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Between holism and reductionism: a philosophical primer on emergence

Ever since Darwin a great deal of the conceptual history of biology may be read as a struggle between two philosophical positions: reductionism and holism. On the one hand, we have the reductionist claim that evolution has to be understood in terms of changes at the fundamental causal level of the gene. As Richard Dawkins famously put it, organisms are just ‘lumbering robots’ in the service of their genetic masters. On the other hand, there is a long holistic tradition that focuses on the complexity of developmental systems, on the non-linearity of gene– environment interactions, and on multi-level selective processes to argue that the full story of biology is a bit more complicated than that. Reductionism can marshal on its behalf the spectacular successes of genetics and molecular biology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Holism has built on the development of entirely new disciplines and conceptual frameworks over the past few decades, including evo-devo and phenotypic plasticity. Yet, a number of biologists are still actively looking for a way out of the reductionism–holism counterposition, often mentioning the word ‘emergence’ as a way to deal with the conundrum. This paper briefly examines the philosophical history of the concept of emergence, distinguishes between epistemic and ontological accounts of it, and comments on conceptions of emergence that can actually be useful for practising evolutionary biologists.

 

Between holism and reductionism: a philosophical primer on emergence
Massimo Pigliucci
Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (2013)

http://philpapers.org/rec/PIGBHA


Via Complexity Digest
cerebster's insight:

It is important to understand emergence because it factors into discussions about control, knowledge, and free will, especially in neuroscience. It occupies a middle ground between prescribed rules and unpredictability. Now the task is to apply the concept productively to science.

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Metastability and Inter-Band Frequency Modulation in Networks of Oscillating Spiking Neuron Populations

Metastability and Inter-Band Frequency Modulation in Networks of Oscillating Spiking Neuron Populations | Simplicity and complexity | Scoop.it

Groups of neurons firing synchronously are hypothesized to underlie many cognitive functions such as attention, associative learning, memory, and sensory selection. Recent theories suggest that transient periods of synchronization and desynchronization provide a mechanism for dynamically integrating and forming coalitions of functionally related neural areas, and that at these times conditions are optimal for information transfer. Oscillating neural populations display a great amount of spectral complexity, with several rhythms temporally coexisting in different structures and interacting with each other. This paper explores inter-band frequency modulation between neural oscillators using models of quadratic integrate-and-fire neurons and Hodgkin-Huxley neurons. We vary the structural connectivity in a network of neural oscillators, assess the spectral complexity, and correlate the inter-band frequency modulation. We contrast this correlation against measures of metastable coalition entropy and synchrony. Our results show that oscillations in different neural populations modulate each other so as to change frequency, and that the interaction of these fluctuating frequencies in the network as a whole is able to drive different neural populations towards episodes of synchrony. Further to this, we locate an area in the connectivity space in which the system directs itself in this way so as to explore a large repertoire of synchronous coalitions. We suggest that such dynamics facilitate versatile exploration, integration, and communication between functionally related neural areas, and thereby supports sophisticated cognitive processing in the brain.


Via Ashish Umre
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Rescooped by cerebster from Papers
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Between holism and reductionism: a philosophical primer on emergence

Ever since Darwin a great deal of the conceptual history of biology may be read as a struggle between two philosophical positions: reductionism and holism. On the one hand, we have the reductionist claim that evolution has to be understood in terms of changes at the fundamental causal level of the gene. As Richard Dawkins famously put it, organisms are just ‘lumbering robots’ in the service of their genetic masters. On the other hand, there is a long holistic tradition that focuses on the complexity of developmental systems, on the non-linearity of gene– environment interactions, and on multi-level selective processes to argue that the full story of biology is a bit more complicated than that. Reductionism can marshal on its behalf the spectacular successes of genetics and molecular biology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Holism has built on the development of entirely new disciplines and conceptual frameworks over the past few decades, including evo-devo and phenotypic plasticity. Yet, a number of biologists are still actively looking for a way out of the reductionism–holism counterposition, often mentioning the word ‘emergence’ as a way to deal with the conundrum. This paper briefly examines the philosophical history of the concept of emergence, distinguishes between epistemic and ontological accounts of it, and comments on conceptions of emergence that can actually be useful for practising evolutionary biologists.

 

Between holism and reductionism: a philosophical primer on emergence
Massimo Pigliucci
Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (2013)

http://philpapers.org/rec/PIGBHA


Via Complexity Digest
cerebster's insight:

It is important to understand emergence because it factors into discussions about control, knowledge, and free will, especially in neuroscience. It occupies a middle ground between prescribed rules and unpredictability. Now the task is to apply the concept productively to science.

more...
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Formal Model of Living Organisms

A modeling formalism is proposed for the description and study of living and life-like systems. It provides an abstract conceptual model framework for real life and evolution of biological organisms. It is proposed, that this model formalism provides a novel system view and immediately applicable conceptual tools for understanding real life and evolution of biological organisms. The modeling principle is very generic, suggesting that it can be directly applied also to the study of engineered and artificial systems.

 

Formal Model of Living Organisms

Margareta Segerståhl

http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.5090


Via Complexity Digest
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