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Thresholds of Emergence

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Abstract Pascal’s wager implies the incommensurability of quality and quantity, but the emergence of new order with qualitatively unprecedented states upon the quantitative crossing of natural thresholds questions any simple dualism and points to special characteristics of time. The presence of natural thresholds requires that the universe cannot be understood in a purely analog fashion, as composed of smooth gradients analysable by probabilistic and statistical means. It must also be seen as constitutively granular and quantized, like the counters and turns of a game, and capable of unpredictable creativity. Mathematics implies a threshold between the computable and the uncomputable. Physics requires quanta and a distinction between the reversible and the irreversible. Chemistry dictates catastrophic changes of state. Evolutionary biology requires distinct competing individuals. Neuroscience requires the emergence of qualitatively irreducible cognitive capacities. Economic activity implies unpredictable financial crises. Information theory requires distinct signals distinguishable from noise. Freedom and responsibility, art and poetry can be understood in the light of threshold-crossing. American pragmatism, French evolutionary philosophy, chaos and complexity theory, game theory and the framework provided by J.T. Fraser’s work can guide future investigations of natural thresholds.

Affiliations: 1: University of Texas at Dallas


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