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Philosopher in Residence: Ty Branch

Ty Branch portraitIn Spring 2014 graduate student Ty Branch began work as a "philosopher in residence" at the architecture firm Philip Beesley Architect Inc (PBAI).
This marked the first graduate level collaboration between the scholarship granting firm MITACS and a student from the humanities at the University of Waterloo. Traditionally, these collaborations have been between students primarily in engineering and the sciences.

With support from the Philosophy department at the University of Waterloo through her Masters advisor Dr. Doreen Fraser, Philosophy department chair Dr. Dave Devidi and Knowledge Integration chair Rob Gorbet, Ty was able to spend the summer working with PBAI. Ty’s main goal was to investigate the philosophical merit of near-living architecture as an example of weak emergence. Near-living architecture is a style of architecture that is purposefully built with features of organic systems like moveable parts that can react and adapt to occupants within the vicinity. PBAI’s work in particular is known for using geometric meshwork structures to suspend flasks containing proto-cells that perform basic chemical reactions like osmosis. The meshwork has an electronic circuit wired into it to allow the system to sense and move in response to occupants within the space. The physical dialogue between the participants and the sculpture were tracked by a second set of sensors and recorded to create a visual representation of the interaction. Ty developed the notion that this mapped representation shows complex structural patterns that are weakly emergent because the pattern they produce is unpredictable from, yet reducible to, the simple sensors and electrical pulses running through the system.

Ty intends to continue her research into examples of weak emergence during her time as a PhD candidate in Philosophy. She presented her work at the Calgary Summit of Philosophers of Science, University of Calgary,  September 2014 and the Agent-Based Modeling in Philosophy Conference at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Mϋnchen, Germany, December 2014.