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Miscellaneous Biological & Medical Sciences
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Topic Topic: Emergent properties of the brain Post ReplyNew Question
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Joined: 21 July 2005
Location: United States
Posts: 1
Posted: 21 July 2005 at 10:51pm | IP Logged Quote Taynoe

 How does knowledge about the process of development contribute to further understanding of emergent properties of the brain?
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Joined: 14 July 2005
Posts: 7
Posted: 23 July 2005 at 11:47am | IP Logged Quote Golgi

I believe this is a question in the field of Cognitive Science. I will attempt your question but I must warn you that I am not knowledgeable in this field.

Firstly the phrase "emergent properties of the brain" is usually used in connection to the Mind-Body Problem (MBP). At issue is how our mind come into being - dependently or independently from our physical brain. This is a subject that touches not only science but philosophy as well (a more detailed explanation is given here about MBP). In our case, we assume that mind is an emergent property of the brain - that it arises dependently from physical structures and/or processes.

Back to your question: How does knowledge about the process of development contribute to further understanding of emergent properties of the brain?

I think an analogy is the way to go. Consider the following chemical reaction involving the combustion of ethane:

2C2H6  +  7O2    4CO2  +  6H2O

The products of such chemical reactions are not, in any sense, the sum of the effects of each reactant. The resulting compounds exhibit properties significantly different from those of the reactants. For instance, ethane is violently combustible, whereas carbon dioxide and water are not. This contrasts sharply against the case of a north-westerly moving object being propelled by two forces - one towards the north, the other towards the west - insofar as the subsequent motion is so obviously decomposable into the effects of the conjoint causes. Thus to a 19th century scientist, the chemical reaction case may well represent an example of "emergence" while the moving object case does not qualify as such.

A very live possibility to consider in connection with these examples is that an enhanced understanding of the processes that underlie some observed property of a system may show that system not to be an example of emergence. That is, an increase of knowledge about the way certain effects are obtained may reveal that certain effects are decomposable into the effects contributed by subcomponents of that system. In the 20th century, we come to know that all chemical examples fail as properly emergent for just this reason. With the development of quantum mechanical explanation, we have been able to see how chemical reactions are composed of additive properties of individual electrons.

Analogously, to understand the emergent properties of the brain, one should examine its underlying causes - that is the development process of the brain itself. In the end, whether or not MBP can be resolved by "emergence" is another issue altogether.


Edited by Golgi on 23 July 2005 at 11:53am
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