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On the Difference (?) Between Ants and People

Paul Grobstein
Emergence Working Group
18 May 2005


"I'm not inclined to accept the position that "there is no fundamental distinction between what we do and what ants do". We DO have the capacity to entertain counterfactuals, to tell stories that represent alternative understandings and may motivate different behaviors ... and that creates distinctive problems and opportunities. If we don't acknowledge/accept that, we do indeed miss much of the significance of not only the humanities but the story-telling features of the sciences and of much of the rest of human creativity as well"

We've been bumping up against that distinction again (Emergence and Contingency/Purpose/Agency) and again and again, and I've been wrestling with it myself as the center point of my particular interest in emergence, so a progress report ...

The distinction is NOT in the building blocks (no difference in atoms, probably not in cells/neurons - "the materialist/reductive perspective")

Therefore, its the architecture, stupid The distinction is not in historical discontinuities (it must have evolved without a blueprint or designer - "the emergence perspective" - there is historical continuity but that not only does not preclude the possibility of evolving things that are "incommensurable" but makes it likely) Therefore, its the architecture NOW IS there an important architectual distinction? If so, what are its implications? For understanding emergence? For human life?
Focusing on the step from model builders to story tellers

Significance