I am finally getting around to an in-depth read of Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos, and I am gratified to learn that an honest materialist agrees with my assessment of “emergentism.” It is a confession of ignorance disguised as an explanation. In Materialist Poofery I wrote:
the materialist . . . must come up with a theory that reduces the mind to an epiphenomenon of the electro-chemical processes of the brain. What do they do? They say the mind is an ‘emergent property’ of the brain. Huh? Wazzat? That means that the brain system has properties that cannot be reduced to its individual components. The system is said to ‘supervene’ (I’m not making this up) on its components causing the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts.
And what evidence do we have that ‘emergence’ is a real phenomenon? Absolutely none. Emergence is materialist poofery. . . . The materialist knows that his claim that the mind does not exist is patently absurd. Yet, given his premises it simply cannot exist. So what is a materialist to do? Easy. Poof – the mind is an emergent property of the brain system that otherwise cannot be accounted for on materialist grounds.
In Mind and Cosmos Nagel is just as dismissive of emergentism, but instead of “poofery” he uses the more conventional “magic”:
Merely to identify a cause is not to provide a significant explanation without some understanding of why the cause produces the effect.
To qualify as a genuine explanation of the mental, an emergent account must be in some way systematic. It cannot just say that each mental event or state supervenes on the complex physical state of the organism in which it occurs. That would the kind of brute fact that does not constitute an explanation but rather calls for an explanation.
If emergence is the whole truth, it implies that mental states are present in the organism as a whole, or its central nervous system, without any grounding in the elements that constitute the organism, expect for the physical character of those elements that permits them to be arranged in the complex form that, according to the higher-level theory, connects the physical with the mental. That such a purely physical elements, when combined in a certain way, should necessarily produce a state of the whole that is not constituted of of the properties and relations of the physical parts still seems like magic even if the higher-order psychophysical dependencies are quite systematic.