According to the homeostatic property cluster family of accounts, one of the main conditions for groups of properties to count as natural is that these properties be frequently co-instantiated. I argue that this condition is, in fact, not necessary for natural-kindness. Furthermore, even when it is present, the focus on co-occurrence distorts the role natural kinds play in science. Co-occurrence corresponds to what information theorists call redundancy: observing the presence of some of the properties in a frequently co-occurrent cluster makes observations of other members of the cluster comparatively uninformative. Yet, scientific practice often, and increasingly often, singles out as natural groups of properties that are not redundant, but synergic: instantiations of properties in synergic clusters are not necessarily informative about instantiations of other properties in the cluster; rather, it is their joint instantiation that plays the explanatory role for which the natural kind is recruited.
KeywordsHomeostatic property clusters Information theory Synergy Redundancy Natural kinds Richard Boyd Epistasis Connectomics
Financial support for this work was provided by the Research Foundation—Flanders, Research Grant FWO G0C7416N. I would like to thank two anonymous referees, audiences in Barcelona and Paris, and my colleagues at the Centre for Philosophical Psychology, University of Antwerp, for comments and suggestions on earlier drafts.
- Anastassiou, D. (2007). Computational analysis of the synergy among multiple interacting genes. Molecular Systems Biology, 3(1), 83.Google Scholar
- Bertschinger, N., Rauh, J., Olbrich, E., & Jost, J. (2013). Shared information—New insights and problems in decomposing information in complex systems. In Proceedings of the European conference on complex systems 2012 (pp. 251–269). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
- Bird, A. (2015). The metaphysics of natural kinds. Synthese. doi: 10.1007/s11229-015-0833-y.
- Boyd, R. (1999). Homeostasis, species, and higher taxa. In R. A. Wilson (Ed.), Species: New interdisciplinary essays (pp. 141–185). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Edelman, G. M., & Tononi, G. (2013). Consciousness: How matter becomes imagination. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
- Griffiths, P. E. (1999). Squaring the circle: Natural kinds with historical essences. In R. A. Wilson (Ed.), Species: New interdisciplinary essays (pp. 209–28). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Griffith, V., & Koch, C. (2014). Quantifying synergistic mutual information. In M. Prokopenko (Ed.), Guided self-organization: Inception. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
- Koller, D., & Friedman, N. (2009). Probabilistic graphical models: Principles and techniques. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Kornblith, H. (1993). Inductive inference and its natural ground: An essay in naturalistic epistemology. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Kripke, S. (1980). Naming and necessity. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Slater, M. H. (2015). Natural kindness. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 66, 374–411.Google Scholar
- Weber, K., Eisman, R., Higgins, S., Morey, L., Patty, A., Tausek, M., et al. (2001). An analysis of polygenes affecting wing shape on chromosome 2 in Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics, 159(3), 1045–1057.Google Scholar
- Weber, K., Eisman, R., Morey, L., Patty, A., Sparks, J., Tausek, M., et al. (1999). An analysis of polygenes affecting wing shape on chromosome 3 in Drosophila melanogaster. Genetics, 153(2), 773–786.Google Scholar
- Williams, P. L., Beer, R. D. (2010). Nonnegative decomposition of multivariate information. arXiv preprint arXiv:1004.2515.