A Caltech Library Service

Consciousness, Reduction, and Emergence

Gell-Mann, Murray (2001) Consciousness, Reduction, and Emergence. In: Cajal and Consciousness. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. No.929. New York Academy of Sciences , New York, NY, pp. 41-49.

Full text is not posted in this repository. Consult Related URLs below.

Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


Consciousness is often seen as requiring a special kind of explanation. But the various aspects of self-awareness can presumably emerge when certain levels of complexity are reached in an organism: it is not necessary to assume additional mechanisms or hidden causes. Looking at the most fundamental level, that of elementary particle physics, three principles appear—the conformability of nature to herself, the applicability of the criterion of simplicity, and the utility of certain parts of mathematics in describing physical reality—which are in themselves emergent properties of the fundamental laws of physics. At successive levels, it is the availability of similar mathematical descriptions from related problems that makes the next step appear with simplicity and elegance. Thus, once the concept of emergence is properly established, a huge burden is lifted from the inquiring mind. The whole explanatory loop may be closed by looking at the ability of the human mind to figure out the laws of nature. All the other sciences emerge in principle from fundamental physics plus historical accidents, even though “reduction” is obviously inadequate as a strategy. While bridges or staircases are under construction connecting the various sciences, each science needs to be studied at its own level as well. Although the idea of “vital forces” in biology alien to physics and chemistry has largely disappeared, consciousness remains the last refuge of obscurantists. Finally, it is argued that appeals to the alleged weirdness of quantum mechanics are based on a misunderstanding and are unlikely to have any place in a discussion of consciousness.

Item Type:Book Section
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Additional Information:© 2001 Wiley.
Subject Keywords:Consciousness; Reductionism; Emergence; Laws of nature; Self-similarity; Quantum interpretations; Decohering histories; Quantum non-locality
Series Name:Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue or Number:929
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20150922-090613005
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:GELL-MANN, M. (2001), Consciousness, Reduction, and Emergence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 929: 41–49. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2001.tb05705.x
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:60408
Deposited By: Ruth Sustaita
Deposited On:22 Sep 2015 19:07
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 22:33

Repository Staff Only: item control page