Delegated Causality of Complex Systems – Vidunas (2018)

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Delegated Causality of Complex Systems | SpringerLink

Delegated Causality of Complex Systems

Axiomathes volume 29, pages81–97(2019)Cite this article


A notion of delegated causality is introduced here. This subtle kind of causality is dual to interventional causality. Delegated causality elucidates the causal role of dynamical systems at the “edge of chaos”, explicates evident cases of downward causation, and relates emergent phenomena to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Apparently rich implications are noticed in biology and Chinese philosophy. The perspective of delegated causality supports cognitive interpretations of self-organization and evolution.


Living organisms, ecosystems, human minds, societies, economic markets are widely recognized as extraordinary complex systems. They are impressively organized and possess properties that are hardly reducible to qualities of physical matter. Thereby they seem to contradict the reductionistic paradigm of fundamental causation from underlying physical processes. As yet, satisfying explanation of emerging coherent organization is a comparable challenge for reductionist and holistic philosophies (Capra and Luisi 2014; Heylighen et al. 2007). Even if the reductionist approach continues to deliver outstanding results in physics, chemistry, molecular biology, neuropsychology, much deeper understanding of living (Schrödinger 1944; Murphy and O’Neil 1995) and conscious (Kim 1998; Varela et al. 1991) agencies may require an uneasy paradigm change, after all.

I introduce a concept that can simplify and unify analysis of intricate causal relations in complex systems to a remarkable extent. This concept of delegated causality should clarify much about emergence of whole new phenomena (Clayton and Davies 2006), spontaneous order (Kauffman 1993), synergy (Corning 2005), functionality (Ariew et al. 2002), purpose and intention (Dennett 1987). If the new conception indeed refines established specialist perspectives, it will be worth revisiting sporadic revivals of Emergentism (Clayton and Davies 2006, pp. 9–26), post-Enlightenment rationalist skepticism (Clayton and Davies 2006, pp. 114), classical Greek teleologies (Ariew et al. 2002, pp. 7–30). The most rigorous contemporary relevance of the new perspective is to physics of emergence (Mainwood 2006), symmetry breaking (Anderson 1972; Moon and LaRock 2017), thermodynamics (Prigogine and Nicolis 1977; England 2013), and to information-theoretic measure of causal influence (Hoel 2017; Tononi and Sporns 2003).

A comprehensive overview of the vast, growing literature on complex systems, self-organization, emergence would not serve the purpose of this article to introduce delegated causality. This simple but subtle, overlooked kind of causality is anticipated or provoked (figuratively speaking) by critical dynamical systems with rich behavior and moderate sensitivity to the environment. The scope of my abstracted terminology will become clear with the introduction of methodology [M1]–[M3] in Sect. 3 of analyzing causal interactions. Evident implications of delegated causality will be demonstrated by a brief account of evolutionary biology (in Sect. 5) and a reference to Chinese philosophy (in Sect. 6).

This spirited article would be presentable to a scientific version of the TV show “The X-Factor” (Hackley et al. 2012). My argumentation is not deep formally, as the chief purpose is to justify the new concept by a few evocative arguments, agreeable examples, and links to existing ideas. This manner of aboutness (Yablo 2014) mirrors the general view of self-organization conveyed here. I start by reassessing contemporary modeling of complex systems in Sect. 2. The fresh kind of causality is introduced formally in Sect. 3. Section 4 examines physical reductionism in the new light, and relates emergence, downward causation to Gödel’s (1931) incompleteness theorem. The later sections deliberate a few compelling (though not entirely comfortable) implications. All together, this article is gradually making a holistic argument for a new comprehensive view by building up the context for the integrating Sect. 7.


Delegated Causality of Complex Systems | SpringerLink