How Plots Can Emerge Out of Celluloid

Our distant descendants have forgotten movies. Upon discovering some buried in a vault, along with a projector, they are surprised to learn that they convey stories when watched. How do these stories "emerge" from celluloid?

At first little is known about film or projectors. But future scientists study these things, and gradually understand them better: it is re-discovered how images are created on celluloid, how they are projected, what frame rates are needed to show smooth motion, what chemicals make up celluloid: all interesting discoveries.

And thus, the scientists assure their compatriots, it will only be a very short time before it is discovered exactly which chemicals in the celluloid produce the plot of movies. After all, with all of their other new discoveries, it would be foolish to say that it won't be any day now that they will pinpoint the plot molecule (or network of molecules), and how celluloid produces plots will be fully explained.


  1. I don't think you can use a scenario like this to debunk the idea of consciousness as an emergent phenomenon because plot, of course, is itself emergent from (in the sense of being a result of) consciousness. If you go directly from "chemical" to "plot," without the intermediary of "mind," it's not surprise you'll get nonsense. The question is whether chemicals can lead to basic life and basic life, by stages, to information complexity within a neural network, which then gives rise to a thing called consciousness that in turn devise things called plots.

    But it's hard to know how effective a refutation is without knowing who or what exactly is being refuted. My impression is that sophisticated materialists have been trying to argue for intermediary steps that can lead from "chemicals" to mind, mind itself being not chemicals per se but a compound of qualities that highly complex chemical phenomena--life, neurons--possess. It's not a scandal to materialists or naturalists that matter possesses electrical properties, and that electrical impulses can be used to store and sort information, even though information and electromagnetic force are not material things. What is material may or may not have mind; what is mental must have material, to judge from all observation.

    Matter leads to life, life leads to relatively basic information processing (food/not food; replicate/don't replicate), competitive pressures lead to more sophisticated information processing (pattern recognition), and further pressures lead to very sophisticated information processing (abstraction pattern recombination). That may all be wrong, but it's not obvious that it must be.

    1. Well said.
      No-one would deny alphabets matter by asking which molecule in the printed ink conveys the plot of a novel.


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