When I learned that George Ellis had just published a major work, I jumped at the chance to write a book review for PSCF. Springer publishing company only provides an online reader version for reviewers, with a free book after the review is published. But I’ve finally figured out the technical aspects of their reader and I’ve begun to read “How Can Physics Underlie the Mind: Top-Down Causation in the Human Context.” I would like to use this blog as a mean of writing notes to myself as I go through the back and hopefully that will help me write the review. Your comments and questions would be of great help if you are interested in the topic in any way. If not, simply ignore this post and its comments.
Ellis is in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He co-authored The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time with Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking. He has long interacted with scholars such as ASA Fellow Robert Russell, Nancey Murphy, Tim O’Connor as well as Phil Clayton and other advocates of emergence. I have been interested in and persuaded by the ideas of emergence for many years and am eager to learn about some of the more detailed issues connected with it.
He writes that his aim in the book is to “…support the view that, even though physical laws underlie all material entities, there exist higher level causal relations that allow the brain to act as a means of creating theories, searching for meaning, expressing tenderness, and doing all the other myriad things that make us human, without contradicting or overwriting those lower level physical laws. Consequently, physics does not control the mind, it enables the mind. The same is true for genetics and neurobiology: they both to some degree shape what the mind does, but neither by itself determines the outcome, because the mind has a logic of its own…We are genuinely fully human, even though we emerge through the interactions of fundamental particles.”
The book has eight chapters:
1. Complexity and Emergence
2. Digital Computer Systems
3. The Basis of Complexity
4. Kinds of Top-Down Causation
5. Room at the Bottom?
6. The Foundation: Physics and Top-Down Causation
7. The Mind and the Brain
8. The Broader View
Springer asked Ellis to write the book in such a way that each chapter could stand alone and be sold separately as well as a complete book. This results in a significant amount of repetition, especially of references, but that repetition is very helpful in gaining familiarity with complex ideas.
So with that as a background, I’ll start to dig in and occasionally share with you his ideas.