Deterministic and Non-deterministic Emergence: Moving on...
What is the best way to make sense of the world? By presuming primal patterns? By accepting deterministic emergence, and looking for the initial conditions and rules from which everything else follows? By expecting non-deterministic emergence and...? There is not, to our knowledge, any observation that precludes the possibility that the world is in fact based on primal patterns, distorted by noise. Nor the possibility that it emerges deterministically from an initial simple set of rules and interactions. Nor the possibility that it emerges from random processes that continue to influence it. The choice of how best to explore the world can thus not be made by exclusion. Instead one needs to use other criteria.
An advantage of both the primal pattern and deterministic emergence approaches is that they provide clear guides to what one is looking for. In the first case, one is attempting to discern the primal patterns despite obscuring influences. In the second, one is trying to determine the initial starting set of elements and interactions. Some degree of disorganization is readily explained in the deterministic emergence approach whereas it requires presuming some additional perturbing force in the primal pattern approach. A common limitation of both of these approaches is that they both have infinite regress problems: having found the primal pattern or starting condition and rule, one would then need to understand what gave rise to those.
The primal pattern and the deterministic emergence approaches have been the underpinnings of much of the progress of science to date, and one might regard the infinite regress matter as a virtue rather than a problem, in that it assures a continuing source of questions to inquire into. From this perspective, both the primal pattern and the deterministic emergence approaches have a great deal to be said for them.
Is there then any justification for a third way of inquiring? For a non-deterministic emergence approach? The non-deterministic emergence approach depends only on the existence of randomness and, if one takes this as a given, there is no infinite regress problem. Randomness is both infinitely generative and self-generative. Given enough time, randomness can produce any kind of order one might be interested in, including any particular set of starting conditions and rules. And, given enough time, randomness will return order to varying degrees of disorganization.
As with the deterministic emergence approach, disorganization is treated by non-deterministic emergence as part of what is to be explained rather than being by presuming an additional perturbing force. Non-determinstic emergence differs however in that it treats disorganization as both the origin of and a continual contributor to all pattern rather than something that has to be explained in terms of a particular starting condition and set of rules. In this sense, non-deterministic emergence more fully integrates disorganization and pattern, treating each as part explanation and part consequence of the other.
On the other hand, in lieu of a well-defined objective that can be used to determine when the world has been made sense of, it is less clear what the point of inquiry is in the case of non-deterministic emergence. Perhaps non-deterministic emergence isn't actually an inquiry paradigm at all? Isn't it at risk of being an answer that (like God?) ends all inquiries? What accounts for anything? Randomness. End of discussion.
If one is in fact looking for an "answer" then this concern about the non-deterministic emergence approach is an appropriate one. But perhaps inquiry isn't in fact about finding answers but instead about finding questions? About exploring what might be rather than accounting for what is? Perhaps that's actually the deepest significance of recognizing non-deterministic emergence as an alternate inquiry paradigm. And, if so accepts that, there are a number of questions that follow from a non-deterministic emergence approach...
can randomness actually produce not only some kinds of order but all kinds of order, in some reasonable amount of time?
are there things in existence that could be produced in reasonable time by a process of non-deterministic emergence but not by a primal pattern or rules and starting point deterministic process?
how does order build on order against a background of randomness?
Answers to these sorts of questions can help one with the most significant question of non-deterministic emergence: what can I bring into being that has not yet been and how do I do it?
In lieu of any compelling reason not to use any of the three approaches, and the differing advantages of each of them, it probably makes most sense to use all of them, in whatever combinations seem in any given case at any given time to most effectively advance the current objectives of inquiry. Looking for underlying patterns can clearly be productive, particularly when one is getting started with a new area of inquiry. But an emergence perspective (both deterministic and non-deterministic) can be useful as a reminder not to presume everything involves patterns, and not take whatever patterns one thinks one sees too seriously, nor to presume that patterns must necessarily exist at all . A deterministic emergence perspective can clearly be productive in trying to understand the underpinnings of patterns. But a non-deterministic emergence perspective can be useful as a reminder not to take whatever starting conditions and rules one comes up with too seriously, nor to presume that it is always possible to trace backwards from existing observations to a unique set of starting conditions and rules.
The non-deterministic emergence perspective itself seems optimal when one runs into infinite regress problems, or whenever when one realizes understanding needs to move beyond particular understandings of what understanding itself consists of. The non-determinstic emergence approach implies that there can be limitations in making sense of the world associated with sets of presumptions about how to do that, and hence it provides a e license to look for new ways to inquire. If indeed what is to be made sense of is a creative universe, one that is constantly exploring new ways of being, then the inquirer must become a part of that universe, not only discovering but creating in the process of exploring it (see Inquiry as Emergence: Product and Contributor and From Complexity to Emergence and Beyond: Towards Empirical Non-Foundationalism as a Guide to Inquiry).
Posted by Paul Grobstein and Laura Cyckowski 11 Dec 2008.