One of the most popular views about chemistry's relation to quantum mechanics is Robin Hendry's account of strong emergence. Hendry argues that a molecule's structure strongly emerges because structure partially determines how the underlying quantum mechanical entities are behaving (this is referred to as downward causation). In her paper, Vanessa presents the main features of Hendry's account. She identifies four possible versions of downward causation and argues that only under a reflexive diachronic version of downward causation, the strong emergence of molecular structure is possible. Moreover, she identifies three challenges that Hendry's account faces in its current form. First, the empirical evidence that is invoked to support strong emergence equally undermines the way in which Hendry believes chemical properties are related to quantum mechanical ones (i.e. in terms of supervenience). Secondly, it is not clear why presupposing facts about molecular structure in quantum mechanics is a suggestion of the emergence of molecular structure. Thirdly, given the different understandings of causation that are available in the philosophical literature, Vanessa argues that it is crucial to clarify how downward causation is understood in Hendry’s account. This is because there are some understandings of causation that would render the strong emergence of molecular structure, untenable.
The EJPS is the official journal of the European Philosophy of Science Association. It publishes works that can deepen understanding of the concepts and methods of the sciences and is of direct interest to philosophers of science, scientists, citizens and policymakers.
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement No 771509. All project outputs are published Open Access. Website photo credit: Matt Lincoln Photography
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