9 Apr 2009

Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory, 3. Weak and Strong Emergence, Clayton

by Corry Shores
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Philip Clayton

"Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory"

3. Weak and Strong Emergence

"Weak" and "Strong" refer to two varieties of emergentist theories. They indicate the amount of emergence that the theory posits. They do not mean that one version is a better or worse argument.

Strong emergentists maintain that genuinely new causal agents or causal processes come into existence over the course of evolutionary history.

By contrast, weak emergentists insist that, as new patterns emerge, the fundamental causal processes remain, ultimately, physical.

And for the most part, the events causing higher level emergent properties occur on the microphysical level. (8a)

We might further distinguish epistemological emergence from ontological emergence. A property is epistemologically emergent if we may reduce it to lower level events while also finding it difficult to explain how that property emerges. Ontologically emergent properties possess causal capacities that are not reducible to lower level events.

We may formalize weak emergence using this definition:
F is an emergent property of S if and only if
(a) there is a law to the effect that all systems with this micro-structure have F; but
(b) F cannot, even in theory, be deduced from the most complete knowledge of the basic properties of the components C1, . . . , C2 of the system. (qt 8c)

Throughout the 20th century emergentists debated the tenets of weak and strong emergence. Clayton will now detail that debate.

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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