language, philosophy, photography, science

Emergent Leaves and More

Much more.  Careful consideration of emergent things provides some hints about how to live fully and righteously on a little blue planet in a big oblivious universe.  Does that sound too grandiose?  Let’s start small, with some spring leaves and two ways to make adjectives.
(BTW, the [Menu] button atop the vertical black bar reveals the widgets.)


Turning Verbs into Adjectives

While we do it mostly by adding the suffix [-ing] (and maybe tweaking the spelling), we sometimes add [-ent] (or [-ant]) instead.  There is a subtle but important difference when we turn [emerge] into an adjective.  Leaves emerge and then go about the business of growing and photosynthesizing.  It would be a little better to say that my photo shows “emerging leaves” because there is no “and then” for emergent things.  They just are emergent.  What they emerge from is still there.

For example, look again at my photo, not as leaves but as an image.  It emerges from about 700,000 pixels encoded with about 480 KB of data in JPEG format.  That matters if I want to e-mail it to somebody who pays for data flow over a slow connection.  For many other purposes, to fret about the underlying pixels and bytes is a waste of effort.  The shapes and colors and composition are not in the pixels themselves.  They emerge from the way the pixels are arranged and interact with each other and the viewer.

My mild misuse of the [-ent] suffix for emerging leaves is a point of departure for considering bigger issues, not just a bow to the exact wording of Patrick Jennings’ challenge:

Emergent ~ Pic and a Word Challenge #232 – Pix to Words

Poetic Naturalism

Once we start looking for emergent things, we find that the world teems with them.  (Water, ice, and steam all emerge from crowds of the same kind of molecule.)  We find that fretting about “ultimate reality” may well be as pointless as trying to understand my photo by always diving down into those 480 KB and never looking at the emergent image.  While some contexts demand a deep dive, others demand a shallow one.

One of many places with examples and discussion of various emergent phenomena is Sean Carroll’s book The Big Picture, which somehow manages to be a good read (and a mostly easy one) despite dealing with deep stuff in science and philosophy while being fair to other viewpoints.

While nothing in science is nailed down as tightly as 3+2 = 5 in math, there is much evidence that we are in a tiny corner of a vast universe that goes its own way with no overall design or purpose or supernatural intervention.  Can we live fully and righteously in a cosmos that does not give a rat’s ass about beauty or goodness?  In much more detail than I can hope to put into a blog post, Carroll argues that we can.  Emergence is part of the story.

Tho a little queasy about Carroll’s use of the phrase [poetic naturalism] to name his upbeat attitude in the face of knowledge that would depress many people, I can’t think of a better name or a better attitude.

Don’t despair if love and justice seem as fanciful as unicorns when U consider only the underlying dance of atoms and molecules.  Love and justice may be real enough, but emergent.


5 thoughts on “Emergent Leaves and More

  1. This observation caught my attention: “There is much evidence that we are in a tiny corner of a vast universe that goes its own way with no overall design or purpose or supernatural intervention.” You might find Dr. Danny Faulkner’s book, Universe by Design, an interesting read. As to the purpose of the universe, we’re given indication in Psalm 19:1–“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The more we learn about our world and the cosmos, the more clear it becomes that a Supreme Being had to mastermind its creation and ongoing function. As for supernatural intervention, God has established laws that govern the universe (Jeremiah 33:25). For the seeking mind, there are numerous resources detailing the proofs for intelligent design, ultimate purpose, and God’s oversight of all things (Romans 11:36). They are worth taking into consideration, to weigh side by side with countering views.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it is important to weigh opposing views side by side, and to adjust how much credence we give each of them as evidence accumulates.  Bayesian inference is a systematic way to do that in the messy real world, where unequivocal evidence is rare.  Chapter 16 of Brian Clegg’s book Dice World has the best introduction I have seen to Bayes’ Theorem and how to use it.  Sean Carroll’s discussion is also very good.

      In principle, a theist and an atheist could eventually converge on a consensus, so long as neither one begins by assuming that the other view is dead wrong, not just extremely unlikely.  In practice, the numbers to be crunched when weighing the evidence are unknown and hard to estimate.  None of the evidence for either side is “proof” in the strict mathematical sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! I can see you’ve been reading and thinking a great deal about design and purpose in the universe. In the case of the theist and atheist, I would offer a tenet from Winston Churchill: “Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it; ignorance may deride it, malice may distort it; but there it is.” Either the theist grasps incontrovertible truth of God’s existence, or the atheist grasps incontrovertible truth of God’s nonexistence. It is not possible that both be right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While the theist and the atheist can’t both be right, each of them can be willing to concede the (remote?) possibility that the other guy just might be right. Each remains confident of being the one who is right, but can try to be fair about evidence that seems to favor the other’s view.  Not easy.

      While the truths of pure math are indeed incontrovertible, there is some wiggle room outside pure math.  Churchill’s eloquent statement reminds me of the saying (attributed to John Adams and others) that everybody is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.  While that is roughly true, it glosses over the difficulty in distinguishing fact from opinion when big issues are debated.


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