James O’Brien

Source: James O’Brien.

Project (2018-)

The Development of Emergence in Physics

In the second half of the twentieth century, condensed matter physicists began demanding their share on the podium of the fundamental physical sciences, strategically coinciding with a decline of public opinion on the relevance of particle physics. This campaign was led by the Nobel laureate Philip Anderson, who put the argument in a nutshell: more is different, i.e., “simple laws, rules, and mechanisms can, when applied to very large assemblages, lead to qualitatively new consequences.”  “More is Different” is the title of Anderson’s most influential non-technical paper, published in 1972, and it describes the physical mechanism through which this quantitative to qualitative transition takes place, known as symmetry breaking. Anderson published his work unaware that the idea had already a long-standing tradition in philosophy and biology, under the name of "emergence." Despite not using the term, Anderson’s “More is Different” became a manifesto for emergence in the 1980s, not only in physics but also in philosophy, the life sciences and the emerging field of complexity theory. 

Source: James O’Brien.

This project’s point of departure is to analyze Anderson’s gradual appropriation of the concept of emergence from the 1980s onwards, comparing it with his original ideas in “More is Different.” The aim is twofold: to examine the influence of adopting the notion of emergence in the evolution of Anderson’s thought and his school of condensed matter emergentists and, conversely, how the opening to the previously unexplored realm of modern physics stimulated the philosophical debates on emergence with new case studies and positions.