Reductionism, Naturalism, and Undecidability

Junior Common Room, Peterson Student Center




Ticket Info

Free and open to the public, each lecture is followed by a question-and-answer period.

Event Description

A common version of naturalism holds that higher-level theories, such as those of the biological and social sciences, describe the relationships between coarse-grainings of more fundamental theories. The laws of the higher-level theories must be consistent with the laws relating the fine-grained quantities. Using the tools of formal language theory, Simon DeDeo will present a toy model under which this account is strictly true, with a separation of theories into a single, ordered hierarchy of levels. He then will show how, for theories of reasonable sophistication, this hierarchy-of-levels picture not only collapses, but the reducibility of one theory to another becomes undecidable (in the Godelian sense). He will provide an example from recent empirical work that suggests this does indeed take place and examine the natural consequences that (1) the practice of the higher sciences is at least partially independent of physics, and (2) philosophy of science is itself an independent enterprise. 

Simon DeDeo is a research fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, where he works on information processing and computation in social and biological systems. Since 2011, he has been the principal investigator on an Emerging Frontiers grant from the National Science Foundation, and his research has been covered in the New Scientist andScientific American and on National Public Radio. He studied physics, cosmology, and applied mathematics at Harvard University, Cambridge University, and Princeton, where he received his Ph.D. in 2006.