Causal Order and Kinds of Robustness

In Snait Gissis, Ehud Lamm & Ayelet Shavit (eds.), Landscapes of Collectivity in the Life Sciences. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 269-280 (2017)
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This paper derives from a broader project dealing with the notion of causal order. I use this term to signify two kinds of parts-whole dependence: Orderly systems have rich, decomposable, internal structure; specifically, parts play differential roles, and interactions are primarily local. Disorderly systems, in contrast, have a homogeneous internal structure, such that differences among parts and organizational features are less important. Orderliness, I suggest, marks one key difference between individuals and collectives. My focus here will be the connection between order and robustness, i.e. functional resilience in the face of internal or environmental perturbations. I distinguish three varieties of robustness. Ordered robustness is grounded in the system’s specific organizational pattern. In contrast, disorderly robustness stems from the aggregate outcome of many similar parts. In between, we find semi-ordered robustness, wherein a messy ensemble of elements is subjected to a selection or stabilization mechanism. I give brief characterizations of each category, discuss examples and remark on the connection between the order/disorder axis and the notions of individual versus collective.

Author's Profile

Arnon Levy
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


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