High-level Sciences in a Physical World


The possibility of biology (under construction)

Though by no means ubiquitous, biologists have offered up a number of relatively simple and predictively successful models of exceedingly complex living systems, systems that are ultimately just physical contrivances governed by physical laws. What is it about the combination of our theorizing techniques and the causal architecture of living things that makes it possible to so simply and successfully describe that which is so complex? This paper aims to answer this question in the context of organismal biology. My answer has two parts: 1) a description of a number of generic design features of organisms--among them, modularity and functional, hierarchical embedding, 2) an account of a few equally generic modeling methods. I argue that the match between these illuminates and explains the success of simple organismal models. (Similarly, the periodic absence of a match explains our modeling failures.)


The concept of emergence in complexity science (with Markus Christen) (in Proceedings of the Sante Fe Institute CSSS 2002)

This (very old) paper taxonomizes concepts of emergence used by both scientists and philosophers, suggesting that those in circulation in scientific contexts are not of a philosophically ‘interesting’ kind. The moral: philosophers should beware of using scientific claims about the existence of ‘emergence’ as a premise in any philosophical analysis, and emergence in general may well be a concept we are altogether better off without