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others)—rather, we need only recognize that system-theoretic approaches supplement (but don’t supplant) existing paradigms within the discipline. The recognition, to put the point another way, is not that Pinker was entirely wrong to think that neuronal computation played a central role in cognition, but only that his view was too limited—rather than evolution simply operating on an unconstrained string of genetic code, it operates in a “highly constrained (occasionally discontinuous) space of possible morphologies, whose formation requires acknowledging the environmental, material, self-organized and often random processes that appear at different scales.”[1]

The move from an exclusively decompositionist approach to one incorporating both decompositionist and holistic work is underway in disciplines other than biology and neuroscience. It’s particularly important for our purposes to note that the peaceful coexistence of EMICs with more comprehensive, high-level models (to be discussed in the next chapter) requires an appreciation both of the power of decomposition and of its limits. Surveying all the areas in which this type of thinking has made an impact would require far more space than I have here, so I will let these two cases—the biological and the climatological—stand on their own, and refer the interested reader to the list of references provided here for further exploration of complexity theoretic approaches to cognitive science, economics, medicine, engineering, computer science, and others.

4.2.2 Next Steps

This quiet conceptual revolution has proceeded more-or-less independently in these


  1. Moreno, Ruiz-Mirazo, & Barandiaran (2011)

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