Rethinking Causality in Biological and Neural Mechanisms: Constraints and Control

Minds and Machines 28 (2) (2018)
Authors
Jason Winning
University of California, San Diego
William Bechtel
University of California, San Diego
Abstract
Existing accounts of mechanistic causation are not suited for understanding causation in biological and neural mechanisms because they do not have the resources to capture the unique causal structure of control heterarchies. In this paper, we provide a new account on which the causal powers of mechanisms are grounded by time-dependent, variable constraints. Constraints can also serve as a key bridge concept between the mechanistic approach to explanation and underappreciated work in theoretical biology that sheds light on how biological systems channel energy to actively respond to the environment in adaptive ways, perform work, and fulfill the requirements to maintain themselves far from equilibrium. We show how the framework applies to several concrete examples of control in simple organisms as well as the nervous system of complex organisms.
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DOI 10.1007/s11023-018-9458-5
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References found in this work BETA

Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.
Making Things Happen. A Theory of Causal Explanation.James Woodward - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):233-249.
Top-Down Causation Without Top-Down Causes.Carl F. Craver & William Bechtel - 2007 - Biology and Philosophy 22 (4):547-563.

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