Reconciling emergences: An information-theoretic approach to identify causal emergence in multivariate data

10 March 2020
12:00
Fernando Rosas
Abstract

The notion of emergence is at the core of many of the most challenging open scientific questions, being so much a cause of wonder as a perennial source of philosophical headaches. Two classes of emergent phenomena are usually distinguished: strong emergence, which corresponds to supervenient properties with irreducible causal power; and weak emergence, which are properties generated by the lower levels in such "complicated" ways that they can only be derived by exhaustive simulation. While weak emergence is generally accepted, a large portion of the scientific community considers causal emergence to be either impossible, logically inconsistent, or scientifically irrelevant.

In this talk we present a novel, quantitative framework that assesses emergence by studying the high-order interactions of the system's dynamics. By leveraging the Integrated Information Decomposition (ΦID) framework [1], our approach distinguishes two types of emergent phenomena: downward causation, where macroscopic variables determine the future of microscopic degrees of freedom; and causal decoupling, where macroscopic variables influence other macroscopic variables without affecting their corresponding microscopic constituents. Our framework also provides practical tools that are applicable on a range of scenarios of practical interest, enabling to test -- and possibly reject -- hypotheses about emergence in a data-driven fashion. We illustrate our findings by discussing minimal examples of emergent behaviour, and present a few case studies of systems with emergent dynamics, including Conway’s Game of Life, neural population coding, and flocking models.
[1] Mediano, Pedro AM, Fernando Rosas, Robin L. Carhart-Harris, Anil K. Seth, and Adam B. Barrett. "Beyond integrated information: A taxonomy of information dynamics phenomena." arXiv preprint arXiv:1909.02297 (2019).