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AJ Cotnoir has been selected for an ERC Consolidator grant of €1.7 million for a 5-year project studying the metaphysics of unity. The planned start date is January 2024.

Instruments of Unity: The Many Ways of Being One

How do many things come together into single unified entity? What is it to be whole? How is a group united? How do we carve the world into its most natural units? We perceive unities everywhere: from ant colonies to cellular automata, from organisms to organisations. Yet we have little understanding about the general constraints by which they unified. The Instruments of Unity Project tackles this abstract question in a way that provides concrete applicable answers. The core hypothesis: unity is a complex pluralistic phenomenon, requiring a multifaceted theoretical approach. We identify unity relations across a variety of formal settings, using tools from part/whole theory, theories of location, qualitative dimensions, modal logics, graph theory, weighted networks, topology, mathematical morphology, and more. In sum: there are many ways to be one.

The project goals include: pioneering novel formal paradigms for unity; developing a measurement-theoretic ‘Guide for Naturalness’; applying the framework to problems in metaphysics, including social and formal ontologies; and even addressing the ‘meta’-question of whether there’s any unity to the different types of unity. Along the way, we will rehabilitate a more holistic ‘carving’-based metaphysics over against the dominant reductionistic ‘building’-based paradigm.

Using the proven method of expert-led collaborative research, and advised by a Board of researchers from Europe and the US, the project progresses over three phases in five years. The team (composed of the PI, three postdocs, and a fully-funded PhD student) will deliver: over twenty articles in top journals, a research monograph, an open-access PhD thesis, a small workshop, a major conference, an annotated open-source bibliography, a downloadable reference database, and shareable infographics to facilitate accessible knowledge exchange to non-experts.