Minds and Machines

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 443–459 | Cite as

Is Weak Emergence Just in the Mind?

  • Mark A. BedauEmail author


Weak emergence is the view that a system’s macro properties can be explained by its micro properties but only in an especially complicated way. This paper explains a version of weak emergence based on the notion of explanatory incompressibility and “crawling the causal web.” Then it examines three reasons why weak emergence might be thought to be just in the mind. The first reason is based on contrasting mere epistemological emergence with a form of ontological emergence that involves irreducible downward causation. The second reason is based on the idea that attributions of emergence are always a reflection of our ignorance of non-emergent explanations. The third reason is based on the charge that complex explanations are anthropocentric. Rather than being just in the mind, weak emergence is seen to involve a distinctive kind of complex, macro-pattern in the mind-independent objective micro-causal structure that exists in nature. The paper ends by addressing two further questions. One concerns whether weak emergence applies only or mainly to computer simulations and computational systems. The other concerns the respect in which weak emergence is dynamic rather than static.


Weak emergence Epistemological emergence Dynamic emergence Computational emergence Micro-causal network Micro-causal web Explanatory incompressibility 



I am grateful for helpful comments from Kellyn Bardeen, Paul Humphreys, and Philippe Huneman.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyReed CollegePortlandUSA
  2. 2.European School of Molecular MedicineMilanItaly

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