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Living Grounds: Emergence, Complexity, and Narrative in the early 20th Century

Lecturer: Ben Woodard

Originally Taught: Winter School 2021

The late 19th and early 20th century witnessed the rise of emergence (concern over describing certain systems, or aspects of reality, as producing things or processes which seemed to be more than their constituent parts). This involved questions such as: are the behaviors of molecules explained by their ingredients or is consciousness explained by the structure of the brain? The central question of emergence is whether this ‘more thanness’ describes the world’s structure adequately or whether emergence is merely an artifact of our ignorance. While emergence has become an almost ubiquitous feature of much continental philosophy there is little discussion of its roots.

To address this question this course will seek to survey the emergence of emergence across the fields of philosophy, biology, chemistry, and theories of mind. To focus these broad philosophical and methodological concerns we will focus on how emergence functions as a narrative of novelty in a world that appeared increasingly deterministic.

1. British Emergentism and Post-Darwinian Literature

Reading: “Identity of Cause and Effect” -Lewes, “George Eliot and Spinoza”- Frazer

Optional Reading: Selections from Gilian Beer

2. Theoretical Biology Club (Organicism pt1)

Reading: “The First Generation of Organicists”-Petersen

Optional Reading: “Molecular Biology vs Organicism”-Hilde

3. Emergent Mind

Reading: “Emergence” - C.L Morgan

Optional Reading:“Mechanism and its Alternatives”-C.D. Broad

4. A Stroll through Chaos (Organicsm pt2)

Reading: “The World Egg and Ouroboros” - Susan Squier

Optional Reading” “The Epigenetic Landscape” - Baedke

5. Autopoesis and the Bookkeeping Demon

Reading: “The Ceremony Found” - Wynter

Optional Reading: “A Panoply of LaPlacean and Leibnizian Demons” - Wimsatt