File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9807, message 19

Subject: BHA: Re: Emergence
Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 00:47:09 -0400

Hi Caroline--

I think this is an intriguing topic, and one that certainly raises steam in
cultural theory circles.  I'm not in a situation that allows me to engage
discussion well, but a couple thoughts anyway.

My first instinct is to ask you what exactly constitutes a psychological
structure in this context.  Otherwise we're going to have some difficulty,
since (I think) a number of emergent powers can be seen as psychological
*or* social, or both, depending on the perspective and aspects considered.
For example, an enormous part of someone's psychology consists of
representations, language, signs.  But sign systems are largely (some would
argue, completely) socially developed.  It's partly for that reason that
folks like Vygotsky, Voloshinov, Mead etc maintain that the self is
fundamentally social.  (Peirce and Bourdieu also fall into this group.  And
me, for whatever that's worth--well, now you know my bias.)

I grant that certain "psychological" capabilities and requirements (e.g. the
power of using language, sexual drives, and so forth) establish various
possibilities and constraints upon what societies must do.  But at the same
time, obviously, what language someone speaks and what they actually say,
and how (or even whether) they have sex, are conditioned to an important
extent by the society in which they live.  I'm also not certain to what
extent the capabilities and requirements I mentioned are "psychological"
rather than physiological dispositions given to us by our species' genetic
makeup.  So again, if we're to discuss whether psychological structures
emerge from social structures or vice versa, we'll need to be very clear
about what we're referring to.  Or at least clearer than I am about it at
the moment!

I'm not convinced by your effort to use the distinction between the real and
the actual to help distinguish the emergent levels.  To my ears that either
suggests that one set of structures is somehow "less real" than another,
which courts all sorts of trouble; or confuses the (possibly hierarchical or
dependent) relationships among entities which are nonetheless both real,
with notion that real entities interact to produce the actual.  I think
social and psychological structures (whatever they may be) are equally real,
and they interact to produce the actualities which we then experience (if
we're present and paying attention).  But determining which structures are
"more basic" is a separate matter.  To ride my particular hobbyhorse in
public yet again, ideas are REAL.  Their possession of causal powers makes
them so.  But that is *not* to say that ideas are the "most fundamental"
reality, nor does it suggest that ideas emerge totally independent from
materialities.  Yet to say that ideas emerge on the basis of other
(physical, biological, social) structures is not to say that ideas are
merely actual.

Tobin Nellhaus
"Faith requires us to be materialists without flinching": C.S. Peirce

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