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Emergence, Top Down Causation and Reductionism

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Higher level properties such as life and thought emerge out of lower level properties characterised by physics. It would seem however that the physics, being causally closed, completely determines what happens at all higher levels: so how is the room for any higher level causal powers to emerge? Higher levels must be epiphenomena. This talk will argue that as well as bottom up causation, top-down effects occur in the hierarchy of structure and causation, allowing emergence of higher levels with genuine causal powers; and will consider how this is possible in the face of lower level physical and chemical causation. Digital computers provide an illuminating example of how this can happen: in that case, abstract algorithms rather than physics drive what happens.

This talk is part of the The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion series.

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