Barry Loewer and Tim O’Connor

Barry Loewer (left) and Tim O’Connor (right) on emergence, quantum mechanics, and consciousness.

O’Connor defends, and Loewer opposes, strong emergentism: the view that there are properties and laws beyond those which can be captured by any fundamental physical theory. After clarifying their positions, they discuss (starting at 30:01) whether quantum mechanics supports or undermines O’Connor’s view. Then (starting at 43:27) they turn to phenomena of consciousness, and consider whether the immediacy and simplicity of conscious experience provide evidence of strong emergence.

Production note: We apologize for an audio-video sync issue that appears on Loewer’s side.

Related works

by Loewer:
Why Is There Anything Except Physics?” (2009)
Edited (with Carl Gillett): Physicalism and its Discontents (2007)

by O’Connor:
Edited (with Antonella Corradini): Emergence in Science and Philosophy (2010)
with John Ross Churchill: “Nonreductive Physicalism or Emergent Dualism?” (2008)
Persons and Causes: The Metaphysics of Free Will (2000)

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2 comments to Barry Loewer and Tim O’Connor

  • Nathan

    Great! Glad to see more metaphysics.

  • Enjoyed this discussion!

    I wanted to agree with Barry that statistical mechanics seems like much better evidence for strongly emergent laws than quantum mechanics. Statistical mechanics seems to require us to add new laws in order to accurately describe nature, and these only arise at larger scales.

    However, I disagree with Barry’s statement that we only need to add a law / fact about the initial state of the universe, that is, that the universe started in a state of extremely low entropy. I think we also need to add the law that entropy tends to increase. In particular, it seems that it would be possible to have a logically consistent universe in which entropy decreased over time. (Rather than tending toward a uniform distribution on configurations, the universe would be “pulled” toward some specific configuration.)

    As some pseudo-evidence in this direction, consider the experience we have all probably had of watching a video tape run backward. While the images we see seem odd, they do not involve any violation of the non-statistical laws of physics. (They seem odd because we are very used to entropy increasing.)

    In particular, if you are a physicalist, and you imagine that we had a video recording of the entire history of the universe from the big bang to its eventual death, you can imagine instead a universe where this tape is simply played backwards. Again, I don’t think there is any logical contradiction in such a universe existing.

    Hence, it seems to me necessary to add the law that entropy increases to the non-statistical laws in order to describe the universe. And this particular law, only arising at large scales, seem a good example of something strongly emergent.