Coarse-graining as a downward causation mechanism – Flack (2017)

Coarse-graining as a downward causation mechanism Show affiliations

Coarse-graining as a downward causation mechanism – NASA/ADS

Coarse-graining as a downward causation mechanism

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Abstract

Downward causation is the controversial idea that `higher’ levels of organization can causally influence behaviour at `lower’ levels of organization. Here I propose that we can gain traction on downward causation by being operational and examining how adaptive systems identify regularities in evolutionary or learning time and use these regularities to guide behaviour. I suggest that in many adaptive systems components collectively compute their macroscopic worlds through coarse-graining. I further suggest we move from simple feedback to downward causation when components tune behaviour in response to estimates of collectively computed macroscopic properties. I introduce a weak and strong notion of downward causation and discuss the role the strong form plays in the origins of new organizational levels. I illustrate these points with examples from the study of biological and social systems and deep neural networks.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Reconceptualizing the origins of life’.
Publication: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, vol. 375, issue 2109, p. 20160338 Pub Date: November 2017 DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2016.0338  Bibcode: 2017RSPTA.37560338F