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Can an event occur without a cause?

  1. Aug 28, 2009 #1
    I decided to post this in the philosophy section because I would like to get the philosophical implications of the statement below if true, rather than one based on current interpretations of QM (MWI; CI; BI; etc).

    statement: Can any event occur that has no cause?

    What does the above imply? That things can happen magically without cause? That micro events can flit in and out of existence based on zero history, nor initial conditions? If all events do in fact have causes, then does this require one to accept an objective reality? If we accept the well known response of: 'the Universe makes a choice', does this not require an objective reality that is making the choice?
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  3. Aug 28, 2009 #2
    From the definition of "nothing," it cannot cause something. Therefore, all events have a cause (linguistically).

    The best context for "cause-less" things we may be able to think of is the source of the singularity of the big bang. However, from the fact that the big bang did happen, we can conclude that absolute nothingness is not a real concept -- it must be a purely abstract one, and that the universe must be something real which has a fundamental structure to it, and the most reduced form of that structure is a singularity.

    Therefore, it is my view that events CANNOT occur without a cause, however, it is impossible to represent absolute nothingness in real life -- and hence, there will always be a cause for something to happen.

    I also find it highly unlikely that, if the universe itself has a fundamental structure that causes things to happen even in its most reduced form, then it is very likely that the structure of the universe causes minute things to happen all the time...things that are not caused entirely by other particles/waves/strings. Perhaps this is the reason that we see uncertainty in QM...not because it is non-deterministic, but because the very fabric of the universe imposes an ever-present non-local deterministic influence.
  4. Aug 28, 2009 #3


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    Are you asking what micro events are not caused? Certainly radioactive decay is not 'caused' though it is statistically determined. But doesn't that go for photon emission and ... um... capture? And if so, doesn't it also include any EM radiation/capture?
  5. Aug 28, 2009 #4
    And what is this fabric made of? And what color is it? I hear the universe is the new black. :)

    Seriously, I think the problem is more our simplistic conception of causation, rather than any mysterious aspect of the universe. We base our idea of what a cause/effect is, on a very narrow and primitive band of experience. The Quantum and Cosmic worlds are just now opening our eyes to how limited our view is.

    When talking authoritatively about cause/effect, we should limit ourselves to what we know, and that is direct human experience. When non-locality, singularities, and relativity, enter into the equation, we really don't know much more than equations which are descriptive, but are lacking in explanatory power.

    I think everyday causality is an aspect of how the universe works, but where it fits in the bigger picture is anyone's guess.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2009
  6. Aug 29, 2009 #5
    Well, you basically have 4 out of 3 thought-paths about this:

    1. nothing is caused - uncausality/indeterminacy: a systematic dead end. you can't meaningfully theorize anything about this premise

    2. everything has a cause (which leads to a neutral infinite regress) - complete causality: we need to find rules of causal interaction
    3. there is no causal infinite regress (there is an Unmoved Mover, or several of them: uncaused processes that start a causal chain) - quasi-causality: we need to find rules for causal interaction and a mechanism of distinction between caused and uncaused processes

    0. we need to come up with an entirely new "mechanism" to substitute causality and better describe the universe.

    I go for null. :)
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2009
  7. Aug 29, 2009 #6

    At our level of existence, most likely no. Outside our limited and twisted view of reality, the whole idea of objects, cause and effect in time is blurry. There is a classical limit(and some sort of yet unknown mechanism) that 'takes care' of this essential fuzziness at the quantum level that brings about our orderly constructs of physical objects in space and time(bound to comprehensible cause effect behaviour).

    Reality is over-rated.
    Last edited: Aug 29, 2009
  8. Aug 29, 2009 #7

    But, it seems if any event has a cause, then it is determined. At least in principle. And if there is a part of this event or certain aspects of this event that have no causes, then can the outcome of the event be considered random (without consistency or order)?
  9. Aug 30, 2009 #8

    No aspect to any macroscopic events have been proven to be uncaused(consciousness might be the first).

    The 'randomness' at the quantum level is mostly provisional, since only eigenstates that conform to the Newton laws of physics are selected and 'collapsed'. This is a Big restriction to what can take place in a quantum universe populated by macroscopic beings like us.
  10. Aug 30, 2009 #9
    So, would you say there is a top-down order in place? That micro events do not impact our everyday world, and a deterministic (in principle) macro scale takes over?
  11. Aug 30, 2009 #10

    I'd say that it's fairly certain that our reality is ruled by both top-down and down-up causation and I'd be inclined to think that the macro-scale order emerges as a result of intrinsic properties of the quantum fields(i view all the laws of physics as essential inherent properties of the quantum fields that in certain occasions manifest as 'particles' and physical objects). So, in this respect, emergent properties(top down causation) are probably also an inherent component of the quantum fields as well(though they seem like true magic from our point of view). Clearly, our world is mostly what it is because of interactions at the quantum scale(plus a bit of oddity and illusion on part of consciousness). The concepts of space, time and continuos motion aren't really what they appear to be at our scale. In fact, this contradiction is not just in minor details but is quite fundamental, because quantum mechanics requires reality to be discontinuous, noncausal, and nonlocal, whereas relativity theory requires reality to be continuous, causal, and local. This oddity can be patched up in a few cases using mathematical renormalisation, but this approach is awkward and is very likely to be replaced when we have a theory of quantum gravity that would tell us more about the nature of space. What does this have to do with your question? If you can picture the true nature of reality as the water in the ocean, if you gaze at it, at some point our world would appear as appearances of figures and objects in the chaos of the moving waters. And out of this 'quantum soup' appears a totally deterministic orderly world that follows Newton's laws. But peep a bit to left or right, and you'll see the chaos raging. Clearly, cause-effect determinism is mostly a macroscopic manifestation, and our perceived world is mostly deterministic. But so are the quantum partcles that make up our world, they obey the deterministic Schroedinger equation. If anything can challenge this - it would be emergent properties like consciousness and the idea of associated free will.

    This is so, for at least 99.9999999999999% of the cases where random quantum events are concerned. But that is so because of the sheer size of the concepts we deal with. The wavefunction of your body seeps slightly around you into space, but because of the number of quanta involved, most of them end up where you normally expect yourself to be. While your chances of suddenly moving non-locally from A to C is 1 to 1 billion trillion or more, for a virus consisting of thousands of atoms, the chances are significantly higher(still nowhere high as we normally apply this category).
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2009
  12. Aug 31, 2009 #11

    I don't buy into free will. I believe my actions and the world around me are determined. It seems if micro states make up the macro, then in principle the micro would be determined as well (in principle). I know this is not true, but where does the randomness come into play? If it is only in isolated micro events, then so what? It seems at the macro scale, where there is an actual impact on our lives there is very little randomness, if none at all, at least in principle. I have heard in the media that the Universe is inherently probabilistic or random. I think it might be more accurate to say we live in a determined world, yet our experiences often feel random.
  13. Sep 2, 2009 #12
    What do you define as an event?
    Or a cause?
    What are these things?
    If humans didn't exist, would "events" still happen?
    Who would be there to see them?
  14. Sep 2, 2009 #13
    For me event occurs in an instant when something changes.

    If something seems to change continuously we could say there is an event when nothing changes.

    Can there be change without interaction or vice versa? I would say no.

    Can there be interaction without cause? There is always interaction - what is the cause of it - is unclear (questions like where do evolution eventually lead us?).

    Can there be cause without interaction? If nothing is to be changed then yes but is there a place in the known universe where there are no interactions at all?
  15. Sep 6, 2009 #14
    Judging by the fact that the universe exists, I can only see 2 possibilities:

    1) The universe had an uncaused first cause (Big Bang or God or whatever)
    2) The causual structure of the universe it circular, in that that the final part could cause the first part.

    1) is basically Thomas Aquinas' cosmological argument for the existence of God (which of course doesn't actually prove the existence of God). This is in line with mainstream Big Bang theory. So basically, I would say that if you accept that the Big Bang was the start of the universe, you might have to accept that an even can occur without a cause.
  16. Sep 6, 2009 #15
    3) Our understanding of what we call causation is too rudimentary to describe 'the universe'.
  17. Sep 9, 2009 #16
    That is similar to Kant's critique of the cosmological argument. He said that our minds are conditioned by the concepts of space, time and cause and effect. In order to ask what caused the universe we need to think outside of these constructs, which is completely futile.
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