One of the most important reasons emergence has reappeared is science needs it. At the frontiers of research, there is a remarkable new field called complex systems. Drawing insights from physics, biology, and the study of social systems, the theory of complex systems has given scientists a wide range of examples where new entities and new rules appear to emerge from the networked interaction of simpler parts. Colloquially, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
These studies have drawn a new generation of philosophers to re-engage with the ideas of emergence, using the advances in science as a spur to unpack how chains of causation can be closed or opened and run from the bottom-up or the top-down. In these examinations, there have come distinctions like “weak” vs “strong” emergence, as well as those who challenge the need for that split. These are the kinds of issues I want to unpack in this series over the next few months.
To sum it up for now, when it comes to reductionism and emergence, there are many thorny issues that require scrutiny. What is clear, though, is that the simple picture reductionism offers of a world made solely of atoms can no longer be seen as the only “sober” view of science and its perspective on life, the universe, and everything.
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