Join the ISN as a Summer Fellow
the week of June 15th, 2009 at MIT
The Conference has been called off, but the Seminar will take place
as planned. Contact us if you need more information.
This summer the ISN will hold its third annual fellowship
program for students called the
“Summer Seminar,” followed by a small
conference for the Summer Fellows
(i.e., students) and scholars.
In addition to the overview below, there are also:
For photos from last year, see the schedule pages for the
2008 Seminar and
2008 Conference. More
photos, as well as proposed t-shirt design, at the
All this information (overview, schedule, and logistics,
scholarships) as well as an application form are available in the
package (PDF); you can also download just the plain application
Final deadline for all applications is March 16th, but those received by
the initial deadline of February
23rd receive $50 off tuition.
Reduction, Emergence, and Essence
What Is This All About?
The most famously successful strategy of
the natural sciences has been “divide and conquer”: reduce or
split a system up into its component parts in order to
understand how it works.
In contrast the past thirty years have seen a
resurgence of interest in the subject of “emergence,” roughly
defined as the idea that a natural whole is greater than the sum
of its parts. The subject seems to inspire more questions than
answers. What’s all the furor about? What is emergence, and why
do so many scientists and philosophers think it important?
Emergentists talk is of wholes as
exercising “downward causation” that can’t be explained by the
simple interactions of the parts. Is it all mystical babble, or
a sort of “God of the gaps” explanation? Or is there a kernel of
truth in the irrational-sounding talk?
To bolster their case, today’s emergentists
cite examples such as the human mind, organisms, non-equilibrium
thermodynamic systems, and complex systems. Do these defy
reductionistic analysis? If so, how? If not, how do they
disguise themselves as examples of “emergence”?
Was emergence known before modern times? If
not, how was modern analysis a prerequisite? Where and how did
emergence talk originate? How does that original conception
compare to today’s?
The wholeness signified by emergence is
reminiscent of the classical conception of stable, relatively
independent wholes whose “whatness” was comprehended in the
notion of essence or form. But are emergence and essence
synonymous? Does the success of reduction disprove the reality
of essences? Are essences vindicated by emergence? Or is the
relationship between the ideas more subtle?
Is “essence” more mystical babble? But
isn’t science's talk about things “essence talk”? Exactly what sort
of causal powers did the ancients and medievals attribute to
essences? Was it separate from the powers of the parts? But can
it ever make sense to speak of an activity of a whole that does
not involve its parts?
And after all this controversy, the
question remains: what exactly does emergence mean
The Institute for the Study of Nature
invites you to join us in a Summer Seminar the week of June 15th-19th,
2009, on the campus of MIT to begin considering these
challenging questions with the care they deserve.
Three Honor Scholarships will be awarded
that include full tuition, room, and board. The scholarship
application consists of the standard Seminar application
package, plus a basic five-paragraph-style essay, not to exceed
three pages in length, addressing the following
Why is analysis into parts such a successful strategy for
understanding natural things? What are the limits of this
The essays will be judged on clarity and
thoroughness of reasoning, not on the particular conclusion
Look here for forms and
requirements. Final deadline for all applications
(including scholarship essays) is Monday, March
16th, 2009. A discount of $50 off tuition for applications received by
the initial deadline of Monday, February 23.
Help Us Promote the Seminar!
We've a number of items you can download and print up to
spread the word about the ISN Summer Seminar.
- Letter-sized poster
- Letter-sized poster (colorful)
- Letter-sized tri-fold brochure (standard/with flipped
- Letter-sized Conference poster
- Seminar materials with alternative text better suited to Great Books
- Letter-sized Seminar poster
- Colorful letter-sized
- Brochure (flipped)