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Explanatory regress and mechanistic explanation of the Small by the Big. Phyllis McKay Illari University of Kent. Explanatory Regress. 1 The usual problem. Gap-o-phobia. Gap-o-phobia. Gap-o-phobia. Gap-o-phobia. ?. Gap-o-phobia. ?. HELP! I fell out of the bottom of the world!.

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explanatory regress and mechanistic explanation of the small by the big

Explanatory regress and mechanistic explanation of the Smallby theBig

Phyllis McKay Illari

University of Kent

gap o phobia4
Gap-o-phobia

?

HELP!

I fell out of the bottom of the world!

problem of explanatory regress
Problem of explanatory regress
  • We cannot seem to evade the possibility of just such ‘gaps’ at the fundamental level.

?

problem of explanatory regress1
Problem of explanatory regress
  • We cannot seem to evade the possibility of just such ‘gaps’ at the fundamental level.
    • Physical theory might even be telling us that such ‘gaps’ actually do exist.

?

glennan
Glennan

‘some interactions between parts cannot be explained by the operation of mechanisms. For instance, two electrons might interact with each other, but there is no mechanism connecting them. If mechanical interactions are truly causal, the fundamental interactions on which they ultimately depend must be causal as well, so a complete causal theory requires a theory of fundamental causal interactions.’

Routledge Encyclopaedia 2008

stathis throws down the gauntlet
Stathis throws down the gauntlet!
  • ‘I take this to be a crucial problem of the mechanistic approach. In a sense, this approach fills in the 'chain' that connects the cause and the effect with intermediate loops. But there is still no account of how the loops interact. Here, it might well be the case that the most general and informative thing that can be said about these interactions is that there are relations of counterfactual dependence among the parts of the mechanism.’ (Psillos 2004 p314-5.)
epistemic and ontic
Epistemic and Ontic

Well-known distinction:

  • Ontic mechanistic explanation about the worldly producer of the phenomena.
    • In this sense the mechanism itself explains.
  • Epistemic mechanistic explanation about the phenomenon being rendered intelligible to an inquirer.
    • In this sense the description or the act of describing the mechanism explains.
epistemic and ontic1
Epistemic and Ontic

‘Productive continuities are what make the connections between stages intelligible. ... A missing arrow, namely, the inability to specify an activity, leaves an explanatory gap in the productive continuity of the mechanism.’(MDC p3.)

  • Unfortunate mingling of ontic and epistemic.
where are the little bits
‘Where are the little bits?’
  • We want explanations in terms of little bits.
    • Psychologically, we like them.
  • But this is no reason to believe little bits will always be available.
    • Particularly not in mind-bending fields such as QM.
  • (Effective explanations will still require attention to epistemic aspects such as effective diagrams, equations, models.)
want ontic explanation
Want ontic explanation
  • Keep clearer that we are attempting to describe how the world is.
    • Worldly production of phenomena
    • Might not fit our idea of what counts as a fundamental explanation, or cause.
  • If there aren’t littler bits in some cases, then there aren’t. And wishing won’t make it so.
ontic explanation the competitors1
Ontic explanation: the competitors

?

Capacities

  • Blob has a capacity to produce blob

Capacity

ontic explanation the competitors2
Ontic explanation: the competitors

?

Capacities

  • Blob has a capacity to produce blob

Laws

  • It’s a law of nature that says blob then blob

Capacity

well known problems
Well-known problems

Laws

  • It’s a law of nature that says blob then blob

Capacities

  • Blob has a capacity to produce blob

Objections

  • ‘Dormitive virtue’

Capacity

well known problems1
Well-known problems

Laws

  • It’s a law of nature that says blob then blob

Capacities

  • Blob has a capacity to produce blob

Objections

  • ‘Dormitive virtue’

Capacity

  • ‘I don’t care what’s happening elsewhere!’
really do want a mechanism
Really do want a mechanism
  • Activities and entities
  • Organized so as to produce the phenomenon

Broadly involves both

    • Things and their properties
    • Generalisations describing their interactions
really do want a mechanism1
Really do want a mechanism
  • Activities and entities
  • Organized so as to produce the phenomenon

Broadly involves both

    • Things and their properties
    • Generalisations describing their interactions

‘Together we’re better!’

traditional conception of mechanistic explanation
Traditional conception of mechanistic explanation

Reductive

  • Behaviour of higher-level explained by behaviour of parts

Locally supervenient

  • Behaviour of whole supervenes on that of local parts

Big by small

  • Little bits explain the big
traditional conception of mechanistic explanation1
Traditional conception of mechanistic explanation

Reductive

  • Behaviour of higher-level explained by behaviour of parts.

Locally supervenient

  • Behaviour of whole supervenes on that of local parts.

Big by small

  • Little bits explain the big.
  • Undermined by emergence, autonomy.
  • Undermined by importance of context – system biology.
  • I will examine this.
bechtel 2008 and craver 2007
Bechtel (2008) and Craver (2007)
  • In constructing a mechanistic explanation, you look for the working parts.
    • Not everything in the area counts as a working part.
  • You look experimentally:
    • Briefly, you wiggle putative components, look for alteration in phenomenon, and vice versa.
  • To an extent it is arbitrary what you treat as part of the mechanism, what you treat as external. (Craver’s part-whole criterion.)
darden phil sci 2008
Darden (Phil Sci 2008)
  • ‘Often biologists engage in much investigative work to discover the levelat which a given mechanism operates. Geneticists worked to find theoperative level for genetic linkage, ruling out the coupling of paired allelesand the reduplication of germ cells and ruling in chromosomal mechanisms (Darden 1991). Genes are linked because they ride along on chromosomes in meiotic mechanisms. In immunology, the working entities inclonal selection were at first hypothesized to be self-replicating proteinmolecules but were later found to be self-reproducing immune cells (Darden 2006, Chapter 8). These two examples show that biologists do notalways discover working entities in mechanisms by going to a smaller sizelevel; sometimes the operative units are intermediate or larger than at firsthypothesized: not genes but chromosomes, not molecules but cells.’ (961)
darden case 1
Darden Case 1
  • ‘Often biologists engage in much investigative work to discover the levelat which a given mechanism operates. Geneticists worked to find theoperative level for genetic linkage, ruling out the coupling of paired allelesand the reduplication of germ cells and ruling in chromosomal mechanisms (Darden 1991). Genes are linked because they ride along on chromosomes in meiotic mechanisms. In immunology, the working entities inclonal selection were at first hypothesized to be self-replicating proteinmolecules but were later found to be self-reproducing immune cells (Darden 2006, Chapter 8). These two examples show that biologists do notalways discover working entities in mechanisms by going to a smaller sizelevel; sometimes the operative units are intermediate or larger than at firsthypothesized: not genes but chromosomes, not molecules but cells.’ (961)
darden case 2
Darden Case 2
  • ‘Often biologists engage in much investigative work to discover the levelat which a given mechanism operates. Geneticists worked to find theoperative level for genetic linkage, ruling out the coupling of paired allelesand the reduplication of germ cells and ruling in chromosomal mechanisms (Darden 1991). Genes are linked because they ride along on chromosomes in meiotic mechanisms. In immunology, the working entities inclonal selection were at first hypothesized to be self-replicating proteinmolecules but were later found to be self-reproducing immune cells (Darden 2006, Chapter 8).These two examples show that biologists do notalways discover working entities in mechanisms by going to a smaller sizelevel; sometimes the operative units are intermediate or larger than at firsthypothesized: not genes but chromosomes, not molecules but cells.’ (961)
slide32

SO:

When you look for the working parts, sometimes they are not the little bits.

glennan1
Glennan

‘some interactions between parts cannot be explained by the operation of mechanisms. For instance, two electrons might interact with each other, but there is no mechanism connecting them. If mechanical interactions are truly causal, the fundamental interactions on which they ultimately depend must be causal as well, so a complete causal theory requires a theory of fundamental causal interactions.’

Routledge Encyclopaedia 2008

gap o phobia therapy
Gap-o-phobia therapy?

Interesting question:

  • not about the fundamental level
  • not about what the fundamental explainers are
  • not about causation (or anything else!) draining out of the bottom of the world

Real question is about causalconnection.

glennan2
Glennan

‘some interactions between parts cannot be explained by the operation of mechanisms. For instance, two electrons might interact with each other, but there is no mechanism connecting them. If mechanical interactions are truly causal, the fundamental interactions on which they ultimately depend must be causal as well, so a complete causal theory requires a theory of fundamental causal interactions.’

Routledge Encyclopaedia 2008

gap o phobia therapy1
Gap-o-phobia therapy?

Interesting question:

  • not about the fundamental level
  • not about what the fundamental explainers are
  • not about causation (or anything else!) draining out of the bottom of the world

Real question is about causalconnection.

Now we can ask:

If the big can explain the small what then should we think about causal (and mechanistic) connection?

productive continuity
Productive continuity
  • Machamer, Bogen, Darden still worrying about productive continuity– which is causal connection.
  • All mechanisms ‘...have productive continuity from one stage to the next…[such that] entities and activities of one stage give rise to the next stage…but few mechanisms have information flow through multiple stages of the [operation of the] mechanism.’
    • Machamer and Bogen (CitS volume) quoting Darden (2006 p. 283), on the issue they address.
stathis gauntlet
Stathis’ gauntlet!
  • ‘I take this to be a crucial problem of the mechanistic approach. In a sense, this approach fills in the 'chain' that connects the cause and the effect with intermediate loops. But there is still no account of how the loops interact. Here, it might well be the case that the most general and informative thing that can be said about these interactions is that there are relations of counterfactual dependence among the parts of the mechanism.’ (Psillos 2004 p314-5.)
stathis gauntlet1
Stathis’ gauntlet!
  • ‘I take this to be a crucial problem of the mechanistic approach. In a sense, this approach fills in the 'chain' that connects the cause and the effect with intermediate loops. But there is still no account of how the loops interact. Here, it might well be the case that the most general and informative thing that can be said about these interactions is that there are relations of counterfactual dependence among the parts of the mechanism.’ (Psillos 2004 p314-5.)
  • The most general and informative thing that can be said about these interactions will be in the relevant scientific theory – perhaps QM.
  • Any account of how the loops interact will also be in QM.

The surprising thing: quantum non-locality suggests we have to look UP, not down, for these stories.

objection
Objection

‘Then mechanistic explanation is really at bottom laws-explanation!’

  • Something at the ‘bottom’ doesn’t make mechanisms ‘really’ anything!

Either

    • a) QM theory in some sense continuous with mechanistic explanation: very interesting.
    • b) QM very different: the interface will be very important.
  • Either way, we are now asking a more precise, and more fruitful, question.
slide47

‘We also believe it to be likely, although we cannot argue for it here, that what we take to be intelligible is a product of the ontogenicand phylogenetic development of human beings in a world such as ours.’ MDC p22

slide48

MDC P23 ‘Higher-level entities and activities are thus essential to the intelligibility of those at lower levels, just as much as those at lower levels are essential for understanding those at higher levels. It is the integration of different levels into productive relations that renders the phenomenon intelligible and thereby explains it.’

slide49

Machamer 2004 p31 in section discussing necessity ‘Metaphysically, activities are what do the ruling out, by connecting one entity through its actions to another entity or activity or by producing a change in another entity. In this way activities function as selective processes: they are explanations of the arrows in the cartoon diagrams, and spell out how the previous stage or situation produces this certain result rather than some other. In other words, among all the changes that might have occurred at the next stage, this one did occur because of the activity that produced it.’

slide50

Machamer and Bogen paper for our volume: MDC ‘…exhibit productive continuity without gaps from the set-up to termination conditions. Productive continuities are what make the connection between stages intelligible. (Machamer, Darden and Craver [2000] p. 3)’