Fellowship Programme

Please note that the Fellowship Programme is now closed for applications. Details on the successful projects can be found on the Fellowships page.

The Durham Emergence Project is pleased to announce its fellowship programme, supported by a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation. Proposals are invited from either research teams or single researchers for scientific and philosophical research into the conceptual foundations and empirical possibility of strong emergence. Interdisciplinary proposals involving researchers from both philosophy and the sciences are particularly encouraged, as are proposals from early-career researchers


The Durham Emergence Project is an interdisciplinary research initiative involving collaboration between philosophers and physicists. Emergence, or dependent novelty, is of increasing interest to scientists and philosophers as a way of characterising relationships between complex entities and their parts, relationships between the sciences, and the place of the mind in the physical world. Weak emergence, which is uncontroversial, concerns knowledge of the world, or our description of it: unpredictability, or the applicability of new concepts. This project will focus on strong emergence, which involves novelty in the world itself: new properties or objects, laws or causal powers. Discussion of emergence is hampered by proliferating criteria for emergence, not all of which are readily interpretable in scientific terms. It is also hampered by the differing presuppositions that underlie the entrenched positions of emergentists and their opponents.

The aim of the project is to build on recent scientific and philosophical research, including mathematical methods in condensed matter physics, powers theories in the metaphysics of causation, and analyses of intertheory relations in the philosophy of science, to advance understanding of the possibility and plausibility of strong emergence. It will address the following research questions:

How should ‘strong emergence’ be understood? How is it related to the existence of downward causation? What is downward causation, and how is it related to the completeness of physics, or the causal closure of the physical (CCP)? How should CCP be formulated? Is it an a priori or an empirical claim? If CCP is (or involves) an empirical claim, what kind of evidence is there for it? What kind of evidence could there be for it? How should criteria for emergence be expressed in the mathematical language of physics? And how do such criteria relate to relations of emergence in the real world? How do recent developments in the metaphysics of causation affect the formulation and plausibility of emergentist positions, and the formulation and plausibility of CCP? How do these developments bear on the possibility of downward causation, or mental causation? How do these developments bear on the formulation of new emergentist positions in the philosophy of mind? Do these new positions address such longstanding issues as the problem of mental causation in new ways? How do explanatory relationships between different scientific theories bear on claims for the existence (or non-existence) of strong emergence, the truth and falsity of CCP, and the possibility of mental causation? Specific examples to be considered should include cases from chemistry and condensed matter physics. How do the various interpretations of quantum mechanics bear on the existence (or non-existence) of strong emergence, the truth and falsity of CCP, and the possibility of mental causation? How do theoretical accounts of (i) symmetry-breaking; (ii) the emergence of structure in materials; and (iii) the behaviour of macromolecules bear on the existence (or non-existence) of strong emergence, the truth and falsity of CCP, and the possibility of mental causation? Proposals should make clear how they would address at least one of these groups of questions.

Fellowship Description

Applications are invited for up to £50,000, for research projects lasting up to a year. Up to ten awards will be made. Applications from interdisciplinary teams of scientists and philosophers are especially encouraged. Fellows need not spend all their funded research time at Durham University but would be welcome to do so, especially during July 2014 and 2015, when Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study will host key project events. Fellows will be expected to attend the project’s final conference in July 2016, and contribute a paper to an edited collection addressing the project’s core research questions.

How to Apply

Please note that the deadline for receipt of outline proposals has now passed.

A two-stage international funding competition will be administered by Durham University, according to the following timetable:

15th November 2013: deadline for outline proposals. December 2013: invitations to submit full proposals. 31st March 2014: deadline for full proposals. June 2014: notification of funding decisions. 1st October 2014: earliest date for funded research to begin. 30th September 2015: latest date for funded research to conclude.

Full Proposals

Full proposals will be accepted only by invitation. By 31st March 2014 applicants should submit, to the project administrator Catherine Syson (c.m.syson@durham.ac.uk), an expanded description of their proposed research, not exceeding 3000 words, which should describe the research questions to be addressed, how it is proposed to address them, and the planned outcomes of the research, including any publications. This should be accompanied by a full budget setting out the costs of the research and, and a narrative explaining why they are justified. Full Proposals will be reviewed by the project leader and other members of the steering group, which is listed on this website, with the help of a panel of external expert referees. If a proposal involves content or methods for which these reviewers do not have adequate expertise, additional ad hoc reviews may be sought.

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

Applicants should have a PhD in a relevant subject and be affiliated to a recognised institution of higher education. They should have, or be able to demonstrate the potential for, a record of excellent academic research and publication in areas relevant to the Emergence Project. Applications will be judged according to the following criteria:

the rigour and currency of the proposed research; the feasibility of the research; its relevance to the aims of the Durham Emergence Project; the career stage of the applicants and the expected effect that the fellowship would have on their career development; the value for money it demonstrates in relation to the research outputs and outcomes;

Conditions of Funding

PIs of funded projects must submit interim and final reports, as well as interim and final expenditure reports. The interim and final reports should not exceed 5 pages, and should detail the results of the funded project. Reports must be submitted after six months and at the conclusion of the project. Funded projects must notify the Durham Emergence Project via email of all conference presentations, papers, books and additional funding that arise from the funded research.