Register to reply

Top-down causation-Is it really unique to the biological realm?

Share this thread:
Oct21-12, 04:12 PM
PF Gold
bohm2's Avatar
P: 691
In a recent paper Walker and Davies argue that top-down or downward causation may be unique to biological systems. They write:
Bottom-up causation has been the status-quo throughout the history of science, whereas top-down causation is less familiar and more difficult to quantify. Top-down (or downward) causation may be unique to the biological realm in the sense we are using it, and has been suggested to occur at all scales of biological organization as a mechanism for explaining informational and causal hierarchies in living systems...Generally, top-down causation is characterized by a 'higher' level influencing a 'lower' level by setting a context (for example, by changing some physical constraints) by which the lower level actions take place.
The Algorithmic Origins of Life

Some others have argued that the possibility of "free will" can only occur where such top-down causation is allowed. Carl Hoefer writes:
The presumption in favor of upward causation and explanation (from microphysical to macrophysical) that comes with causal completeness is what cuts free agency out of the picture, whether this causation is deterministic or partly random.
Thus, if it can shown that there exists the possibility for some type of 'downward causation' between the macroscopic/microscopic domains, then arguably "free will" can occur. Buy given with what we know in microphysics, is top-down causation really only a biological phenomenon? For instance, these authors discussing quantum non-locality/entanglement/contextuality write:
The classical picture offered a compelling presumption in favour of the claim that causation is strictly bottom up-that the causal powers of whole systems reside entirely in the causal powers of parts. This thesis is central to most arguments for reductionism. It contends that all physically significant processes are due to causal powers of the smallest parts acting individually on one another. If this were right, then any emergent or systemic properties must either be powerless epiphenomena or else violate basic microphysical laws. But the way in which the classical picture breaks down undermines this connection and the reductionist argument that employs it. If microphysical systems can have properties not possessed by individual parts, then so might any system composed of such parts...

Were the physical world completely governed by local processes, the reductionist might well argue that each biological system is made up of the microphysical parts that interact, perhaps stochastically, but with things that exist in microscopic local regions; so the biological can only be epiphenomena of local microphysical processes occurring in tiny regions. Biology reduces to molecular biology, which reduces in turn to microphysics. But the Bell arguments completely overturn this conception...
For whom the Bell arguments toll
Phys.Org News Partner Biology news on
Scottish zoo: 'Bad news' for pregnant giant panda
DNA may have had humble beginnings as nutrient carrier
Central biobank for drug research
Oct21-12, 05:14 PM
Evo's Avatar
P: 26,557
We don't do philosophy anymore.

Register to reply

Related Discussions
Beyond the Realm of the Ordinary...spooky! General Discussion 4
Grasping the realm(s) of ETERNITY General Discussion 25