Decoupling emergence and reduction in physics

Publication Year:
2015
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Repository URL:
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/11484
Author(s):
Karen Crowther
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preprint description
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.

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