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Explicating Top-Down Causation Using Networks and Dynamics

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In many fields in the life sciences investigators refer to downward or top-down causal effects. Craver and I defended the view that such cases should be understood in terms of a constitution relation between levels in a mechanism and intralevel causal relations (occurring at any level). We did not, however, specify when entities constitute a higher-level mechanism. In this article I appeal to graph-theoretic representations of networks, now widely employed in systems biology and neuroscience, and associate mechanisms with modules that exhibit high clustering. As a result of interconnections within clusters, mechanisms often exhibit complex dynamic behaviors that constrain how individual components respond to external inputs, a central feature of top-down causation.

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