Emergence and mechanism in the fractional quantum Hall effect

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For some authors, an adequate notion of emergence must include an account of a mechanism by means of which emergent behavior is realized. This appeal to mechanism is problematic in the case of the fractional quantum Hall effect (FQHE). There is a consensus among physicists that the FQHE exhibits emergent phenomena, but there are at least four alternative explanations of the latter that, arguably, appeal to ontologically distinct mechanisms, both at the microphysics level and at the level of general organizing principles. In light of this underdetermination of mechanism, one is faced with the following options: (I) deny that emergence is present in the FQHE; (II) argue for the priority of one mechanistic explanation over the others; or (III) temper the desire for a mechanism-centric account of emergence. I will argue that there are good reasons to reject (I) and (II) and accept (III). In particular, I will suggest that a law-centric account of emergence does just fine in explaining the emergent phenomena associated with the FQHE.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-38
Number of pages12
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Condensed matter physics
  • Emergence
  • Mechanism
  • Quantum Hall effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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