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Less is Different: Emergence and Reduction Reconciled

Butterfield, Jeremy (2010) Less is Different: Emergence and Reduction Reconciled. [Preprint]

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This is a companion to another paper. Together they rebut two widespread philosophical doctrines about emergence. The first, and main, doctrine is that emergence is incompatible with reduction. The second is that emergence is supervenience; or more exactly, supervenience without reduction.

In the other paper, I develop these rebuttals in general terms, emphasising the second
rebuttal. Here I discuss the situation in physics, emphasising the first rebuttal. I focus on
limiting relations between theories and illustrate my claims with four examples, each of them a model or a framework for modelling, from well-established mathematics or physics.

I take emergence as behaviour that is novel and robust relative to some comparison class. I take reduction as, essentially, deduction. The main idea of my first rebuttal will be to perform the deduction after taking a limit of some parameter. Thus my first main claim will be that in my four examples (and many others), we can deduce a novel and robust behaviour, by taking the limit, N goes to infinity, of a parameter N.

But on the other hand, this does not show that that the infinite limit is ``physically real'', as some authors have alleged. For my second main claim is that in these same examples, there is a weaker, yet still vivid, novel and robust behaviour that occurs before we get to the limit, i.e. for finite N. And it is this weaker behaviour which is physically real.

My examples are: the method of arbitrary functions (in probability theory); fractals (in geometry); superselection for infinite systems (in quantum theory); and phase transitions for infinite systems (in statistical mechanics).

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Item Type: Preprint
Additional Information: Forthcoming in Foundations of Physics
Keywords: Emergence, reduction, limits, singularities, method of arbitrary functions, probability, fractals, superselection , quantum theory, phase transitions, statistical mechanics
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Physics > Condensed Matter
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Models and Idealization
Specific Sciences > Probability/Statistics
Specific Sciences > Physics > Quantum Mechanics
General Issues > Reductionism/Holism
Specific Sciences > Physics > Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics
Depositing User: Jeremy Butterfield
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2010 12:10
Last Modified: 27 Oct 2010 12:10
Item ID: 8355

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