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Is something interesting necessarily always a solution to something?

SarahMalayaSniezek's picture
The brain is absolutely so complex and interesting. I like how Professor Blank defined an emergent system as being below the level of meaning and rational systems as being at or above the level of meaning. This really clarified much of the confusion I have had about the different systems. It finally has been clear to be the difference between an emergent system and intelligent design; the fact that an emergent system does not have an outcome in mind. I do agree that some emergent systems might not have an outcome in mind, but whose “outcome in mind” is the answer. I do agree with Laura when she said that an emergent system might not have an outcome in mind, but it might have a certain outcome for some other system. I think that something interesting does not always have to be a solution to something, but I think that it can be. I think that emergent systems are emergent until they give a solution for something. It is also possible that anything interesting could always be a solution to something, and maybe we just do not know yet what that something is. I also feel that there can be systems that are emergent and rational. As of now, I think that is how I view the brain. I think that it has components from both emergent and rational systems. I agree that they brain is like a “super computer” made up of many neurons (computers). But I also feel that the brain is not necessarily like an emergent system because it has some goals, such as forming us humans physically the same, but it some sense different, and this is where I think the emergent system somewhat comes in. One thing that came to mind, when I was thinking of the brain, is that why is it sometimes the brain can always output the same output and other times it comes out with completely different outputs. I know we discussed how the input-output of ones system works, but can the outcomes/inputs always be explained through this? Lastly, I actually think that emergent systems differ in everyone’s mind, because it all depends on if one thinks that the outcome was intentional or not.


jrohwer's picture

I was thinking about the "does something interesting necessarily have to be a solution to something" question, too. I reached my default conclusion for this sort of philosophical question, namely that the terms are too poorly defined to yield any answer that is accurate/definite/unambiguous (here I am using lots of words that mean basically the same thing in the hope that any subtleties that one word might have missed will be covered by the others). But under a few assumptions regarding the nature of the question, I can say, "yes." By assumptions, mainly I just mean giving a very broad interpretation to the "something" that we are finding solutions to. So: to be interesting, something must surprise us, and to do that it must violate a norm or challenge an assumption, and this can be interpreted as an answer (and now I will take the liberty of equating "answer to question" to "solution to something") to the omnipresent questions that themselves define norms and assumptions--e.g. questions like "is this the only way for things to work" or "could what currently seem to be the extremes in fact be surpassed"--basically, questions about the completeness of our current knowledge of things. So, in that way, anything interesting is also a solution to a problem: the problem of whether or not our knowledge is complete/the problem of whether or not our knowledge of the completeness of our knowledge is correct (the second one probably makes a safer statement).
Laura Cyckowski's picture

I agree with Sarah. Maybe I'm missing something, but to the question "does something have to be a solution to be interesting/or is something interesting always a solution to something?" I say absolutely not. "Interesting" I think deserves the same treatment as purpose, as imposed on/interpreted by an observer/something second-order. Being external, I don't think that implies that the interesting thing is solving a solution or that there is an inherent purpose within the thing that is to try to find a solution/meet a challenge. Though, I don't mean to say that nothing that is a solution isn't interesting, or interesting things aren't solutions, I think that's actually the case more often than not but it need not always be so.
LauraKasakoff's picture

Is the concept of interesting necessarily tied to the pursuit of solutions? I agree with Jesse, that when it comes to philosophical debates such as this much of the debate is due to a lack of precise definitions. What scares me about the word "interesting" is its subjective connotation. When we use the word "interesting" to describe something in our day-to-day life, it is based on opinion as much as our use of the words "pretty" or "stimulating". What I find interesting might not be interesting to you since perhaps you already knew about "it", or perhaps "it" isn't relevant to questions that you generally consider in life. Of course colloquially I agree that "interesting" does not have to mean "relating to a solution" since I might find Buffy the Vampire Slayer interesting while you might consider it rubbish. However, scientifically speaking, if we are going to use the word "interesting" in conjunction with emergent phenomena, it should be used to describe results. If I describe the pattern displayed by some emergent model as "interesting", it implies that I see a deeper meaning behind the structure of this model. Interesting tells us that this result could have an application or is a solution to some problem/question/scientific inquiry. At any rate, that's the only interesting use of the word interesting in my opinion.
PaulGrobstein's picture

There are some interesting cross connects between this conversation and one going on in parallel in a philosophy of science course Laura and I are involved with (cf week 11).

"What scares me about the word 'interesting' is its subjective connotation" .... perhaps some measure of "subjectivity" is actually inherent in all inquiry? and, properly recognized/used, an asset rather than a liability, a feature rather than a bug?

"anything interesting is also a solution to a problem: the problem of whether or not our knowledge is complete/the problem of whether or not our knowledge of the completeness of our knowledge is correct" ... To perhaps put it differently, "interesting" is something that causes us to recognize that our understanding is incomplete. One might characterize that itself as a problem or, as Jesse does, as the answer to a problem/question. One might also characterize it as ... exciting, a take off point for continuing productive inquiry?

Kathy Maffei's picture

All of the entries in this thread made terrific points – I haven’t much to contribute except to say that I think of interesting as very closely related to surprising (another contentious word that often comes up in class). Agreed, that interesting & surprising are subjective evaluations, but unlike purpose (the banishment of which I argued for due to its inherent subjectivity), I see these as more useful. Unlike suppositions of purpose, interesting & surprising are basically Boolean values – they either are or are not (to a person). Therefore if true, they can inform us (as Jesse suggested) about the incompleteness of our knowledge and inspire us (as Paul suggested) to further investigation.
LauraKasakoff's picture

I've managed to convince myself even further that to call something interesting necessarily indicates that it is or could lead to a solution. Why? If it weren't the case why would we be more inclined to follow models that produce something "interesting". Why would we say, "I'm going to continue changing the variable of blah that controls density because it's interesting..." unless that interesting behavior implied that the model could answer questions for us. If a model is "boring" it means that we don't think we could find solutions from it, so we abandon it. I'm not saying that if a model behaves interestingly, we know right away what solutions it might tell us. The implications of "interesting" models may be unknown at first and surprising, but it doesn't mean that we presume any less that following an interesting phenomena will lead us to a solution, and boring outcomes lead to nothing.
Laura Cyckowski's picture

"...something interesting necessarily indicates that it is or could lead to a solution", but can't anything theoretically lead to a solution, even if not immediately/intended/expected? I'm getting a bit lost in this conversation of interesting-ness, maybe we also need a discussion again on what exactly a solution (usefulness?) is? If a solution is just an answer, it always depends on a (subjective) question from someone, which is why I don't see 'interesting' as something that has to lead to a 'solution', since I could ask a completely different question or have a different understanding: "Interesting something that makes us recognize our that our understanding is incomplete." But I don't know if incomplete understanding necessarily has to precede something seeming interesting. Someone in Philosophy of Science did a critique of part of Steven Johnson's Emergence and reminded me of his notion of 'interesting'...: "Emergent complexity without adaptation is like the intricate crystals formed by a snowflake: it's a beautiful pattern, but it has no function." So, I guess for him emergent things that are most interesting lead to solutions/adapt... or serve functions (which leads right back to purpose?).