On an Emergent Neutral Ontology

All varieties of emergentism strive to be compatible with physicalism, the theory that the universe is composed exclusively of physical entities...
--Wikipedia entry on Emergentism as of January 2013, paragraph 2, line 1.

But why should this have to be true? After all, the very successes of our science and technology depend on the use of something profoundly non-physical: mathematics.

What if the world has emergent phenomena but is not in its base physical, nor composed of information, nor of the idealized mental stuff of panpsychism? What if both physical effects and the perceptions of consciousness, and indeed all things common in human experience, are themselves emergent from some kind of neutral stuff that is neither physical nor mental?

I would advocate the consideration of a minimalist, neutral ontology. At base, things are made of a stuff which is not physical and not mental, but instead can be neither, either, or both based on a given object's (and its components') properties. Emergent properties might allow a rich, yet still minimalist ontology: rich because nothing that may be real needs to be denied reality (as in eliminative materialism) in the process of reduction of objects to their components, yet minimalist, because only one kind of stuff need ultimately be accounted for: emergence does the work demanded by the diversity of the world.

This is not physicalism. Abstract objects may exist, and if so, are neither mental nor physical. Our thoughts may have mental "substance." If entities such as angels were not physical, they nevertheless could have thoughts, and interact with the physical world.

This is not panpsychism. A rock need not have conscious or proto-conscious properties.

This is neither property dualism nor a dual aspect theory, since existing things may be neither physical nor mental.

This is not the neutral monism of James or Russell. The possibility of a reduction of the properties of things merely to the properties of their components is not generally expected.

In this emergent neutral monist schema, causation may connect any type of thing to any other, so there is no need for epiphenomenalism of the mental on the physical parts of our bodies and brains.

An obvious problem is the "how and why" of emergence: the nature and causes of emergence at many levels in the universe. I don't have many answers to such questions, but I can assert that emergent properties, in contradiction to a few unsupported assertions of reduction later in that Wikipedia entry above, occur irreducibly in the basic sciences, and as such are a problem for fields far from consciousness studies. Emergence is real, whatever its ultimate sources.

More about emergence in physics and chemistry, perhaps, in a later post.

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