This is a not quite un-edited copy of an email sent to Andy Lattal yesterday at 04:41. Yep, that’s 4:41 am. That is when I do weird stuff like this.

Hi Andy,

I mentioned previously that I tend to get up between 3:00 & 4:00 am. I try to get back to sleep, but some stupid shit is usually rattling around in my head and I cannot shut it off. Often it is some software development issue related to work, so I get up, go through my morning bathroom, coffee, get the cats their breakfast, and hang out with my cat Joey in front of the house, ponder the problem, then sit down at my computer. I have often also spent time talking to Barry Edelstein’s brother, Ronnie, who stops when he sees me on his way to his kick off point for his daily bike ride to Pt. Marion. Okay, that’s the opening scene.

This morning I woke up thinking about “emergents”. Specifically about a question you asked me at the end of my thesis defense back in 1984. I think of it often.

You asked me something along the lines of, ‘are social behaviors emergents?’. I was taken aback by the question and gave some silly answer such as, ’no, they are just behaviors like any others except for the fact that we ascribe control to the behaviors of other organisms.’ The issue for me at the time was that I took ‘emergent’ as term usually used to side-step a rigorous scientific deterministic account of some phenomenon. Maybe even spiritual. Don’t know what the history was that produced that response, but that was my reaction.

The issue of emergence can get very messy, at least in some domains, as illustrated by this article: Psychology Wiki: Emergence.

A few years ago (few? Hmmm, maybe ten years?) I ran across a usage of emergence that I really liked. Cannot find the reference right now, but it was from one of the many papers published by some combination of John Donahoe, Dave Palmer, and José Burgos. Something to the effect of intelligence being an emergent in the “as if” sense. It is “as if” the organism or the neural net has a property of “intelligence”, but in reality there is no such thing. Rather, a very large number of events at some arbitrary lower level combine in some manner that “gives the appearance” of intelligence. But if one goes looking for “intelligence” it will not be found. The forest of “intelligence” will be hidden by the activity of vast number of trees, and in this case ’ trees’ is somewhat apropos: interconnected neurons (or simulated neurons). It is the same scale, number of interactions, and speed of events, beyond our mere human capability to track and understand simultaneously, that gives rise to notions such as “randomness”, or “statistical phenomena”. 

So, I wish to change my answer 🤣

Yes, social behavior is an emergent.

Now, given that verbal behavior is a form of social behavior … it seems logical that verbal behavior as a class of behaviors should also be considered an emergent. Fitting, as we do want to treat verbal behavior in the same manner as other behaviors, but referring to particular sources of control that define the topic area. So we are full circle.

Okay, now that I have cleared that out of my head, maybe I can get on with my day.

Good morning!