We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham Emergence Project



Following my grant proposal, I used the teaching leave funded by the grant to pursue research on emergence in the neurosciences applying my general framework for emergence. In addition, I also furthered my underlying research on the nature of “vertical” relations in the sciences in two papers and an anthology. The results were a promising platform for emergence in the neurosciences and an anthology seeking to drive an exciting new philosophical set of debates over “verticality” in nature.

Exploring Emergence in the Brain/Mind: Strong Emergence in Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience


Carl Gillett

Project Description

What the media has dubbed the ‘neuroscience revolution’ is producing an explosion of work about the brain and its properties (Rose and Abi-Rached (2013)). Perhaps unsurprisingly, we have also seen a consequent surge in discussions of the implications of these findings for human nature and agency in the sciences themselves, in philosophy, and across still wider venues in the media. A striking feature of these discussions, especially in the sciences and popular media, is the prevalence of writers claiming that the eurosciences have, in one way or another, established negative claims about some of our most deeply held beliefs. Thus it is argued that the neurosciences have shown that we are not causally efficacious, hence denying human agency or mental causation (Libet et al. 1983); Wegner (2002), Wegner and Wheatley (1999)). And/or it is argued that the neurosciences have established that the ‘self’ does not exist (Dennett (1992), (1991); Metzinger (2004), (2009); Hood (2013)).

The arguments driving these negative conclusions about human nature and agency engage scientific debates over reduction and emergence. In particular, common scientific reductionist arguments are prevalent in driving the negative conclusions that garner so much attention. In contrast, the voices and arguments of scientific emergentists in the neurosciences are all too rarely prominent. The PI’s grant proposal supports a series of four scholarly papers exploring the issues of reduction/emergence in these debates in the neurosciences. The work of the proposed papers builds on the PI’s existing theoretical frameworks for scientific reductionism and scientific emergentism, and the foundations of neuroscience.

There will be two broad underlying themes of the papers. First, that the existence of a robust self is supported by neuroscientific evidence once we consider the relevant findings using an emergentist framework. And, second, that neuroscientific evidence, again interpreted through an emergentist framework, can actually ground powerful defenses of human agency or mental causation. The paper series thus combat the increasingly dominant tendency to present neuroscientific findings as supporting reductionist or even eliminativist views, but the papers will provide rebuttals by providing alternative positive accounts of the implications of the neuroscientific evidence rather than by denying its relevance (Bennett and Hacker (2003)).


  • Forthcoming-a: "Why the Foundational Question about Human Nature is Open and Empirical". In A. Fuentes and A. Visala (eds.) Verbs, Bones, and Brains: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Nature. Notre Dame University Press.
  • 2016-a: "The Metaphysics of Nature, Science and the Rules of Engagement". In K. Aizawa and C. Gillett (eds.) Scientific Composition and Metaphysical Grounding.
  • 2016-b: "Introduction: Understanding Verticality in Nature, Science and Metaphysics". In K. Aizawa and C. Gillett (eds.) Scientific Composition and Metaphysical Grounding. (With Kenneth Aizawa).
  • 2016-c: Scientific Composition and Metaphysical Ground. New York: Palgrave MacMillan. (Co-edited with Kenneth Aizawa).


  • Invited Presentation: Durham Emergence Project Seminar Series, "Confronting our Brainhood and our Substantive Alienation," Durham University, UK, Durham, UK. (December 2015).
  • Invited Presentation: Edinburgh Univ. Philosophy and Informatics Seminar, "Mutualism vs. Fundamentalism: Understanding the New Debates over Reduction and Emergence," Edinburgh University, UK, Edinburgh, UK. (December 2015).
  • Invited Presentation: International Conference on Downward Causation, "Scientific Emergentism and its Move Beyond Downward Causation," Macerata Univ., Italy, Macerata, Italy. (September 2015).
  • Invited Presentation: Workshop on the Metaphysics of Science, "Mutualism vs Fundamentalism: Understanding the New Debates over Reduction and Emergence," Rutgers Univ., Newark, Newark, NJ. (September 2015).