Being Emergence vs. Pattern Emergence: Complexity, Control, and Goal-Directedness in Biological Systems

In Sophie Gibb, Robin Hendry & Tom Lancaster (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Emergence. London: pp. 134-144 (2019)

Abstract

Emergence is much discussed by both philosophers and scientists. But, as noted by Mitchell (2012), there is a significant gulf; philosophers and scientists talk past each other. We contend that this is because philosophers and scientists typically mean different things by emergence, leading us to distinguish being emergence and pattern emergence. While related to distinctions offered by others between, for example, strong/weak emergence or epistemic/ontological emergence (Clayton, 2004, pp. 9–11), we argue that the being vs. pattern distinction better captures what the two groups are addressing. In identifying pattern emergence as the central concern of scientists, however, we do not mean that pattern emergence is of no interest to philosophers. Rather, we argue that philosophers should attend to, and even contribute to, discussions of pattern emergence. But it is important that this discussion be distinguished, not conflated, with discussions of being emergence. In the following section we explicate the notion of being emergence and show how it has been the focus of many philosophical discussions, historical and contemporary. In section 3 we turn to pattern emergence, briefly presenting a few of the ways it figures in the discussions of scientists (and philosophers of science who contribute to these discussions in science). Finally, in sections 4 and 5, we consider the relevance of pattern emergence to several central topics in philosophy of biology: the emergence of complexity, of control, and of goal-directedness in biological systems.

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Author Profiles

Jason Winning
University of Toronto, St. George Campus