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Making sense of top-down causation: Universality and functional equivalence in physics and biology

Green, Sara and Batterman, Robert (2021) Making sense of top-down causation: Universality and functional equivalence in physics and biology. [Preprint]

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Abstract

Top-down causation is often taken to be a metaphysically suspicious type of causation that is found in a few complex systems, such as in human mind-body relations. However, as Ellis and others have shown, top-down causation is ubiquitous in physics as well as in biology. Top-down causation occurs whenever specific dynamic behaviors are realized or selected among a broader set of possible lower-level states. Thus understood, the occurrence of dynamic and structural patterns in physical and biological systems presents a problem for reductionist positions. We illustrate with examples of universality (a term primarily used in physics) and functional equivalence classes (a term primarily used in engineering and biology) how higher-level behaviors can be multiple realized by distinct lower-level systems or states. Multiple realizability in both contexts entails what Ellis calls “causal slack” between levels, or what others understand as relative explanatory autonomy. To clarify these notions further, we examine procedures for upscaling in multi-scale modeling. We argue that simple averaging strategies for upscaling only work for simplistic homogenous systems (such as an ideal gas), because of the scale-dependency of characteristic behaviors in multi-scale systems. We suggest that this interpretation has implications for what Ellis calls mechanical top-down causation, as it presents a stronger challenge to reductionism than typically assumed.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Green, Sarasaraehrenreichgreen@gmail.com
Batterman, Robert
Keywords: Functional equivalence class; Multiple realizability; Reductionism; Top-down causation; Universality; Constraint
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Depositing User: Dr. Sara Green
Date Deposited: 11 May 2021 03:58
Last Modified: 11 May 2021 03:58
Item ID: 19003
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Physics
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Date: 2021
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19003

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