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PDF (2.21 MB)
Pages 283-290
First published 2 July 2012

Evolutionary Transitions and Top-Down Causation

Sara Imari Walker, Luis Cisneros, Paul C.W. Davies


Top-down causation has been suggested to occur at all scales of biological organization as a mechanism for explaining the hierarchy of structure and causation in living systems (Campbell, 1974; Auletta et al., 2008; Davies, 2006b, 2012; Ellis, 2012). Here we propose that a transition from bottom-up to top-down causation — mediated by a reversal in the flow of information from lower to higher levels of organization, to that from higher to lower levels of organization — is a driving force for most major evolutionary transitions. We suggest that many major evolutionary transitions might therefore be marked by a transition in causal structure. We use logistic growth as a toy model for demonstrating how such a transition can drive the emergence of collective behavior in replicative systems. We then outline how this scenario may have played out in those major evolutionary transitions in which new, higher levels of organization emerged, and propose possible methods via which our hypothesis might be tested.