8 Apr 2009

Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory, 1. Defining Emergence, Clayton

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Philip Clayton

"Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory"

1. Defining Emergence

El-Hani and Pereira include four features in their definition of emergence:
1. Ontological Physicalism: All that exists in the space-time world are the basic particles recognized by physics and their aggregates.
2. Property emergence: When aggregates of material particles attain an appropriate level of organizational complexity, genuinely novel properties emerge in these complex systems.
3. The irreducibility of the emergence: Emergent properties are irreducible to, and unpredictable from, the lower-level phenomena from which they emerge.
4. Downward causation: Higher-level entities causally affect their lower-level constituents.
(qt in 2a)

(1) Ontological Physicalism
Emergentist theories are anti-dualistic. But they also imply that physics is not the fundamental discipline that will ground all others.

(1') Ontological Monism
"Reality is ultimately composed of one basic kind of 'stuff.' (2c) But this stuff aggregates. And physics can not explain every form that the stuff takes-up.

(2) Property Emergence
Timothy O'Connor presents this formulation for property emergence:
For any emergent property P of some object O, four conditions hold:
(i) P supervenes on properties of the parts of O.
(ii) P is not had by any of the object's parts;
(iii) P is distinct from any structural property of O;
(iv) P has direct ('downward') determinative influence on the pattern of behavior involving O's parts.
(qt 2-3)

(3) Irreducibility of Emergence
"Reality is divided into a number of distinct levels or orders." (3b) A level of organization is a compositional level. It is a hierarchical division of stuff that is organized by part-whole relations. And the wholes of one level may function as the parts of higher levels.

The quantity of a system's parts and its degree of complexity makes a difference in its emergent properties. "In complex systems, the outcome is more than the sum of the parts." However, the difficulty lies in "ascertaining when and why the complexity is sufficient to produce the new effects." (4a)

(4) Downward Causation
Strong emergentists hold that emergent properties are more than mere properties. For, they may cause that very lower level that is bringing about its emergence. In other words, a higher level may emerge from a lower one, then causally influence the lower one, which in turn will affect its emergent properties.

Clayton, Philip. "Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory." in The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion. Ed. Philip Clayton and Paul Davies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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