[ExI] How not to make a thought experiment

Spencer Campbell lacertilian at gmail.com
Sun Feb 21 21:01:58 UTC 2010

Christopher Luebcke <cluebcke at yahoo.com>:
> Had the entire concept of emergent properties been evaluated and discarded
> before I joined this list?

Maybe! I know I've brought it up before, but I don't know when you joined.

Christopher Luebcke <cluebcke at yahoo.com>:
> One need not dive into dualism to appreciate that surface tension is a
> property that only emerges in systems with a lot of water molecules, not
> only in a certain arrangement, but in a certain state of activity. There is
> no "surface tension" property on a given water molecule; it is a property of
> the system as a whole.

Gordon Swobe <gts_2000 at yahoo.com>:
> I certainly don't reject it. I like your 'surface tension of water molecules' analogy.

Surprisingly, yeah, I like it too.

"Surface tension is a property of the surface of a liquid". That's the
very first sentence in the Wikipedia article for surface tension. Just
as with the brain, we're talking about the behavior of a physical
system in abstract terms. Again just as with the brain, we're pointing
to one specific trait: the surface, or the mind.

Here's a human: where is the mind?

Here's an ocean: where is the surface?

You could create a very precise experiment in an attempt to locate the
exact location of the transition between gas and liquid in a glass of
water, but quantum physics would just laugh in your face. You fail
even sooner when you enter uncontrolled circumstances.

The best you can do is to say that the ocean must have a surface, and
the human must have a mind, and each of these things have some kind of
nearly-predictable effect in this or that approximate region of space.
They're both abstractions, when you get right down to it. They go away
when we stop looking at them. To paraphrase Searle, surface tension is
not intrinsic to the physics.

The troubling conclusion: object permanence is a sham!

Christopher Luebcke <cluebcke at yahoo.com>:
> Honestly, the out-of-hand rejection of "thinking" or "consciousness" as an
> emergent property of a complex biological system baffles me. Especially
> because dead brains don't think.

I certainly hope you aren't ascribing that position to *me*, because
I'm equally baffled by it. I can't imagine any other way they could
work. Not without rewriting pretty much the whole of physics, at

It was a little sloppy of me to use the terms "property" and
"dualism". I admit it. I didn't feel like giving it a lot of thought
at the time, and I suffered my just retribution for babbling about it

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