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Symmetry breaking and the emergence of path-dependence

Desmond, Hugh (2017) Symmetry breaking and the emergence of path-dependence. Synthese, 194 (10). pp. 4101-4131. ISSN 0039-7857

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Path-dependence offers a promising way of understanding the role historicity
plays in explanation, namely, how the past states of a process can matter in the
explanation of a given outcome. The two main existing accounts of path-dependence have sought to present it either in terms of dynamic landscapes or branching trees. However, the notions of landscape and tree both have serious limitations and have been criticized. The framework of causal networks is both more fundamental and more general that that of landscapes and trees. Within this framework, I propose that historicity in networks should be understood as symmetry breaking. History matters when an asymmetric bias towards an outcome emerges in a causal network. This permits a quantitative measure for how path-dependence can occur in degrees, and offers suggestive insights into how historicity is intertwined both with causal structure and complexity.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Desmond, Hugh
Keywords: Path-dependence · Explanation · Historicity · Symmetry · Causal networks · Mutual information
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Historical Sciences
Depositing User: Prof. Dr. Hugh Desmond
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2020 14:32
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2020 14:32
Item ID: 18106
Journal or Publication Title: Synthese
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle:
Subjects: General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Historical Sciences
Date: 2017
Page Range: pp. 4101-4131
Volume: 194
Number: 10
ISSN: 0039-7857

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