© 2016

How Can Physics Underlie the Mind?

Top-Down Causation in the Human Context

  • Addresses one of science and philosophy’s biggest puzzles: how complex structures that emerge from atoms and molecules can become causative agent

  • Argues that the human mind and resultant social agency has a special status among complex systems

  • Is fully consistent with present day physics, but also takes into account key features of biology and how the brain functions

  • Will appeal to general and academic readers alike


Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xxvi
  2. George Ellis
    Pages 1-33
  3. George Ellis
    Pages 35-84
  4. George Ellis
    Pages 85-131
  5. George Ellis
    Pages 133-216
  6. George Ellis
    Pages 217-242
  7. George Ellis
    Pages 291-394
  8. George Ellis
    Pages 395-463
  9. Back Matter
    Pages 465-482

About this book


Physics underlies all complexity, including our own existence: how is this possible? How can our own lives emerge from interactions of electrons, protons, and neutrons? This book considers the interaction of physical and non-physical causation in complex systems such as living beings, and in particular in the human brain, relating this to the emergence of higher levels of complexity with real causal powers. In particular it explores the idea of top-down causation, which is the key effect allowing the emergence of true complexity and also enables the causal efficacy of non-physical entities, including the value of money, social conventions, and ethical choices.


Adaptive Systems Biological Information Emergent Complexity Human Brain Top-Down Causation

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Dept of MathematicsUniversity of CapetownRondeboschSouth Africa

About the authors

George Ellis, FRS, is one of the world’s leading researchers in general relativity theory and cosmology. He is Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Complex Systems in the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He co-authored The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time with Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking.

Bibliographic information

Industry Sectors
Finance, Business & Banking


“Ellis (emer., Univ. of Cape Town, South Africa), a world-renowned expert in theoretical physics, presents an impressive and persuasive set of arguments for top-down causation and a non-reductive ontology, which he bases on a broad array of recent research results. … Summing Up:  Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; professionals.” (T. Eastman, Choice, Vol. 54 (5), January, 2017)

“In this magnum opus … George Ellis lays out the case for top-down causation from an emergentist perspective. … This book is an indispensable resource for anyone who seriously ponders the structure of the universe, the miracle of life, and the mystery of consciousness.” (Randy Isaac, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Vol. 69 (2), 2017)