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normaljcs- cognitive neuroscience

normaljcs- cognitive neuroscience - Contextual Emergence...

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Contextual Emergence from Physics to Cognitive Neuroscience Harald Atmanspacher Institut f¨ur Grenzgebiete der Psychologie und Psychohygiene Wilhelmstr. 3a, D–79098 Freiburg February 9, 2007 Journal of Consciousness Studies 14 (1/2), 18–36 (2007) Abstract The concept of contextual emergence has been proposed as a non-reductive, yet well-defined relation between different levels of description of physical and other systems. It is illustrated for the transition from statistical mechanics to thermodynamical properties such as temperature. Stability conditions are shown to be crucial for a rigorous implementation of contingent contexts that are required to understand temperature as an emergent property. Are such stability conditions meaningful for contextual emergence beyond physics as well? An affirmative example from cognitive neuroscience addresses the relation between neurobiological and mental levels of description. For a particular class of partitions of the underlying neurobiological phase space, so-called generating partitions, the emergent mental states are stable under the dynamics. In this case, mental descriptions are (i) faithful representations of the neurodynamics and (ii) compatible with one another. 1
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2 1 Introduction A basic strategy for the scientific description of any system, physical or otherwise, is to specify its state and the properties associated with that state, and then introduce their evolution in terms of dynamical laws. This strategy presupposes that the boundary of a system can be defined with respect to its environment, although such a definition is often problematic. If it can be achieved, there is usually more than one possibility for specifying states and properties. The fact that states and properties can be formally and rigorously defined in fundamental physical theories distinguishes the structure of such theories as particularly transparent. A paradigmatic example for a fundamental theory in present-day physics is quantum theory. But how about physical theories which are not regarded as fundamental (such as thermodynamics), or how about descriptive approaches beyond physics (such as chemistry, biology or psychology)? For such situations, attempts have been made to relate descriptions of systems which are not fundamental in the sense mentioned above to descriptions which are fundamental in this sense. The usual (and often too simple) framework in which corresponding relations are typically formulated is that of a hierarchy of descriptions. In a hierarchical picture (which can be refined in terms of more complicated networks of descriptions) there are higher-level and lower-level descriptions. More fundamental theories are taken to refer to lower levels in the hierarchy. In such a simple framework, reduction and emergence are relations between dif- ferent levels of descriptions of a system, its states and properties, or the (dynamical) laws characterizing their behavior. In the philosophical literature, the usual guiding
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