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Causal Emergence: When Distortions in a Map Obscure the Territory

Eberhardt, Frederick and Lee, Lin-Lin (2022) Causal Emergence: When Distortions in a Map Obscure the Territory. Philosophies, 7 (2). Art. No. 30. ISSN 2409-9287. doi:10.3390/philosophies7020030.

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We provide a critical assessment of the account of causal emergence presented in Erik Hoel’s 2017 article “When the map is better than the territory”. The account integrates causal and information theoretic concepts to explain under what circumstances there can be causal descriptions of a system at multiple scales of analysis. We show that the causal macro variables implied by this account result in interventions with significant ambiguity, and that the operations of marginalization and abstraction do not commute. Both of these are desiderata that, we argue, any account of multi-scale causal analysis should be sensitive to. The problems we highlight in Hoel’s definition of causal emergence derive from the use of various averaging steps and the introduction of a maximum entropy distribution that is extraneous to the system under investigation.

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Additional Information:© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( Received: 1 October 2021 / Revised: 15 February 2022 / Accepted: 17 February 2022 / Published: 9 March 2022. (This article belongs to the Special Issue The Problem of Induction throughout the Philosophy of Science) This research was supported by NSF grant 1564330. Part of this work was done while FE was visiting the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing. Author Contributions. The ideas for Section 3 and Section 4 originated with F.E. and were refined and implemented numerically by L.-L.L. The ideas discussed in Section 5 evolved out of the collaboration. The manuscript was written and revised together. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript. Institutional Review Board Statement: Not applicable. Informed Consent Statement: Not applicable. Data Availability Statement: Not applicable. The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:causal emergence; causality; macro variables; effective information
Issue or Number:2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20220309-981595000
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Official Citation:Eberhardt F, Lee L-L. Causal Emergence: When Distortions in a Map Obscure the Territory. Philosophies. 2022; 7(2):30.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:113808
Deposited By: George Porter
Deposited On:09 Mar 2022 23:33
Last Modified:09 Mar 2022 23:33

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