Thursday, May 8, 2008

Causation, Label or object

A gentleman named Matt Ackerman made an interesting point. In my scheme of "label and reality," causation does not qualify as reality, because "causation" has no corresponding physical reality. He's right, of course. That's a logical outcome of my scheme i didn't see.

Is this outcome reasonable? Is causation not "real," but rather mere "concept?"

I tend to think so. Especially given the observations underlying quantum physics, it seems possible that causation is much less foundational to reality than traditionally believed.

What exactly do we mean by "causation?"

Seems like we are saying two things:

1) physical state of affairs b follows physical state of affairs a 100% of the time.
2) some aspect or aspects of the physical universe preclude any other outcome

Seems like causation is really just a label we put on those two assertions.

And now that I think about it, seems like both assertions can be proven false, but neither can be proven to be true, because the possibility of a counterexample always exists.

And since both assertions are loaded with room for doubt, we shouldn't be surprised that there is so much argument about causation. If we could observe it in itself, there'd be no problem. But it's really just a pair of assertions about physical reality, both of which are very difficult to prove. Maybe that's why there's so much interminable argument about causation. We treat it like a real thing, but actually it's just a pair of unprovable claims.

that's not to say that the assertions underlying all causation are always false. It's just to show that causation really is those two claims and nothing else, and that those two claims are pretty wily.

For example, consider "she made me mad." claim 1 is easily shown true -- first came her action, then came my anger. But the second one is hazier. Could I have responded differently to the same action? No way to tell. Determinist would say no chemicals and stimuli determine outcome. Freewiller would say yes -- you chose your reaction. Neither can be tested, because it was a one-time deal. Did she really "make me mad?" hard to say.

"the heat from the stove causes water to boil." correlation? Check. Claim about reality? Insert description of the properties of water that make it gas at 100C. Check. Causation proven? No. But good enough for me.


Matt Ackerman said...

I'm commenting here, but some of what I say will be carrying over from the earlier thread.

Background information: I am an idealist.

Ungtss asked:
I'm also curious -- do you think a concept-centered worldview is consistent with atheism? How can concept exist without mind to conceptualize it

Well, I'm not personally an atheist so it is probably hard for me to judge. I think it could certainly be atheistic, especially if we make assertions that mind cannot effect matter, etc. I don't think it is entirely unlike the materialist view, since I think materialism is a very good approximation of reality. In conclusion *shrug* I don't know.

However, our only means of describing and understanding [a] pattern is through the study of physical phenomenon reflecting it.

I certainly agree. But I think it is interesting to note how much can be accomplished with pure philosophy before experimental study. Don't get me wrong, I like empiricism, I just think rationalism has gotten a short shrift lately.

I have been told that Einstein arrived at relativity purely from mathematical and philosophical considerations and certainly some of his contemporaries made comments reflecting such beliefs. At the time he originated his theories I do not believe there was any information on how objects behaved near the speed of light, and he minimally derived a full set of equations describing relativistic behavior from very little experimental information. But, perhaps he was just really darn lucky.

I see great danger in starting with our concepts as fundamental, because then we neglect to refine them in light of reality.

I entirely and dogmatically agree with your statement here. In fact, I think this danger is far greater than most of us suppose even for skeptic materialists.

Now, commenting on your most recent post. An interesting and consistent argument, I suspect Hume made a similar one, though I haven't read much Hume. I certainly do not see logically compelling reasons that you MUST treat causation as real.

I suspect that the lack of causation in quantum physics has been somewhat exaggerated, there are some refinements to be made to our concept of causation, since the concept of time is rather artificial. (I have been told this, not my own idea.) Thus, I would say that certain patterns of relations can exist, and other patterns of relations cannot, removing some of the temporal aspect of causation.

But, there are clearly a number of axioms we can admit without logical justification. (for instance, that reality is logically consistent.) I think the realness of causation (as seen refined by observation) is an acceptable and pleasing axiom. But, of course, I can't prove it.

Matt Ackerman said...

I should at the, in my opinion, the only explanation for why some patterns are permitted and others forbidden is entirely mathematical, though I don't understand the mathematics, this just reference back to my view that the mathematics are fundamental.

ungtss said...

Reading through your post, I found I agreed with everything you said -- I don't run across that experience very often, but I sure enjoy it when it comes around.

The only question that remains for me is, in your view, in what sense is pattern "more real" than matter? And I think the key answer there lies in your definition of "real," about which I'm very curious.

For my part, I think that in the real world, pattern and matter are inseperable -- you can't have matter without pattern. It's possible to have pattern without matter, but only in your head.

In reference to your comments about Einstein, sometimes I think there are two types of people -- those who see through the lens of pattern, and those who see through the lense of matter. And I think their respective specializations serve us greatly. For instance, idealists kick ass with math (due to their mastery of abstract pattern), while empiricists kick ass with anatomy (due to their mastery of concrete fact).

But I think that when either side loses sight of the importance of the value of the other (like nihilists who conclude that matter is organized randomly, or solipsists who think the patterns in their mind define and create reality), much trouble results.

That's why I'm curious about the sense in which you think pattern is "more real" than matter ... to see what I'm missing as far as understanding the idealist POV ...