Emergence and its place in nature: a case study of biochemical networks

Synthese 145 (1):131-164 (2005)
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Abstract

We will show that there is a strong form of emergence in cell biology. Beginning with C.D. Broad’s classic discussion of emergence, we distinguish two conditions sufficient for emergence. Emergence in biology must be compatible with the thought that all explanations of systemic properties are mechanistic explanations and with their sufficiency. Explanations of systemic properties are always in terms of the properties of the parts within the system. Nonetheless, systemic properties can still be emergent. If the properties of the components within the system cannot be predicted, even in principle, from the behavior of the system’s parts within simpler wholes then there also will be systemic properties which cannot be predicted, even in principle, on basis of the behavior of these parts. We show in an explicit case study drawn from molecular cell physiology that biochemical networks display this kind of emergence, even though they deploy only mechanistic explanations. This illustrates emergence and its place in nature.

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Author Profiles

Achim Stephan
Universität Osnabrück
Robert Richardson
University of Cincinnati
Fred C. Boogerd
VU University Amsterdam

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