Erica Onnis


Weak and Strong Emergent Patterns in Virtual and Real Cellular Automata


Literature offers many models of emergence, but most authors agree on a basic distinction between ontological cases of emergence, and epistemic, “metaphysically innocent” ones. The former exhibit novel causal powers, while the latter just deductive unpredictability. The distinction, however, rests upon the “Eleatic principle”, namely the equation between existence and causal efficacy. In the contemporary philosophical debate about emergence, however, causal efficacy has been steadily declined in terms of the exertion of causal powers and this may be questioned for at least two reasons. First, powers are usually intended as fundamental, intrinsic, and active, while emergent properties can hardly be granted these features; second, a pluralist account of causation may avoid usual criticisms of emergent causal efficacy. This paper suggests, therefore, that causal efficacy can be intended in non-univocal ways, namely not only in terms of powers. To do so, I will first examine a well-known case of weak emergence, namely the higher-level patterns produced by virtual Cellular Automata. Then, I will show that the same mechanism, once identified in real biological systems, produces strong, causally efficacious emergent patterns. In these cases, however, the notion of power might be inappropriate to account for causal efficacy. There might be causal mediators other than powers, therefore, and a hypothesis explaining the efficacy of biological patterns may involve information. In biological processes, semantic information might play a role in grounding causation, and the emerging structures capable of carrying biological information may be the counterpart of the fundamental entities capable of bearing causal powers.

Date/ Time / Place

June 23rd / 10:10 / Aula Magna