Downward causation

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In philosophy, downward causation is a causal relationship from higher levels of a system to lower-level parts of that system: for example, mental events acting to cause physical events,[1] The term was originally coined in 1974 by the philosopher and social scientist Donald T. Campbell.[1][2]


According to practopoietic theory of system organization,[3] downward causation in biological systems always involves the environment. Downward causation does not occur by direct causal effects from higher to lower levels of system organisation. Instead, causation towards down occurs indirectly because the mechanisms at higher levels of organisation fail to accomplish the tasks dictated by the lower levels of organisation. As a result, inputs from the environment signal to the mechanisms at lower levels of organisation that something is wrong and therefore, to act. This leads to a unique form of a causal interaction pattern—called a practopoietic loop of causation. The end result is that the mechanisms responsible for mental events cause physical events only based on their joint interaction with the environment.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Øistein Schmidt Galaaen (2006). "The Disturbing Matter of Downward Causation: A Study of the Exclusion Argument and its Causal-Explanatory Presuppositions". Retrieved 2013-06-07. 
  2. ^ "Downward Causation". Principia Cybernetica. Retrieved 2013-06-07. 
  3. ^ Danko Nikolić (2014). "Practopoiesis: Or how life fosters a mind. arXiv:1402.5332 [q-bio.NC].". Retrieved 2014-06-06. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Campbell, Donald T. (1974) "Downward causation in hierarchically organised biological systems". In Francisco Jose Ayala and Theodosius Dobzhansky (Eds.), Studies in the philosophy of biology: Reduction and related problems, pp. 179–186. London/Basingstoke: Macmillan.
  • Campbell, Donald T. "Evolutionary Epistemology", in P. A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Karl Popper (Open Court, LaSalle, Il, 1974). pp. 413–463

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