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Top-down causation

Quotes from George Ellis’ FQXi 2012 Contest Essay (2nd prize winner)


The degree of complexity that can arise by bottom-up causation alone is strictly limited. Sand piles, the game of life, bird flocks, or any dynamics governed by a local rule [28] do not compare in complexity with a single cell or an animal body. The same is true in physics: spontaneously broken symmetry is powerful [16], but not as powerful as symmetry breaking that is guided top-down to create ordered structures (such as brains and computers). Some kind of coordination of effects is needed for such complexity to emerge.

I suggest top-down effects from these [upper] levels is the key to the rise of genuine complexity (such as computers and human beings)

Hypothesis: bottom up emergence by itself is strictly limited in terms of the complexity it can give rise to. Emergence of genuine complexity is characterised by a reversal of information flow from bottom up to top down [27].

But can we really rule out the possibility for this ‘kind of coordination of effects’ itself to spontaneously emerge in an artificial system such as a cellular automaton?  Would it not be possible to observe this type of high, ‘biological’ complexity to emerge in a simulation of an artificial system like Wolfram’s automaton n. 110, provided we are willing to wait for a sufficiently long (likely astronomic) time?

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