Testing Top-Down Causation


Teleological (October 19, 2009, 14:02:53 PM):
On the Reality of Top-Down Causation
Project Summary

Complex systems such as the human brain are built up out of basic particles such as electrons and protons, which interact with each other through the electromagnetic force. It is this force that determines what happens at the micro-level. How then can there be room -- a causal opening -- for the human mind to operate as a viable entity in its own right, enabling us to think and plan and act, when all the workings of the brain are already determined by micro-level interactions?
A proposal many have made is that there is top-down action in the hierarchy of complexity: just as electrons can act on the brain and influence the mind, so equally the mind can act, through the brain, on the micro-components of the body, in effect telling them what to do (as when you move your arm by activating muscle tissue). But many scientists are skeptical about this, regarding it as unsubstantiated philosophical speculation. The aim of this project, building on previous work by this research team, is to change this proposal from philosophy to science. It will do so by proposing and then carrying out experiments to show that top down action does indeed take place at the level of microbiology, and hence is prevalent in all biology. If these experiments succeed, this will be a fundamental contribution to the understanding of causation in the human body and mind.

George F. R. Ellis (Professor of Applied Mathematics, Professor Emeritus, Mathematics Department, University of Cape) is involved.

Interesting article:
Top-Down Causation by Information Control:
From a Philosophical Problem to a Scientific Research Program

Abstract. It has been claimed that different types of causes must be considered in biological systems, including top-down as well as same-level and bottom-up causation, thus enabling the top levels to be causally efficacious in their own right. To clarify this issue, important distinctions between information and signs are introduced here and the concepts of information control and functional equivalence classes in those systems are rigorously defined and used to characterise when top down causation by feedback control happens, in a way that is testable. The causally significant elements we consider are equivalence classes of lower level processes, realised in biological systems through different operations having the same outcome within the context of information control and networks.

Mmm, a research program geared towards testing the possibility of top-down causation in human cognition.


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