Imagination and Causality in Quantum Physics


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I went back to RoR to read some of Bob and Dragonfly’s (Cal’s) exchanges with various others on QM. I read most of the first three pages to get a sense of the ideas that were being exchanged and of the general tone of the interactions. The ideas were interesting. The quality of the communication was more interesting. There was an apparent breakdown in communication that seemed to be frustrating to everyone and tended to cause flashes of aggressiveness and disrespect on both sides of the issue. In terms of the breakdown in communication, it made me think of the Einstein-Bohr debates.

I have long thought that the Einstein-Bohr communication breakdown was the result of two people trying to compare notes about what they believed to be the nature of existence when they produced their views via different epistemological principles. They used different methodologies to creating knowledge so neither would accept the other’s arguments for his conclusions. They talked a different language to one another.

Both Bohr and Einstein valued the evidence as the standard of reality. Both were committed to the highest exercise of reason. (So far they make good scientists or good objectivists.) Where they differed was in the value they each placed on models they were able to create in their imaginations. Einstein placed great stock in the intuitive/experiential models of reality he was able to produce by using causality to guide his imagination. It appears he viewed his imagination to be a legitimate tool for penetrating the underlying nature of existence through the modelling of existence provided his imagination was limited by certain principles.

Bohr, on the other hand, seemed to want to keep his imagination in check by not letting it stray far from the evidence or from the path mathematics takes from the evidence. On his view, we cannot say any more about reality than the evidence and mathematics will allow.

Implicit in Bohr’s approach to epistemology is a distrust in the imaginations ability to be a reliable tool for modelling reality. Because the imagination can lead us astray in our understanding of reality, Bohr tied his epistemology tightly to two rocks he trusted: the evidence and mathematics. Einstein tied his epistemology tightly to three rocks: the evidence, mathematics and causality.

The Copenhagen interpretation of QM and those who tend to align themselves with it, agree with Bohr’s approach to epistemology. The detractors of the Copenhagen interpretation, who are looking for a causal interpretation, agree with Einstein’s approach. The difference between the two sides is a matter of epistemology, not physics.

We know the imagination can lead us astray. It produces unicorns, gold mountains, magic, fairies, gods and ghosts. The question is: can the imagination be guided and honed to be a reliable tool for penetrating the underlying nature of existence as Einstein seems to assume? What would we use to guide our imaginations in this way? Is this why Objectivists are so attracted to the concepts of identity and causality? Is it because the concepts of identity and causality act as a guide, placing limits on what models can be formed in the imagination to represent reality? If so, how important is it to reevaluate and define more precisely our understanding of the nature of identity and causality?

As guiding epistemological principles, the Objectivist view of identity and causality is insufficient for providing an understanding of the possible underlying nature of quantum reality. However, there is no question in my mind that the power of Ayn Rand’s and Nathaniel Branden’s insight into existence comes from their ability to guide their imaginations–- and with this, their intuitive/experiential views of existence-- using notions of identity and causality more complex than they specified explicitly. Objectivism is Rand’s intuitive view of existence brought within her own conscious power to evolve and made explicit through her writing. Her fiction was how she brought her intuitive view of existence within her own conscious power to evolve. Her principles of identity and causality are what guided the evolution.

As epistemological principles identity and causality are a posteriori concepts not a priori axioms. The principles of identity and causality have to be abstracted from the particulars in our experience of reality. We have to look at the evidence to figure out what are things and why they behave as they do. Our statements about identity and causality have to be precisely defined to not allow into our models elements not supported by the evidence and must be inclusive enough to not leave out any aspect of reality. “What a thing is determines what it does,” does not go far enough.

Of course, there are those who will still say the imagination that strays from the evidence and mathematics has no place in epistemology. I side with Einstein and Rand on this one.

Paul

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Paul,

You are whetting my appetite. I did not read those exchanges because I don't like a particular brand of Objectivist sniping I have observed, specifically with quantum physics, where a few posters stay hell-bent on trying to misunderstand what another is posting so they can "trounce" the person with a Rand phrase.

Later, though. btw - I agree with you about the value of intuition (or "creative drift" or whatever you want to call it). It is a powerful tool allied to reason.

Rand certainly used it. Sometimes her heroes do something strange that is not exactly a shining example of her ideas, but it fits them perfectly. (Starting with busting marble fireplaces.)

Michael

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Paul,

Great post!

"As epistemological principles identity and causality are a posteriori concepts not a priori axioms. The principles of identity and causality have to be abstracted from the particulars in our experience of reality. We have to look at the evidence to figure out what are things and why they behave as they do. Our statements about identity and causality have to be precisely defined to not allow into our models elements not supported by the evidence and must be inclusive enough to not leave out any aspect of reality. “What a thing is determines what it does,” does not go far enough."

I very much agree with this. Very well put.

I however, tend to be Bohr-leaning.

Bob

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I however, tend to be Bohr-leaning.

Bob

I've noticed, you and Dragonfly both. If we can be open minded-- not tie ourselves too tightly to our personal worldviews, I think we might have some interesting discussions. Evidence and reason must come even before our allegiance to our own points of view. I get the feeling you would agree with this.

Paul

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I however, tend to be Bohr-leaning.

Bob

I've noticed, you and Dragonfly both. If we can be open minded-- not tie ourselves too tightly to our personal worldviews, I think we might have some interesting discussions. Evidence and reason must come even before our allegiance to our own points of view. I get the feeling you would agree with this.

Paul

Yep, totally.

Bob

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Bob,

You say you are Bohr-leaning. No surprise that you have a physics background. It is a little more surprising that you see the importance of questioning the standard concepts of identity and causality. If you were thoroughly Bohrian (if that is a word), you would have distrust for the imagination as a tool of knowledge when not tied directly to the evidence and mathematics. If you don’t see the imagination as a tool of knowledge when guided by certain principles, then the guiding principles of identity and causality are unimportant. Causality is then just a concept used for connecting observed events, not a concept for guiding the creation of a model that describes the underlying nature of reality. Causality is simply what we observe it to be: the link between the actions of things that are contiguous in time and space. I think this is Dragonfly’s stand. This is the view of causality that was formalized in Newton’s Laws of Motion and has continued to be the frame of reference in physics ever since. This is the view of causality that is said to break down at the quantum level.

I must assume you carry with you some element of a metaphysicist. You not only want to work from the outside-in, relative to reality, by connecting the dots between observations, you want to work from the inside-out by constructing a view of existence from fundamental principles and fundamental particles. What then are the concepts of identity and causality to work from?

My earliest statements of identity and causality were as follows:

Identity– what a thing is is determined by the actions and interactions of its physical components.

Since “what a thing is determines what it does:

Causality becomes– what a thing does is determined by the actions and interactions of its physical components.

In these statements note that a things identity and its behaviour are determined by the actions of the things it is made of rather than the actions of things outside of it. Elsewhere, I have talked about the idea of proactive causation. In the above statement of causality I have not made this idea explicit but it was certainly contained in how I thought of the meaning of these early statements. My current statements of identity and causality contain more precision and are more inclusive.

One of the biases I had gained by abstracting from my experience is the idea that there can be no unextended entities nor disembodied actions. To exist a thing must occupy a volume of space and have duration in time. In short, to exist a thing must be physical.

This view of identity and causality limits the types of models of reality I can build in my imagination. There can be no gods, nor ghosts, nor magic. That thing I call my mind must have a physical basis. The physical world must have a fundamentally physical explanation, not just a mathematical one. Beyond the quantum limit of observation, there must exist a physical and causal reality. Special and General Relativity must be understandable in intuitive, physical terms. And any conclusion about the nature of existence that excludes the effects of the fundamental physicality of things (eg. singularities) must be brought into question.

Keep in mind I am only talking about a model of existence at this point. This is the nature of the models I build in my head. I am not saying this IS representative of reality. This view of identity and causality, and the model of existence that is fashioned from them, need to be tested against the evidence and assessed relative to other models. A process of reevaluation is always necessary because we are dealing here with a posteriori epistemological principles. There is no room for dogmatic unreflective stands when one’s epistemological principles are formed by abstracting from the evidence. (This is where a number of Objectivists get it wrong. They confuse a posteriori principles with a priori axioms and claim a certainty that can only be attained through error, self-delusion, or faith.)

There are weaknesses in the above identity and causality statements. It is not precise enough about the nature of energy and it does not integrate certain types of non-linear and non-local causation that is necessary to account for General Relativity, quantum field theory, and certain human processes and actions.

Paul

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Paul,

Interesting and thoughtful post.

"you would have distrust for the imagination as a tool of knowledge when not tied directly to the evidence and mathematics."

I would say yes, I do have a distrust for imagination and intuition. I feel it is too anthro-macro-centric (if you know what I mean) and biased to be reliable. This is not to say that new, improved intuition cannot develop with a deeper understanding of reality, it certainly can. Our intuition/imagination is notoriously wrong and/or incomplete - to me this is essentially axiomatic.

"you want to work from the inside-out by constructing a view of existence from fundamental principles and fundamental particles."

No, I don't think so. I would say we should be guided from the outside in according to evidence and logic/mathematics. Fundamental principles are actually the endpoint in this case. That's why, I think, it's a tough problem. Preconceptions could lead to failure to understand.

"What then are the concepts of identity and causality to work from?"

Again, I think we're trying to work to these concepts, not from them in this case.

"Causality becomes– what a thing does is determined by the actions and interactions of its physical components."

Too vague for me. There's more than one view of causality of course. Another one (roughly) is that for each set of initial conditions, there exists only one possible future. Yet another is fundamentally randomness based. I don't believe nor eliminate any (other than the simple Newtonian/Clockwork idea doesn't look good right now). I think that we need to figure it out. That's what fundamental physics is seeking. You can probably see now why it can get under my skin a bit when I think about these great minds investigating these deep fundamental questions in their labs, and an Objectivist says it's a waste of time because he's got it all figured out axiomatically! That doesn't work for me at all.

"In short, to exist a thing must be physical."

Ok, but we don't know what "physical" really means do we? For example, what's anti-matter? It certainly exists, beyond doubt. We use it in medical imaging applications all the time. It follows that there is a deeper, perhaps quite strange reality of what "physical" really means.

"One of the biases I had gained by abstracting from my experience is the idea that there can be no unextended entities nor disembodied actions."

Sure, we all have these biases, but I contend, and I think you agree, that this type of experience is not good enough to form any conclusions about the subject matter at hand. I would go as far as to say it looks like this bias works against deeper understanding of reality.

"This is the nature of the models I build in my head. I am not saying this IS representative of reality. "

Right. Well said.

"This view of identity and causality, and the model of existence that is fashioned from them, need to be tested against the evidence and assessed relative to other models. A process of reevaluation is always necessary because we are dealing here with a posteriori epistemological principles. "

Exactly.

"This is where a number of Objectivists get it wrong. They confuse a posteriori principles with a priori axioms "

Bingo. That's the way I see it too.

Bob

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"In short, to exist a thing must be physical."

Ok, but we don't know what "physical" really means do we? For example, what's anti-matter? It certainly exists, beyond doubt. We use it in medical imaging applications all the time. It follows that there is a deeper, perhaps quite strange reality of what "physical" really means.

But there is nothing strange about anti-matter, it's as real and physical as "ordinary" matter; the latter is only "ordinary" while there happens to be far more matter than anti-matter in the universe. Like Objectivist factions the two can't exist peacefully together, but annihilate each other when they come into contact.

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But there is nothing strange about anti-matter, it's as real and physical as "ordinary" matter; the latter is only "ordinary" while there happens to be far more matter than anti-matter in the universe.

Antimatter is real and physical sure, but the fundamental nature of what "physical" means is indeed strange to me when collisions in one case behave like Newtonian billiard balls but in another case annihilation happens with only perfectly opposing photons remaining.

Like Objectivist factions the two can't exist peacefully together, but annihilate each other when they come into contact.

What's left after the incident though?

Bob

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Paul,

I understand what you are trying to say with the following statement:

They [too many Objectivists] confuse a posteriori principles with a priori axioms.

I have seen a lot of obnoxiousness flying around doing this too. Still, there are a couple of subtle points I want to mention so that the baby does not get thrown out with the bath water.

Technically, an axiomatic concept is an a posteriori conclusion based on induction while considering everything the person has come in contact with. Whether he manifests it in words or not, he comes to the conclusion that he exists and so does reality, he has a mind, things have separate identities and things act differently but consistently with what they are. This is what he uses for everyday living and how he starts accumulating knowledge. He also notes that he cannot contradict these conclusions without invalidating his method of thinking. So he brings these conclusions "a priori" to everything new he encounters.

I would say most people even try to force them into things like prayer.

Where I have seen the a posteriori and a priori get terribly mixed up is in Objectivist discussions of determinism. Consider randomness, which I have seen argued mightily by some serious hairsplitting. Why can't randomness just be part of a thing's identity? How that thing acts is randomly. Just like another thing acts in a standard manner. That is what it does. When we deal with the random thing, we take randomness into consideration because we have to. We observe it. Randomness is part of its identity. That goes for causality too. That thing, which has a specific identity, will cause a random effect because that is what we see it do.

I don't see the need to throw out the axioms here. (Incidentally, I don't like the term "determinism" as this implies someone who, or something that, "determines," thus implies that causality is separate from identity rather than one aspect of the same thing.)

This is just one example of how axioms are misused. There are many.

Bob,

I have an idea for you to chew on: the limitations of our senses. Whenever a thing is beyond our immediate perception through one of the five senses, we must use a device to amplify or reduce characteristics of it until it fits within our perception field. Obvious examples are a telescope and microscope. There is another way of studying something: transforming data from one sense to another through an instrument. A visual presentation of sound (spectroscope) is an example.

I notice that sense organs in other living beings are vastly different than for humans in terms of capacity. A dog can hear and smell many things a human cannot (without an instrument). The dog perceives parts of reality that humans do not. So I have been entertaining a notion that maybe the five senses (or more, if you take into account some other considerations like gravity) might be incomplete. Maybe there are parts of reality that we are not aware of because we have no organ for perceiving them, yet these parts are intertwined with aspects we can perceive. This is just speculation, but I see this as a good way to start to explain a lot of stuff that has been consistently reported over the years, but attempts to control them have failed.

This might sound like an excuse for positing a heaven or spirit world or ESP or whatever, but the difference is that since we can build instruments that transpose characteristics from one sense organ to another, I don't see why this cannot be done over time with this kind of phenomena, or even other stuff, like the things quantum physics are uncovering, or antimatter like you mentioned, or even new things yet to be discovered. Through science, we are able to access and manipulate many parts of reality we cannot perceive. I don't see why we could not do this on a more drastic scale with aspects that would need a different sense organ to perceive.

I also see it as entirely reasonable that enough sense organs evolved for human survival, but did not cover all of reality. A simple look at bats shows how sight is not necessary for that species, yet light waves exist and are real. (Not to bats, though.)

I asked the following question on other Objectivist forums: why is reality limited to our five senses? Aren't we part of reality and not vice-versa? You should have seen the hooting and convoluted explanations and "trouncing." It was a magnificent example of dogma in action.

:)

Michael

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Antimatter is real and physical sure, but the fundamental nature of what "physical" means is indeed strange to me when collisions in one case behave like Newtonian billiard balls but in another case annihilation happens with only perfectly opposing photons remaining.

I don't see what is strange about that. Different particles just have different interactions. Some materials are attracted by a magnet, other materials are not; some conduct electricity, others are isolators; some materials react, sometimes even explosively when you mix them, while other materials remain inert. The billiard ball behavior is caused by the Coulomb repulsion of the electrons in the atoms that form those billiard balls. This is all quite physical.

Like Objectivist factions the two can't exist peacefully together, but annihilate each other when they come into contact.

What's left after the incident though?

In the case of matter and antimatter: light - in the case of Objectivist factions: heat.

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Why can't randomness just be part of a thing's identity? How that thing acts is randomly. Just like another thing acts in a standard manner. That is what it does. When we deal with the random thing, we take randomness into consideration because we have to. We observe it. Randomness is part of its identity. That goes for causality too. That thing, which has a specific identity, will cause a random effect because that is what we see it do.

I don't see the need to throw out the axioms here. (Incidentally, I don't like the term "determinism" as this implies someone who, or something that, "determines," thus implies that causality is separate from identity rather than one aspect of the same thing.)

This is just one example of how axioms are misused. There are many.

Thanks Michael,

I'll reply to other things later...

For now, as I outlined in another thread here, I think the above idea you outline is a concept of identity/causality that is either too vague or open-ended to have any meaning, or at worst self-contradictory. Randomness at the fundamental level (not just in macroscopic behaviour) is a at odds with anything that is said to have something resembling a direct cause.

Bob

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Bob,

Let me try again from another angle. The axioms I described are not supposed to mean much. Merely that your mind is competent to deal with the issues. You even use your mind to question this. Axioms are not about reality only. They are a logical connection between a conscious mind and reality. That is all they are for. If you try to force them to be physical evidence only and ignore their role in logic, they become meaningless. If you try to impose them on reality by making the act of thinking superior, they become tremendous rationalizations.

They need both mind and observed reality. They are merely a conceptual interface.

You wrote:

Randomness at the fundamental level (not just in macroscopic behaviour) is a at odds with anything that is said to have something resembling a direct cause.

Why? If it is observed, randomness certainly should be considered as a possible attribute of an entity. Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. You're the scientist. You tell me from experiments and theorizing. Why would you rule it out a priori?

Michael

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Bob,

Let me try again from another angle. The axioms I described are not supposed to mean much. Merely that your mind is competent to deal with the issues. You even use your mind to question this. Axioms are not about reality only. They are a logical connection between a conscious mind and reality. That is all they are for. If you try to force them to be physical evidence only and ignore their role in logic, they become meaningless. If you try to impose them on reality by making the act of thinking superior, they become tremendous rationalizations.

They need both mind and observed reality. They are merely a conceptual interface.

At this point then, quite honestly, I do not have any significant disagreement with what you wrote above.

You wrote:
Randomness at the fundamental level (not just in macroscopic behaviour) is a at odds with anything that is said to have something resembling a direct cause.

Why? If it is observed, randomness certainly should be considered as a possible attribute of an entity. Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. You're the scientist. You tell me from experiments and theorizing. Why would you rule it out a priori?

Michael

No no, I'm not ruling out anything. It's a definition thing.

A little misunderstanding I think. What I maybe explained better in another post and that it's just that you can't have it both ways. I don't mean this personally. I mean that one cannot entertain any type of deterministic causality notion and smuggle randomness in there. This is not the seemingly random motion of gas particles for example. REAL randomness has bigger implications.

Randomness, to a scientist is sometimes defined as WITHOUT cause. This does depend on context though. Random atomic decay times are not the same as random genetic mutations say. Different concepts, same word, confusing.

Maybe you can see then why I see a compatibility problem. In this case, the concept of randomness is one that is fundamentally acausal.

My concept of God can't be atheistic.

Bob

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Bob,

I am glad you agree with me on what axioms are. You now understand what many Objectivists do not. If you look at some of your previous exchanges where hostilities erupted, you will see that not understanding the interface nature of axioms led people to say some very foolish things using axioms as their argument.

On randomness, I asked Paul if "life" could be a fifth dimension. The element of randomness could be an attribute. There is one random thing I see perfectly in life. That is the question of free will. I have no problem at all in including randomness in a definition of free will at the fundamental level - not randomness of existence, but randomness in what the organism can and often will do.

God is another question. My own view is that if He exists, I must remain true to the nature He created and wait for His appearance in a form I can understand using the only tool I have for understanding - my reason. Until then, I can only speculate. By the very nature of rational speculation, I must also speculate that He does not exist. Evidence-wise, all we really have is a body of experiences reported by others and our own subjective experiences. There is nothing we can subject to the scientific method yet. In the lack of objective evidence, the sway is in favor of nonexistence right now. However, this body of anecdotal evidence simply will not go away, so it needs to be explained. I doubt a philosophical principle will go far in explaining it - especially the vast number of similarities of reports.

Rich Engle wrote a very interesting article here called The Challenge of Understanding Mysticism. I have no reason to doubt his sincerity and truthfulness, so I take his report seriously. He claims to have experienced these things. I believe him. I know have had some experiences that I cannot explain and I suspect we all have. Yet we can all agree - at this point - that this is still an area that needs a lot more science to be understood correctly. Until then, all we have is groping for answers.

(thunder in the distance...)

:)

Michael

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Damn!

It's been a while since I dug into this stuff, but I suppose it's good for me. Nothing helped me understand physics concepts more than when I had to teach it (and anticipate tough questions), but it's been a while and the gears are rusty, but let me try to dig deep and remember here....

So, if I get something wrong, please correct me. Here goes:

If a simple theory predicts a huge range of observed phenomena then that's a good theory. If a simple law can predict a huge range of data we have a good law - like Newton's laws - the simpler the better. They predict/explain a whole lot of stuff. In this sense they are good laws.

In what's called algorithmic randomness, there is no "law" or explanation, or formula, or "algorithm" that is substantially simpler than the data. This is an english summary of a precise mathematical definition of algorithmic randomness that I once understood. I think I have this right so far. There's no way I could remember the math, but I don't think it's important right now. Basically, what we have is a situation where nothing simpler than the data explains what's going on. In other words, nothing that could be called a "law" explains what's going on. That is randomness - the mathematically and fundamentally unexplainable.

Here's the kicker. Quantum randomness is not a mathematical deduction of the standard model of QM. So we're left with trying to figure out what the nature of the randomness is. If I remember correctly, we have no mathematical proof that the randomness is algorithmic but we do have tons of data. Some good arguments conclude that quantum randomness is algorithmic. Or in other words, physical reality is irreducibly random. Of course there is opposition to this too.

That's about all I remember right now. So it's a long winded explanation of what I mean by causality and randomness (the real kind) are not compatible concepts. Fundamental causality goes out the window if quantum randomness is algorithmic.

Comments?

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God is another question. My own view is that if He exists, I must remain true to the nature He created and wait for His appearance in a form I can understand using the only tool I have for understanding - my reason. Until then, I can only speculate. By the very nature of rational speculation, I must also speculate that He does not exist. Evidence-wise, all we really have is a body of experiences reported by others and our own subjective experiences. There is nothing we can subject to the scientific method yet. In the lack of objective evidence, the sway is in favor of nonexistence right now. However, this body of anecdotal evidence simply will not go away, so it needs to be explained. I doubt a philosophical principle will go far in explaining it - especially the vast number of similarities of reports.

Just to be clear though, my God comment was only to try to illustrate what I mean by incompatible ideas. You can't talk about causality and "physics-centric" randomness being compatible any more than you can argue that God is an atheist. The ideas are essentially opposites.

"On randomness, I asked Paul if "life" could be a fifth dimension. The element of randomness could be an attribute. There is one random thing I see perfectly in life. That is the question of free will. I have no problem at all in including randomness in a definition of free will at the fundamental level - not randomness of existence, but randomness in what the organism can and often will do."

Ok, but what I'm saying is that you have to let go of fundamental causality then. I'm asserting that any notion of fundamental causality and "in including randomness in a definition of free will at the fundamental level " are not compatible.

Bob

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Fundamental causality goes out the window if quantum randomness is algorithmic.

Then out of the window it goes. Causality is not an axiom but a theory. That it is always confirmed in the macroscopic world may induce us to believe that it is always true, therefore also in the subatomic realm, but that does not follow.

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Dragonfly,

Causality is an Objectivist axiom. However, as an axiom, it means something different than what you guys are saying. All it means axiom-wise is that an entity will behave according to its attributes.

Nothing more.

If randomness is one of the attributes, then the entity generates random behavior. That does not mean that other entities will do so, only the ones with the attribute of randomness.

When you guys say causality, it seems like you are talking about more specific results.

Bob,

I just saw your edit. In light of what I just wrote to Dragonfly, why don't we define our terms? I am talking about the mind-reality interface again and you guys are talking solely about the metaphysical realm.

Michael

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Dragonfly,

Causality is an Objectivist axiom. However, as an axiom, it means something different than what you guys are saying. All it means axiom-wise is that an entity will behave according to its attributes.

Nothing more.

And that is the problem, stated that way it is in fact an empty definition. An entity will behave according to its attributes. And how do you know what its attributes are? By observing how it behaves, so the definition says that an entity behaves as it behaves. This is still true if it behaves completely erratically. To use an example you gave in an earlier post: if a computer could suddenly change into a banana this would not violate causality according to this definition, as one of the attributes of a computer could be that it can change into a banana. Of course we know that computers don't change into bananas, but that doesn't follow from the law of causality according to the definition given above.

Now it's obvious that this isn't what Rand intended. What she meant to say is that entities behave in a deterministic manner: for a given condition the behavior of an entity will be completely predictable, implying that there is only one possible outcome for a given condition. Now this is not implied in her definition of causality, it is a silent extra assumption that she has smuggled into the argument. The reason that she doesn't define determinism explicitly is that she runs into problems when she wants to describe human behavior: her notion of free will would contradict determinism, so she tried to circumvent this problem by stating that free will is one of the attributes of human beings. That way her law of causality is not violated, but that doesn't mean anything as any absurd behavior of entities wouldn't violate it either. In fact she has made two assertions: 1. non-living things behave deterministically, 2. human beings don't behave deterministically, but have "free will" (I'm not sure about her position with regard to other living beings) and this she tries to sell as her "law of causality", but in fact these are merely two unproven assumptions, just like the assumption that computers can change into bananas. So the problem with her definition of causality is that if you take it literally as an axiom it is devoid of meaning, but if you interpret it the way Rand meant it to be interpreted it's a series of unproven statements that should be verified empirically, but then it is no longer an axiom.

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Dragonfly,

You normally do not ignore something someone has said.

You are using "causality" in the sense of a law of physics pertaining only to entities. As a philosophical axiom, it means something else and pertains to the interface between the mind and entities. It essentially states that the mind can grasp the differences between entities. Not that the entities must behave as the mind determines.

You are making the epistemological axiom of causality out to be more than it is, then criticizing it because it is not more than it is. There are two concepts of causality operating here. Both bear the same name but they are different:

1. The epistemological axiom of causality

2. The law of physics type axiom of causality

They are different animals. One barks and the other goes meow.

Philosophical axioms are like computer code below the Assembler level, at the bit 0-1 level. They are neither hardware or a program.

Would you demean the binary principle in computers because "0-1" doesn't tell you much all by itself about a program - and call it an "empty definition"? Would you deny that binary organization is an essential principle of computing? I wouldn't. So why do this with an epistemological counterpart? A philosophical axiom is a logical thing that works as an interface, not a physical thing. You need it to run the mind.

Michael

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Is it possible to have non-deterministic causation that does not fall into the trap of assuming fundamentally random events? I think Rand held a view of causation with regard to human behaviour that was non-deterministic but not acausal. As far as I can tell, Nathaniel Branden held a near identical view of causality. Since I am more familiar with his work these days I will reference him.

As Ayn Rand writes:

“The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature.” (AS, 1957)

This is the first point that must be stressed: all actions are actions of entities. (The concept of “action” logically requires and presupposes that which acts, and would not be possible without it. The universe consists of entities that act move and change— not of disembodied actions motions and changes.)

The actions possible to an entity are determined by its nature: what a thing can do depends on what it is. It is not “chance,” it is not the whim of a supernatural being, it is in the inexorable nature of the entities involved, that a seed can grow into a flower, but a stone cannot— that a bird can fly but a building cannot— that electricity can run a motor, but tears and prayers cannot— that actions consistent with their natures are possible to entities, but contradictions are not.

Just as what a thing can do, depends on what it is– so, in any specific situation, what a thing will do, depends on what it is.

[...]

Causality proceeds from identity.

Causality pertains to a relationship between entities and their actions.

[...]

...an animal possesses the power of locomotion, it can initiate movement, goal directed movement... the source of its motion is within itself... the animal has the capacity to respond in a manner impossible to a stone: by originating, within its own body, the motion of running– and by moving toward a goal.

[...]

The nature of a living entity gives it the capacity for a kind of action impossible to inanimate matter: self-generated, goal directed action (in the sense defined above). Man’s greatest distinction from all other species is the capacity to originate an action of his consciousness– capacity to originate a process of abstract thought.

Man’s unique responsibility lies in the fact that this process of thought, which is man’s basic means of survival, must be originated volitionally. In man, there exists the power of choice, choice in the primary sense, choice as a psychologically irreducible natural fact. (The Psychology of Self-Esteem, 1969.)

Here Branden sets animate matter apart from inanimate matter causally. Inanimate matter behaves completely deterministically. Any change in the motion of a stone is determined by the interaction of outside forces with the nature of the stone. Animals have the ability to initiate their own actions. While the actions of their consciousness can be considered deterministic– i.e.: the actions of their consciousness are programmed responses to internal and environmental information– causation in an animal is unique because the energy for action resides within-- specifically within their consciousness, not without.

Dragonfly and Jenna have mentioned previously that potential energy is stored inside the cells of an organism and can be released by a deterministic chain of events. This is one part of the explanation of how animals are able to initiate their own actions. Another part is a consideration of the nature of their consciousness. It is assumed that it is via deterministic programming that an animal's consciousness responds to the world connecting the chain of actions from the environment to the actions of the animal. This is the causal explanation that fits with the worldview generated by science over the last five hundred years. It is not the only answer but I can agree that Occam’s razor should keep other explanations cleared out based on animal observations if this is all we have to go on.

When we get to human behaviour, there is a twist. All the talk is about this thing called free will. As NB said, “Man’s greatest distinction from all other species is the capacity to originate an action of his consciousness– capacity to originate a process of abstract thought.” The act of making a choice, any conscious choice, is distinctly an act that is non-deterministic but causal. It is not deterministic simply because the chain of actions to actions is not necessitated. That there is choice means the action path is not determined. Yes we can say, “Oh, but the path is predetermine, we just can’t know that.” I can’t help but think this logic is similar to thinking, “Oh, but the path of a quantum particle is determined, we just don’t know it.” The introspective evidence suggests we do have action alternatives and the act of choosing IS an impulse that starts a causal chain down the path of one of those alternatives. The energy for an act of choosing is not potential. It is kinetic and proactive. It is not necessitated by an impulse from any antecedent action. It is an impulse itself.

It is true, we do make choices for reasons. Reasons, whether rational or irrational, calculated or based on feeling, do not have the energy to initiate an action of choice. Ideas and feelings don’t cause an act of choosing. This has causation in reverse. An act of choosing causes the initiation of action along a path mapped by an idea or feeling. Our emotions can shape our goal and our thoughts can define the path to reach that goal but an act of choosing that goal and that path is an act of will. Without an act of will, emotions and ideas go nowhere. (We've all known people who have emotions and ideas with no will to put them into action. They are forever planning to change their lives but never do.)

Actions can also be programmed just like a computer. We have automated responses to certain experienced conditions. The methods of programming have been well studied in psychology. There is evolutionary forces that program some automated action responses. There is classical conditioning, instrumental learning, and observational learning. All of this programming allows us to function as deterministic machines without conscious thought or focus or will. However, the opening and closing of hardware gates to run a program is predetermined by the program. The act of choosing is the act of opening a hardware gate, which is not determined by a any program but does set a particular program in motion.

When Branden says, “...the nature of man (and of man’s mind) is such that it necessitates the choice between focusing and nonfocusing, between thinking and nonthinking,” I think he is talking about the basic act of choosing our willful, creative, reasoning, non-deterministic self over our automatic, preprogrammed, reactive, deterministic self. He (and Rand) is suggesting that the attainment of human potential is possible only via the choice to engage the world willfully, creatively, rationally, and with focussed awareness. This is the nature of the heroic in Rand’s fiction: willful, creative, rational, and focussed individuals in a world of reactive, preprogrammed, automatic, unfocussed parasites who wish to claim the products of will, creativity, reason, and focus, without earning it themselves, through chosen acts of deception, social manipulation and force.

If choice is a fundamental aspect of human consciousness and choice, while considered causal, is not deterministic, then, perhaps, there are some other elements of existence that are causal but not deterministic. Perhaps the idea that kinetic energy can exist within an entity and be manifested proactively, as with the act of choosing, can be abstracted, expanded and generalized. While deterministic, reactive causation cannot account for non-deterministic, proactive causation, perhaps proactive causation can be shown to account for deterministic, reactive causation. Perhaps this is a clue to how to create an intuitive/experiential model of Quantum phenomena, Special Relativity, General Relativity, etc. Perhaps proactive causation is the key. What if, at the base of it all, entities were proactive? Starting from here, what would a model of existence look like?

Paul

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Bob,

I just saw your edit. In light of what I just wrote to Dragonfly, why don't we define our terms? I am talking about the mind-reality interface again and you guys are talking solely about the metaphysical realm.

Michael

Good idea, I think we might be talking about very different things.

Bob

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Dragonfly,

You normally do not ignore something someone has said.

No, I don't ignore it, but I try to point out what it really means.

You are using "causality" in the sense of a law of physics pertaining only to entities. As a philosophical axiom, it means something else and pertains to the interface between the mind and entities. It essentially states that the mind can grasp the differences between entities. Not that the entities must behave as the mind determines.

You are making the epistemological axiom of causality out to be more than it is, then criticizing it because it is not more than it is. There are two concepts of causality operating here. Both bear the same name but they are different:

1. The epistemological axiom of causality

2. The law of physics type axiom of causality

I can't remember Rand making this distinction between two kinds of causality. In fact I think she tried to convince us that her definition does imply physical causality. That is also always what I hear from orthodox Objectivists when they try to tell me what causality means. In contrast, you see through this argument and you understand that 2 doesn't follow from 1, but I think you still don't realize how empty 1 really is.

Would you demean the binary principle in computers because "0-1" doesn't tell you much all by itself about a program - and call it an "empty definition"? Would you deny that binary organization is an essential principle of computing? I wouldn't. So why do this with an epistemological counterpart? A philosophical axiom is a logical thing that works as an interface, not a physical thing. You need it to run the mind.

That is not a good comparison. The "binary principle" is not a triviality that is necessarily true, it is a definite choice - we could have chosen for example a ternary principle "0-1-2" (we only didn't choose that while it's probably less practical). So the choice of binary logic is not trivial and it does have practical consequences, therefore it's not an empty definition. On the other hand the statement "things don't behave as they behave" is a contradiction and therefore meaningless, so telling us that things behave as they behave doesn't tell us anything new and doesn't have any practical consequences. Analytic statements that are necessarily true, like this epistemological axiom of causality, are cognitively empty. They are only useful if the truth of the statement is not obvious, as in mathematical theorems. But a book filled with statements like "1 = 1", "2 = 2", "3 = 3", "pi = pi", "x = x", "a circle is a circle", etc. would be completely useless.

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I would say yes, I do have a distrust for imagination and intuition. I feel it is too anthro-macro-centric (if you know what I mean) and biased to be reliable. This is not to say that new, improved intuition cannot develop with a deeper understanding of reality, it certainly can. Our intuition/imagination is notoriously wrong and/or incomplete - to me this is essentially axiomatic.

After a little thought, yes, I do know what you mean. “Anthro-centric,” no doubt: human senses; human perception; human meaning; human life. “Macro-centric,” yes and no. Imagination works by visualizing outside surfaces of things and their patterns of behaviour. However, it allows us to build pictures of underlying entities and their patterns of behaviour, also, by picturing the outside surfaces and patterns of micro-entities. There is no doubt that the imagination is stuck in 3 spatial dimensions and 1 temporal dimension. I just have no yet concluded this is an inaccurate representation of reality.

Can our imagination be wrong? Yes, very. That is why we need to focus on the nature of the principles that guide its content. There are different notions of identity and causality out there. There is action-to-action causation, agent-to-action causation, reciprocal node-to-field causation, acausal random action, entity-to-action causation, and, my own concept, proactive identity-to-action causation. Each has different biases built-in. I think it is time to examine the nature of those biases. I think imagination gets things wrong because we use the incomplete, inaccurate, and/or incompatible concepts of causation.

I want to respond to more of your post but I have to remember to pay attention to my wife and kids. I’ll be back!

Paul

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