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RECENT POSTS IN THIS TOPIC

Sylvia Wenmackers: on 3/16/18 at 10:14am UTC, wrote Dear Sebastian, My apologies for missing that important part on my first...

Sebastian De Haro: on 3/14/18 at 15:47pm UTC, wrote A side comment: one sometimes hears that positivists (or, more...

Sebastian De Haro: on 3/14/18 at 15:46pm UTC, wrote Dear Sylvia, Thank you for reading my essay and for commenting on it. The...

Sylvia Wenmackers: on 3/12/18 at 20:24pm UTC, wrote Dear Sebastian, I found your essay really interesting. It offers a much...

Sebastian De Haro: on 2/26/18 at 9:11am UTC, wrote Dear Alyssa, Thank you for your comments and for your question. Yes, the...

Alyssa Ney: on 2/25/18 at 17:26pm UTC, wrote Dear Sebastian, Thanks for this paper. Your model of emergence is...

Steven Andresen: on 2/23/18 at 14:03pm UTC, wrote Dear Sebastian If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in...

Anonymous: on 1/31/18 at 23:12pm UTC, wrote I just read your essay. I would overall say that what is at the foundation...


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FQXi FORUM
October 17, 2019

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: Relative Fundamentality and the Metaphysics of Emergence by Sebastian De Haro [refresh]
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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Jan. 11, 2018 @ 21:07 GMT
Essay Abstract

I argue that a recently developed framework for emergence in the physical sciences prompts a conception of fundamentality that is relative: namely, fundamentality as limited to a given level, domain or subject matter. The conception is also ontological: for it concerns relations between the distinct ontological levels associated with theories. I argue that, although the kind of fundamentality that appears in ontological emergence can, in some cases, be understood as grounding, this understanding is limited to very special interpretations of physical theories: namely, to those for which supervenience obtains. Thus the resulting picture of the world, suggested by emergence in theories of physics, is one of ontological levels or domains, which are relatively fundamental and are partially, though not totally, ordered.

Author Bio

Philosopher of physics at the University of Amsterdam. PhD in theoretical physics (2001) under Gerard 't Hooft, seminal contributions to holographic renormalization and gauge-gravity duality. Currently Tarner scholar in Philosophy of Science and History of Ideas at Trinity College, Cambridge.

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Marcel-Marie LeBel wrote on Jan. 12, 2018 @ 02:09 GMT
Sebastian,

I usually check works of (or about) metaphysics for two words; substance and cause.

If these two words are not present, the work has not even touch the subject matter of metaphysics...

Marcel,

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Jochen Szangolies wrote on Jan. 13, 2018 @ 11:31 GMT
Dear Sebastian,

I'm very enthusiastic about this essay and the ideas it contains. Right of the bat, I'm wondering about the relation between your notion of fundamentality as it is conceived of in the sciences traditionally (via, as you say, deduction and linkage) and mathematical deformation: traditionally more fundamental theories can often be thought of as deformations of the classical...

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Domenico Oricchio wrote on Jan. 13, 2018 @ 21:34 GMT
It is an interesting essay, and a good read.

I am thinking that there is a third possibility for a final theory in physics: a theory that describe the previous theory like an approximation at low energy, that it is not verifiable experimentally at high energy, and that unifies, or simplifies, the mathematical description of the previous theory; I am thinking, for example, the Hamiltonian description of analytical mechanics, that it is true like the Lagrangian decription but that only have mathematical object.

For example, if there is a string theory that unify electomagnetism and gravity at low energy, and that contain non-observable object, then there is not a problem because of the low energy description contain the verified experiments; if there is a paradigm shift, then the experiments are necessary.

Regards

Domenico

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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Jan. 14, 2018 @ 07:02 GMT
Dear Marcel,

Thank you for your comment. The scope of metaphysics has been significantly broadened in the last hundred years or so, and it is certainly not restricted to substance and causality (which notions were criticised by Hume and others, for several reasons, though they of course remain important and useful, especially in physics). I invite you to have a look at a contemporary book on metaphysics or at the recent literature, and you will see that the issues discussed are very diverse, and include some of the topics of this essay—reduction, supervenience, possible worlds, etc.—together with many others, which I do not discuss. We live in a golden age of metaphysics, in a sense. But thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment! By the way, I found one of your previous essays, and look forward to reading.

Best,

Sebastian

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a l replied on Jan. 14, 2018 @ 20:17 GMT
It is a really impressive essay and I hope to find the time to read some more of your work. Just now I am tempted to see a vague similarity between ideas exposed here and what I submitted ('A fundamental loop'): both essays consider emergence, metaphysical priority, and argue for relative fundamentality. There are, of course, substantial differences but, first of all, your rigorous approach and polished style cannot fail to grip any interested reader.

Best.

a.losev

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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Jan. 14, 2018 @ 07:05 GMT
Dear Jochen,

Many thanks for your enthusiastic comments. I am glad that you like the essay. I agree that, on a deformation quantization of statistical mechanics, the relation between the underlying quantum theory (the basic theory) and the top theory can be described as an approximation of the type discussed in the essay. (But I would say that the top theory is the one with hbar going to zero, because the idea is that the top theory is the one where we take a parameter to a special value, while that value is generic in the bottom theory).

Yes, these domains are thought to be ontologically real and not merely as descriptive artefacts. What the nature of their reality is, though, depends on each case one considers (i.e. each theory), and I have not discussed it in this essay—that is the remark at the end of the essay, about the Quinean vs. Aristotelian projects in metaphysics. I found your essay, and I look forward to reading it, it looks interesting!

The single root in the tree structure: you are right that there is no need to have just one bottom theory—as I say somewhere in a footnote, there need to be a “lowest rung” theory. There could be several disconnected bottom theories. And yes, very often different bottom theories do give rise to the same top theory. So, the worry you ask about is not there.

And yes, I also agree about the different interpretations—I am glad you saw this! You are absolutely right that there can be more than one interpretation of a single theory (the internal interpretations are just a very special case, though they are of interest). Thanks again for the comments!

Best,

Sebastian

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Jochen Szangolies replied on Jan. 14, 2018 @ 10:26 GMT
Hi Sebastian,

you're right, I got confused with nomenclature there for a bit---the 'bottom' theory should be the deformation, yielding in the limit of vanishing deformation parameter the 'top' theory. Special relativity and Newtonian mechanics are similarly connected, with the deformation parameter here being the speed of light, c, which can be taken to infinity (alternatively, one can thing about v/c being taken to zero).

However, that case actually brings up another question your framework raises for me---isn't it sometimes possible that the domain of bottom and top theories might coincide? Aren't, for example, the references of Newtonian mechanics and special relativity the same?

Of course, one can hold that a special relativistic spaceship is simply a different object from a Newtonian spaceship, even though both are the same physical thing, but this seems to necessitate a sort of additional layer above the physical where the theories' references attach, so to speak---since as a physical object, both spaceships are identical.

I guess maybe I'm asking how one should treat identity across domains---I mean, it's often the case that one can describe the same object under the aegis of different theories. So I can take a Newtonian system, and by a mere coordinate transformation to a moving frame of reference, introduce the need to describe it relativistically. How does your framework treat such cases?

Anyway, you can see that your essay still occupies my mind, so there'll probably be more questions in the future. I'll also need to dig in to the other works you reference. Hope it's OK if I just pop in here occasionally with more questions!

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Karen Crowther wrote on Jan. 20, 2018 @ 08:21 GMT
Dear Sebastian,

Well done on your essay! I admit that I am still working through your recent papers – but this usefully, and concisely, introduces your new framework as well as demonstrates its implications for different conceptions of fundamentality.

I am particularly interested in your idea of ontological emergence, and its relations to reduction and partial grounding, so I just have a couple of clarificatory questions at this stage, please. Does the ontological novelty that characterises emergence obtain because of the reduction being “almost always partial” approximation, rather than pure deduction, or is it the “specificity of behaviour” aspect? And the approximation maps are understood as ontological (rather than being approximate due to limitations on our knowledge or computational power, etc.)?

I know you have some case-studies elsewhere, but may I ask how prevalent emergence is in physics, on your account? Could it be understood as applying to all (or, at least, most) physical theories?

Best,

Karen

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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Jan. 21, 2018 @ 20:02 GMT
Dear Karen,

Thank you. I also enjoyed reading your essay, and I may have some comments and questions about it later.

It is an honour to get questions from you about my framework for emergence of course.

I would say that there are several sources of (or, I would prefer to say, several conditions for) ontological novelty in this framework. Indeed both the specificity of behaviour (e.g. deduction is present only once additional conditions are specified) and the fact that reduction is usually partial (e.g. one does not get exactly to the top theory, but to something close to it), and the fact that this leads to different interpretations.

I understand the approximation map primarily as formal, but indeed describing an ontological relation, once the two theories are interpreted.

Re: how prevalent emergence is. I would say that the account as such applies to most physical theories: since most theories in physics (a) deal with approximations between formal models, (b) admit a notion of interpretation as a map of the kind I describe. But whether ontological emergence is somehow pervasive or not in nature I dare not here say. One would have to look at many more examples, over many fields (and there are many examples in the literature, in other frameworks).

I hope this helps.

Best,

Sebastian

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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Jan. 21, 2018 @ 20:08 GMT
Dear Jochen,

Thank you for your questions. Yes, it is of course perfectly possible that the domains coincide. In that case there is no emergence. It is also possible, as far as I know, that the domains are distinct, but partially overlap. This is the case of the example you mention: some elements of the domain, such as the space ship, may agree between the two domains; but many others, such as photons and their geometry, are distinct.

Interesting case about the moving frame. I also think of Einstein’s famous elevator example here, which prompts one to go from special relativity to general relativity (getting Rindler coordinates from Minkowski space). I would say: (i) A coordinate transformation cannot be the approximation map, because it is invertible, and so it is not a case of Approx (not a surjective map): as long as one only makes a change of coordinates, it is not a case of (this kind of) emergence. (ii) As soon as one changes the theory, even if motivated only by a coordinate transformation, there may be emergence (of course, one would have to check the other conditions as well--see below). So, if rather than having the equations of motion of special relativity one now writes down Einstein’s equations for gravity, there is novelty of interpretation But again, one would again have to check whether this is a case emergence: I actually don’t think it is. For usually, the emergence map goes the other way: the bottom theory is special relativity and the top theory is classical mechanics, or the bottom theory is general relativity and the top theory is special relativity, rather than the other way around, as we discussed in previous correspondence.

Best,

Sebastian

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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Jan. 21, 2018 @ 20:08 GMT
Dear A. Losev,

Thank you for your comments. I am happy that you liked the ideas and the essay, and I look forward to reading yours!

Best,

Sebastian

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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 08:09 GMT
Dear Sebastian,

You wrote a beautiful and insightful essay, and brought serious arguments for fundamentality being relative to its domain, and for ontological levels of domains. I agree that there is some irreducibility of one level to another, and I developed this last year. But last year I also suggested that there is also some co-dependence, which would break the partial ordering...

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Flavio Del Santo wrote on Jan. 26, 2018 @ 09:20 GMT
Dear Dr. De Haro,

thank you for sharing this nice contribution, its very interesting indeed. I am also close to a position that tries to relativize foundations, as a series of discrete progressive falsifications. And although I see a botto, this is also relative to the scientific method. You might like to have a look at my assay, and we can discuss the

common ground and the diffrences.

meanwhile, congratulation for a well-written essay.

I wish you success,

Flavio

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Jan. 27, 2018 @ 01:46 GMT
Dear “Sebastian De Haro”

kindly have a look at essay of BASILEIOS GRISPOS… There is a striking resemblance in thinking with his essay.…..Best wishes to your essay…

Best

=snp

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Anonymous wrote on Jan. 31, 2018 @ 23:12 GMT
I just read your essay. I would overall say that what is at the foundation is relative to what we can observe. To the middle 19th century natural philosopher Newtonian mechanics and its variants due to Lagrange and Hamilton were fundamental. An increased domain of observation or experience ultimately lead to relativity and quantum mechanics.

Cheers LC

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 23, 2018 @ 14:03 GMT
Dear Sebastian

If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the final days of the contest, will you consider mine please?

A couple of days in and semblance of my essay taking form, however the house bound inactivity was wearing me. I had just the remedy, so took off for a solo sail across the bay. In the lea of cove, I had underestimated the open water wind strengths. My...

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Member Alyssa Ney wrote on Feb. 25, 2018 @ 17:26 GMT
Dear Sebastian,

Thanks for this paper. Your model of emergence is interesting and I think I see how it avoids Kim's exclusion problem.

I have a question about your notion of approximative emergence and how this can be described as a form of ontological rather than epistemological emergence. We usually think of approximations as restating the same facts in a less accurate way, rather than a way of describing additional or "novel" facts. But you must be thinking of approximation in some other way - is there an example you have in mind that might let me see the kind of relationship between theories you describe as approximation as more clearly pointing to additional facts as opposed to old facts described in less accurate terms?

Best,

Alyssa

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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Feb. 26, 2018 @ 09:11 GMT
Dear Alyssa,

Thank you for your comments and for your question. Yes, the notion of approximation I am thinking of is more than mere 'coarse graining'. It usually involves either considering a sequence of similar physical systems, or changing the theory in some other non-trivial way. A well-known example is the hbar --> 0 limit of quantum theories. Since hbar is a dimensionful quantity, taking this limit means that one must also take other quantities in the theory to a certain limit (usually, one takes large action): and so, since the limit compares systems with different numerical values of the action, one is really changing the physical system. Another example is Malament's discussion of the relation between GR and geometrized Cartan gravity, where c --> infty. Again here, this limit must be taken relative to the speeds of all the particles in the theory, and so taking the limit means comparing different physical situations.

In my case, the ontological nature of emergence comes not from the approximation itself, but from the interplay between approximation and interpretation, which sometimes forces one to 'change system', as in the above examples.

I hope this helps.

By the way, I have had a lot of fun teaching metaphysics from your book--I like it very much, it is very clear.

Best,

Sebastian

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Member Sylvia Wenmackers wrote on Mar. 12, 2018 @ 20:24 GMT
Dear Sebastian,

I found your essay really interesting. It offers a much more detailed account of some ideas that I barely managed to sketch roughly in my own entry: the notions of relativity of levels, and in particular the way you showed the latter to be a p.o. - something which I find entirely plausible but couldn't substantiate. So, I should certainly look up your recent papers!

One aspect that I liked is that you represent the relation between theories and that between domains differently (approximation versus emergence). Your notion of approximation seems to be a rather broad one, including limits and idealizations. This invites the question what happens at the domain side: maybe distinctions among notions of emergence would naturally fit those, too?

What I'm not convinced about - or at least not yet - is the ontological import of your proposal. I think the proposal is interesting even if this part fails, but as I assume it is important for you, I'll try to explain my reservations. The reason is that you use "domains in the world", but this seems question-begging (cf. positivism): we can at best use a model that intends to capture those. (In this specific regard, I would recommend Jochen Szangolies's entry as a possible antidote; paraphrasing: the tree in our model is not the tree in the world and what Whitehead called "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness".)

Regarding the text itself, a minor drawback is that there is no wrap-up; it just stops. :)

This leaves intact the main thing I took away from your proposal, which is the analysis for why degrees of fundamentalness are not totally ordered: because they are related across different dimensions of the (relevant) bottom theory.

Best wishes,

Sylvia - Seek Fundamentality, and Distrust It

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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Mar. 14, 2018 @ 15:46 GMT
Dear Sylvia,

Thank you for reading my essay and for commenting on it.

The answer to your worry is in the last page of the essay, point (C): namely, in the distinction between Quine's and Aristotle’s ontological projects. I quote from the essay: ‘the worlds that I have been describing are not to be (naively, and wrongly!) identified with the world as it is in itself—whatever that might be taken to mean.’

Working out the ontology of scientific theories, the way they are interconnected, and their logical structure, is a different project from explicating the way in which the elements of that ontology exist in our world—which is Quine’s project not Aristotle’s. Aristotle’s project about ‘being’ differs from Quine’s project about ‘existence’, in that the former allows for things, and categories, to appear in our ontology, that we may one day come to reject as literal parts of our world. Those things are, in some sense: even if they do not exist in the literal sense in which the theory would say they do.

This is how my framework avoids Whitehead’s fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Whitehead also says something else in that first masterly chapter of Process and Reality: namely, that the accurate expression of the final generalities is the goal of the discussion and not its origin. This is the spirit in which I have undertaken this ontological project: for it aims to investigate how things are, according to our best scientific theories, rather than explicating their existence in our world. That second, more ambitious, Quinean project needs to be undertaken, for sure: but I believe that one should be not too hasty about the latter. For there are some important questions about the ontology of emergence and reduction that need to be addressed before that more ambitious project can be undertaken. This is what I have done in this essay.

Best,

Sebastian

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Member Sylvia Wenmackers replied on Mar. 16, 2018 @ 10:14 GMT
Dear Sebastian,

My apologies for missing that important part on my first reading. Thank you for this clarification, it helps a lot!

Best wishes,

Sylvia

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Author Sebastian De Haro wrote on Mar. 14, 2018 @ 15:47 GMT
A side comment: one sometimes hears that positivists (or, more realistically today, constructive empiricists) are not committed to ontology, and that all they need to care about is epistemology. This would not be a problem if it were true, for then the ontology of scientific theories would then simply collapse to an epistemology and still be fruitful. But I very much doubt that the statement can be true. For even the empiricist has to admit that any interpreted scientific theory necessarily assumes certain ontological facts about the world: even if a world only of phenomena, whose ontological commitments the empiricist takes to be minimal. In other words, even the empiricist assumption that all that our theories describe are regularities, rests on some ontological assumptions: such as that there are regularities in the world for our scientific theories to describe, and that those regularities do not point to any deeper ontological structure.

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