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Type: Theses
Title: Emergence and experience: systemic emergence and the prospects for a mechanistic explanation of the existence of experience
Author: McKilliam, Andrew Kenneth
Issue Date: 2017
School/Discipline: School of Humanities
Abstract: The dominant view among philosophers and scientists today is that the world, and everything in it, is constructed from a relatively small set of fundamental entities: roughly those picked out by physics. This view is known as materialism. Materialism is not the view that only these fundamentals exist. The world contains many wondrous things that are not themselves fundamental physical entities: things such as flowers, organisms, families, feelings of joy. Rather, materialism, as I shall defend it, is the view that only the fundamental microphysical entities are instantiated in a basic way. Everything else emerges, in a non-mysterious fashion, as a result of intricately organized collections of more basic entities. Materialism has a lot going for it but it also faces a number of major challenges. One of those challenges is to account for conscious experience. Consciousness is an undeniable feature of the world. And yet, we currently have no idea as to how something like a subjective conscious experience could be a non-mysteriously emergent feature of material systems. So puzzled are we on this front that a number of philosophers think that ultimately materialism cannot be correct. They think that somewhere along the way, consciousness must be taken as a fundamental (or basic) feature of the world. As it stands we have two intuitively appealing, yet hard to reconcile theses: 1. Materialism: Only the fundamental entities described by physics are instantiated in a basic way. Everything else emerges with organized collections of these fundamentals. 2. Conscious Realism: Conscious experiences are real, causally potent, and in need of explanation. This thesis will work towards their reconciliation. I develop and defend a conception of emergence—emergence as systemic novelty—that is in keeping with discussions in systems biology and the other sciences of the mind. This picture allows us to understand how causally potent systems can emerge without jeopardizing the core tenets of materialism. Consciousness still poses a serious problem for this view as there are a number of intuitively powerful reasons to think that, unlike other systemically emergent phenomena, conscious experience cannot be accounted for in terms of the organized interactions of the system’s constituents. A number of thinkers have argued that this entails the falsity of the materialism in all its forms. In addressing this concern, I argue that there are in fact two problems associated with consciousness: there is the problem of accounting for the existence of experience in general, and there is the problem of accounting for the qualitative character of experience. While the second of these problems may indeed be intractable, there is reason to be optimistic about the prospects of solving the first. If experience in general is not itself something we experience, then there may be space for a conceptual renovation that allows for an illuminating explanation of the existence of experience. Further, I argue that a solution to the problem of accounting for the existence of experience in general is all that is needed to vindicate materialism.
Advisor: Opie, Jonathan Philip
O'Brien, Gerard Joseph
Dissertation Note: Thesis (M.Phil.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2017.
Keywords: consciousness
mechanistic explanation
hard problem
Provenance: This electronic version is made publicly available by the University of Adelaide in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. This thesis may incorporate third party material which has been used by the author pursuant to Fair Dealing exceptions. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material you wish to be removed from this electronic version, please complete the take down form located at:
DOI: 10.4225/55/595c85a2a62c1
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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