story of each photon is the same, in a way that the story of each animal and plant is different. (Of course there are wonderful examples of precise, quantitative statements in Darwinian theory and corresponding experiments, but these don’t take place at anywhere close to the level of human experience, which is whole organisms that have complex behaviors in environments.) “Story” is the operative word. Evolutionary thought has almost always been applied to specific situations through stories. Continue reading