Foundations of Physics 36 (2):227-262 (2006)

George Ellis
Cambridge University (PhD)
Physics and chemistry underlie the nature of all the world around us, including human brains. Consequently some suggest that in causal terms, physics is all there is. However, we live in an environment dominated by objects embodying the outcomes of intentional design (buildings, computers, teaspoons). The present day subject of physics has nothing to say about the intentionality resulting in existence of such objects, even though this intentionality is clearly causally effective. This paper examines the claim that the underlying physics uniquely causally determines what happens, even though we cannot predict the outcome. It suggests that what occurs is the contextual emergence of complexity: the higher levels in the hierarchy of complexity have autonomous causal powers, functionally independent of lower level processes. This is possible because top-down causation takes place as well as bottom-up action, with higher level contexts determining the outcome of lower level functioning and even modifying the nature of lower level constituents. Stored information plays a key role, resulting in non-linear dynamics that is non-local in space and time. Brain functioning is causally affected by abstractions such as the value of money and the theory of the laser. These are realised as brain states in individuals, but are not equivalent to them. Consequently physics per se cannot causally determine the outcome of human creativity, rather it creates the possibility space allowing human intelligence to function autonomously. The challenge to physics is to develop a realistic description of causality in truly complex hierarchical structures, with top-down causation and memory effects allowing autonomous higher levels of order to emerge with genuine causal powers
Keywords Physics  emergence  causality
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DOI 10.1007/s10701-005-9016-x
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References found in this work BETA

The Emperor’s New Mind.Roger Penrose - 1989 - Oxford University Press.
The Significance of Free Will.Robert Kane - 1996 - Oxford University Press USA.
The Architecture of Complexity.Herbert A. Simon - 1962 - Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 106.

View all 24 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Rethinking the Experiment: Necessary Evolution.Mihai Nadin - 2018 - AI and Society 33 (4):467-485.
On the Nature of Causation in Complex Systems.George F. R. Ellis - 2008 - Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 63 (1):69-84.
Physics and the Real World.George F. R. Ellis - 2006 - Foundations of Physics 36 (2):227-262.

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