, Volume 160, Issue 2, pp 229–248 | Cite as

Downward causation in fluid convection

  • Robert C. BishopEmail author
Original Paper


Recent developments in nonlinear dynamics have found wide application in many areas of science from physics to neuroscience. Nonlinear phenomena such as feedback loops, inter-level relations, wholes constraining and modifying the behavior of their parts, and memory effects are interesting candidates for emergence and downward causation. Rayleigh–Bénard convection is an example of a nonlinear system that, I suggest, yields important insights for metaphysics and philosophy of science. In this paper I propose convection as a model for downward causation in classical mechanics, far more robust and less speculative than the examples typically provided in the philosophy of mind literature. Although the physics of Rayleigh–Bénard convection is quite complicated, this model provides a much more realistic and concrete example for examining various assumptions and arguments found in emergence and philosophy of mind debates. After reviewing some key concepts of nonlinear dynamics, complex systems and the basic physics of Rayleigh–Bénard convection, I begin that examination here by (1) assessing a recently proposed definition for emergence and downward causation, (2) discussing some typical objections to downward causation and (3) comparing this model with Sperry’s examples.


Downward causation Complex systems Nonlinear dynamics 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alder B., Wainwright T. (1970). Decay of the velocity autocorrelation function. Physical Review A, 1, 18–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Auyang S. (1998). Foundations of complex-system theories: In economics, evolutionary biology, and statistical physics. Cambridge, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  3. Batchelor G. (1967). An introduction to fluid dynamics. Cambridge, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  4. Batterman R. (1993). Defining chaos. Philosophy of Science, 60, 43–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bishop R.C. (2004). Nonequilibrium statistical mechanics Brussels–Austin style. Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, 35, 1–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bishop R.C. (2006a). The hidden premise in the causal argument for physicalism. Analysis, 66, 44–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bishop, R. C. (2006b). Patching physics and chemistry together. Philosophy of Science, 72, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  8. Bishop, R. C., & Atmanspacher, H. (2006). Contextual emergence in the description of properties. Foundations of Physics, 36 (in press).Google Scholar
  9. Bishop R.C., Kronz F.K. (1999). Is chaos indeterministic?. In: Dalla Chiara M., Roberto G., Laudisa F. (eds) Language, quantum, music: Selected contributed papers of the tenth international congress of logic, methodology & philosophy of science, Florence, August 1995. London, Kluwer Academic Publishers, pp. 129–41Google Scholar
  10. Brand M. (1980). Simultaneous causation. In: van Inwagen P. (eds) Time and cause. Dordrecht, D. Reidel Publishing, pp. 137–153Google Scholar
  11. Busse F. (1978). Non-linear properties of thermal convection. Reports on Progress in Physics, 41:1929–1967CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cross M., Hohenberg P. (1993). Pattern formation outside of equilibrium. Reviews of Modern Physics, 65:851–1112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crutchfield J. (1994). Observing complexity and the complexity of observation. In: Atmanspacher H., Dalenoort G. (eds) Inside versus outside. Berlin, Springer-Verlag, pp. 235–272Google Scholar
  14. Dirac P. (1949). Forms of relativistic dynamics. Reviews of Modern Physics, 21, 392–399CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Earman J. (1986). A primer on determinism. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, D. Reidel PublishingGoogle Scholar
  16. Gillett C. (2002). The varieties of emergence: Their purposes, obligations and importance. Grazer Philosophische Studien, 65, 95–121Google Scholar
  17. Grassberger P. (1989). Problems in quantifying self-generated complexity. Helvetica Physica Acta, 62, 489–511Google Scholar
  18. Greenside H., Coughran W. Jr., Schryer N. (1982). Nonlinear pattern formation near the onset of Rayleigh–Bénard convection. Physical Review Letters, 49, 726–729CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guyon E., Hulin J.-P., Petit L., Mitescu C. (2001). Physical hydrodynamics. Oxford, Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  20. Hacking I. (1983). Representing and intervening: Introductory topics in the philosophy of science. Cambridge, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  21. Hacking I. (1984). Experimentation and scientific realism. In: Leplin J. (eds) Scientific realism. Berkeley, University of California Press, pp. 154–172Google Scholar
  22. Haken H. (1983a). Synergetics: An introduction, Third Revised and Enlarged Edition. Berlin, Springer-VerlagGoogle Scholar
  23. Haken H. (1983b). Advanced synergetics: Instability hierarchies of self-organizing systems and devices. Berlin, Springer-VerlagGoogle Scholar
  24. Huemer M., Kovitz B. (2003). Causation as simultaneous and continuous. The Philosophical Quarterly, 53, 556–565CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hill R. (1967). Instantaneous action-at-a-distance in classical relativistic mechanics. Journal of Mathematical Physics, 8, 201–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hobbs J. (1991). Chaos and indeterminism. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 21, 141–164Google Scholar
  27. Juarrero A. (1999). Dynamics in action: Intentional behavior as a complex system. Cambridge, MA, MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  28. Kellert S. (1993). In the wake of chaos. Chicago, University of Chicago PressGoogle Scholar
  29. Kim J. (1993). Supervenience and mind. Cambridge, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  30. Kim J. (1998). Mind in a physical world: An essay on the mind–body problem and mental causation. Cambridge, MA, MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  31. Kim J. (1999). Making sense of emergence. Philosophical Studies, 95, 3–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kronz F. (1998). Nonseparability and quantum chaos. Philosophy of Science, 65, 50–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kronz F., Tiehen J. (2002). Emergence and quantum mechanics. Philosophy of Science, 6, 324–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Le Van Quyen M. (1997a). Temporal patterns in human epileptic activity are modulated by perceptual discriminations. NeuroReport, 8:1703–1710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Le Van Quyen M. (1997b). Unstable periodic orbits in human epileptic activity. Physical Review E, 56:3401–3411CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Malraison B., Atten P., Bergé P., Dubois M. (1983). Dimension of strange attractors: An experimental determination for the chaotic regime of two convective systems. Journal of Physics Letters, 44, 897–902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mareschal M. (1997). Microscopic simulations of complex flows. Advances in Chemical Physics, 100, 317–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McLaughlin B. (1982). British emergentism. In: Beckermann A., Flohr H., Kim J. (eds) Emergence or reduction? Essays on the prospects of nonreductive physicalism. Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, pp. 49–93Google Scholar
  39. Pathria R. (1972). Statistical mechanics. Oxford, Pergamon PressGoogle Scholar
  40. Pattee H. (1973). The physical basis and origin of hierarchical control. In: Pattee H. (eds) Hierarchy theory: The challenge of complex systems. New York, George Braziller, pp. 69–108Google Scholar
  41. Paul M., Chiam K.-H., Cross M., Greenside H. (2003). Pattern formation and dynamics in convection: Numerical simulations of experimentally realistic geometries. Physica D, 184, 114–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pomeau Y., Résibois P. (1975). Time dependent correlation functions and mode–mode coupling theories. Physics Reports, 19, 63–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Primas H. (1983). Chemistry, quantum mechanics and reductionism: Perspectives in theoretical chemistry. Berlin, Springer-VerlagGoogle Scholar
  44. Scott A. (1999). Nonlinear science: Emergence & dynamics of coherent structures. Oxford, Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  45. Silberstein M., McGeever J. (1999). The search for ontological emergence. The Philosophical Quarterly, 49, 182–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Smith P. (1998). Explaining chaos. Cambridge, Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  47. Sperry R. (1969). A modified concept of consciousness. Psychological Review, 76, 532–536CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stone M. (1989). Chaos, prediction and laplacean determinism. American Philosophical Quarterly, 26, 123–131Google Scholar
  49. Taylor R. (1963). Causation. Monist, 47, 287–313Google Scholar
  50. Taylor R. (1966). Action and purpose. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-HallGoogle Scholar
  51. Teller P. (1986). Relational holism and quantum mechanics. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 37, 71–81Google Scholar
  52. Terry P. (2000). Suppression of turbulence and transport by sheared flow. Reviews of Modern Physics, 72, 109–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Thompson E., Varela F. (2001). Radical embodiment: Neural dynamics and consciousness. TRENDS in Cognitive Science, 5, 418–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Van Gulick R. (2001). Reduction, emergence and other recent options on the mind/body problem: A philosophic overview. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 1–34Google Scholar
  55. Wackerbauer R., Witt A., Atmanspacher A., Kurths J., Scheingraber H. (1994). A comparative classification of complexity measures. Chaos, Solitons, Fractals, 4:133–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Walter H. (2001). Neurophilosophy of Free Will: From libertarian illusions to a concept of natural autonomy, C Klohr (Trans.). Cambridge, MA, MIT PressGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, MS 14Rice UniversityHoustonUSA

Personalised recommendations