Symmetry breaking and the emergence of path-dependence

Synthese (10):4101-4131 (2017)
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Abstract

Path-dependence offers a promising way of understanding the role historicity plays in explanation, namely, how the past states of a process can matter in the explanation of a given outcome. The two main existing accounts of path-dependence have sought to present it either in terms of dynamic landscapes or branching trees. However, the notions of landscape and tree both have serious limitations and have been criticized. The framework of causal networks is both more fundamental and more general that that of landscapes and trees. Within this framework, I propose that historicity in networks should be understood as symmetry breaking. History matters when an asymmetric bias towards an outcome emerges in a causal network. This permits a quantitative measure for how path-dependence can occur in degrees, and offers suggestive insights into how historicity is intertwined both with causal structure and complexity.

Author's Profile

Hugh Desmond
Leibniz Universit├Ąt Hannover

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