A-Mergence of Biological Systems

Authored by: Raymond Noble , Denis Noble

The Routledge Handbook of Emergence

Print publication date:  March  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138925083
eBook ISBN: 9781315675213
Adobe ISBN:


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We argue that (1) emergent phenomena are real and important; (2) for many of these, causality in their development and maintenance is necessarily circular; (3) the circularity occurs between levels of organization; (4) although the forms of causation can be different at different levels, there is no privileged level of causation a priori: the forms and roles of causation are open to experimental investigation; (5) the upward and downward forms of causation do not occur in sequence, they occur in parallel (i.e. simultaneously); (6) there is therefore no privileged direction of emergence – the upper levels constrain the events at the lower levels just as much as the lower levels are necessary for those upper-level constraints to exist; and (7) to emphasize this point, we introduce the concept of a-mergence, which expresses the lack of causal directionality. We illustrate these points with a major test case: Schrödinger’s distinction between physics and biology in which he proposed that physics is the generation of order from molecular disorder, while biology is the generation of order from molecular order. This characterization of biology is physically impossible. Modern biology has confirmed both that this is impossible and that, on the contrary, organisms harness stochasticity at low levels to generate their functionality. This example shows in fine detail why higher-level causality can, in many cases, be seen to be more important than lower-level processes. The chapter highlights a number of further examples where a-mergence seems to be a more appropriate way of describing what is happening than emergence.

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