Thursday, June 24, 2010

So, Why Isn't the Methodology of Co-ordination Dynamics an Instance of Mechanistic Explanation?

The methodology of coordination dynamics is as follows. First, for the system as a whole, discover the key coordination variables and the dynamical equations of motion that best describes how coordination patterns change over time. Second, identify the individual coordinated elements (such as neurons, organs, clapping hands, pendulums, cars, birds, bees, fish, etc.) and discern their dynamics. As Kelso and Ensgtrom say, this is nontrivial because the individual coordinated elements are often themselves quite complex, and are often dependent upon the larger coordinated system of which they are components (2006, 109). They put the point even more strongly, “in the complex systems of coordination dynamics, there are no purely context-independent parts from which to derive a context-independent coordinative whole” (2006, 202). Third, derive the systemic dynamics from the description of the nonlinear coupling among the elements. It is this nonlinear coupling between elements that allows one to determine connections across different levels of description. It is important to note that, as in all dynamical explanation, discovering both the systemic dynamics and that of their component parts requires specifying boundary conditions that “establish the context for particular behaviors to arise” (Kelso and Engstrom 2006, 109). The behavior of the whole system ‘emerges’ from the nonlinear interactions among the elements of the system in a particular context where the elements and the contextual features are coupled and mutually codependent. The individual coordinating elements form a collective whole in the sense that microscopic degrees of freedom are reduced to a much smaller set of context dependent coordination variables or order parameters that greatly constrain the behavior of the elements. (Chemero & Silberstein, 2008, pp. 12-13).
So, if we understand C&S's "elements" as entities and their "dynamics" as the interactions among the entities, it looks like we are pretty far along the path to, say, the Machamer, Darden, Craver theory of mechanistic explanation in terms of entities and their activities.  So, why isn't the methodology of co-ordination dynamics an instance of mechanistic explanation?  I figure there could be an answer, but the contrast between mechanistic explanation and whatever rival C&S are offering does not seem to be all that stark.  And, what exactly is it?

Bechtel might not like this (cf., C&S, 2008, p. 16), but what reason is there?  For further comment on this, tune in tomorrow.

Chemero, A., & Silberstein, M. (2008). After the Philosophy of Mind: Replacing Scholasticism with Science. Philosophy of Science, 75, 1-27.

Machamer, P., Darden, L., & Craver, C. (2000). Thinking about mechanisms. Philosophy of Science, 1-25.

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