Re: Single-Cause Theories

Gessler, Nicholas (gessler@ANTHRO.SSCNET.UCLA.EDU)
Tue, 25 Apr 1995 19:50:00 PDT

Danny Yee writes:

Most entities are bundles of causal relationships of different types, so most
single-cause theories are in fact multi-cause theories viewed from a
different perspective.


I certainly agree, and I find this notion to be the core of what might be
called a "philosophy of emergence" that is implied, and often instantiated,
in "artificial life" computational systems. It's another take on the notion
that the causes of behaviors at a high level, are the behaviors produced by
causes at a lower level of analysis. So with "alife" at least, the idea is
to synthesize the phenomena in question by reconstituting it from more
primitive elements at a level beneath. The expectation is that many patterns
of behavior may come into existence solely in the acting out of lower level
processes. So the exercise is perhaps "reductionist," but in a new sense
which might be called "constructionist." ("Constructivist" being
intentionally avoided.) Instead of viewing higher level processes as
amplifications of lower level ones, we view them as behaviors resulting from
the interaction of lower level ones. What this often implies is that we may
not find a locus for a certain behavior at the higher level, but only in the
interplay of lower level elements. This has led many practitioners to doubt
that many seemingly "intelligent" behaviors are in fact intelligent. Rather
they seem "intelligent" but are in reality constituted from a number of
relatively "dumb" agents. This approach differs radically from an often
expressed notion that the explanation for a system's behavior must be found
at the level of the system itself.

Nick Gessler
UCLA - Anthropology