The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?
--Dead Poet's Society
In this post I will argue that it is possible to create something that is objectively real and true, but that transcends scientific reducibility. (The concept of strong emergence) I will further suggest that it is therefore possible to create real and bona-fide manifestations of the Divine making us co-creators of "the heavenly" with God Himself.
Strong Emergence and Art:
As an analogy to make this more clear, lets take art. When an artist makes a breathtaking painting, is the beauty of the painting fully reducible in terms of the particles of the paint, or does the beauty have a realness that transcends the mere scientific properties of the materials on the canvas? If the latter is true, then beauty is called strongly emergent. Beauty exists and emerges from the paint, but it's essence can never be fully reduced in terms of the paint.
Two objections might be given at this point with my art analogy. First, someone could deny that beauty is real. Second, someone can claim it's real but that if we were smart enough we could show that it's true essence is reducible to the paint and therefore no strong emergence.
Though I admit it is possible that my art analogy can fail in these ways, we do have a famous example that is undeniable (in that it is a mathematical fact): Gödel's incompleteness theorem.
Strong Emergence and Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem:
Gödel's incompleteness theorems are perhaps the most remarkable mathematical statements of all time given their philosophical implications. This is a formal statement of the first theorem:
Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory (Kleene 1967, p. 250).
In other words, if you bring together a collection of mathematical axioms at least complex enough to allow for basic arithmetic, two types of mathematical statements will emerge from this collection:
- Statements that are true, and can be proven from the axioms. There are entire textbooks and courses devoted to studying these statements that can be proven from underlying axioms.
- Statements that are true, but cannot be proven from the axioms. These statements are thus strongly emergent. They emerge from the axioms but their truth cannot be reduced via proof from the axioms.
Thus from these theorems we have a mathematically precise example of strong emergence. And the #2 statements do not fall victim to the two objections above that could be raised for art. These statements are true and they cannot be reduced to the axioms via mathematical proof no matter how smart we become. (Since Gödel proved both points)
Strong Emergence and Joseph Smith:
One of the common tactics used in criticizing Joseph Smith is to try and deny the Divinity of what he brought forth by attempting to reduce the final product to the underlying constituents which they suggest are not Divine. However, this approach denies the possibility that majesty of what Joseph brought forth is strongly emergent. Perhaps the Divinity is not scientifically reducible to the divinity or non-divinity of the fundamental constituents.
For example, perhaps reducing the endowment to masonry is misguided. Perhaps the real prophetic nature of Joseph was in his ability to make a bona-fide manifestation of the Divine for all those who partake in this ritual. Perhaps reducing the Book of Abraham to an Egyptian funerary text is misguided. Perhaps the real inspiration was in Joseph's ability to make a bona-fide manifestation of the Divine for all those who read the Book.
Strong Emergence and being Co-Creators with God:
As Mormons we have a specific sense in how God creates. He takes of raw materials and from them creates something that fulfills some "higher" purpose. Like art, I believe that (at least) a higher Divine level of meaning and beauty come from such a creation. Thus there is a hint that when God creates, strong emergence happens.
But from the examples of above with earthly artists, Gödel and Joseph Smith, I think we have reason to believe that we also are called to create a strongly emergent Divine. That we too can join with God in becoming co-creators by taking raw materials and producing a beauty and wonder that transcend scientific reducibility. And that like the real artist with his/her empty canvas, there may be before us open possibilities for how we will choose to create such heavenly manifestations.
With that open possibility in mind: What will your verse be?