Is God an Emergent Property?


In this week’s spotlight, I wish to further our discussion from last week’s show regarding brain/mind and consciousness. Many people think of the brain/mind as a matter of emergent properties. That is, the parts of the brain act as greater than the whole, and in this way mind or consciousness arises. In other words, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Emergent Property

Emergence is basically part of system theory. Emergence theory is used to explain many things in nature ranging from the activity of ants to the emergent phenomena in materials such as atoms. Quoting Sciencing.com, “Human consciousness is often called an emergent property of the human brain. Like the ants that make up a colony, no single neuron holds complex information like self-awareness, hope or pride. Nonetheless, the sum of all neurons in the nervous system generate complex human emotions like fear and joy, none of which can be attributed to a single neuron.”1

Now as we have heard, there are other theories that supposedly account for mind, such as panpsychism, but none of the existing theories account for the hard problem in consciousness. David Chalmer’s asked the question this way, “How does the water of the brain turn into the wine of consciousness?” In other words, the hard problem of consciousness is the “problem of explaining the relationship between physical phenomena, such as brain processes, and experience (i.e., phenomenal consciousness, or mental states/events with phenomenal qualities or qualia). Why are physical processes ever accompanied by experience? And why does a given physical process generate the specific experience it does—why an experience of red rather than green, for example?”2 

Blank Mind

For years many believed in the Tabula Rasa, or blank slate model of the mind offered by Aristotle and John Locke. We are born with a blank mind that fills in as a matter of learning, experience, environment, etc. However, this model fails to answer how it is that there are many things that we know without ever learning such as ‘there is no such thing as a number too large to add one to.’ It also fails miserably when we think of the acquired savant. The best we have been able to do with matters such as the savant is explain them in terms of awakened pathways in the brain.

So, this whole brain/mind issues somehow keeps asking for an outside answer, an explanation that goes beyond the physical nature as we understand it. We might be inclined to think of a collective consciousness that we somehow participate in, or some other individual explanation such as a soul, past life memories, and so forth. The question is, should we?

Transcendent?

I like to think of myself as a scientist, but I must admit that I am more than sympathetic to metaphysical approaches when it comes to understanding consciousness. How about you?

That said, think on this. If our consciousness is emergent, is it possible that our God is emergent also. If so, does that make God any less real? Well, not unless our awareness of ourselves is also unreal. Now that’s an interesting thought.

Those are my thoughts, I always welcome yours.

Thanks for the read,

Eldon

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor
Provocative Enlightenment Radio
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusion

References

  1. Mercer, E. 2018. “What are Emergent Properties?” Sciencing.com. October 9, 2018
  2. Howell, R. J. and Alter, T. “Hard Problems of Consciousness.” Scholarpedia.