Decoupling emergence and reduction in physics
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- Crowther, K. Euro Jnl Phil Sci (2015) 5: 419. doi:10.1007/s13194-015-0119-8
An effective theory in physics is one that is supposed to apply only at a given length (or energy) scale; the framework of effective field theory (EFT) describes a ‘tower’ of theories each applying at different length scales, where each ‘level’ up is a shorter-scale theory. Owing to subtlety regarding the use and necessity of EFTs, a conception of emergence defined in terms of reduction is irrelevant. I present a case for decoupling emergence and reduction in the philosophy of physics. This paper develops a positive conception of emergence, based on the novelty and autonomy of the ‘levels’, by considering physical examples, involving critical phenomena, the renormalisation group, and symmetry breaking. This positive conception of emergence is related to underdetermination and universality, but, I argue, is preferable to other accounts of emergence in physics that rely on universality.