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Causal Closure?

  1. Mar 24, 2005 #1

    selfAdjoint

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    In his opening post on Chapter Seven of Gregg Rosenberg's A Place for Consciousness, Hypnagogue says this:

    Now there have already been several replies to this on the original thread, and most of them seem delighted that the unwarranted claim of physicalism that nature is causally closed under physics is being challenged. I want to open the opposite conclusion for discussion.

    It seems that what Rosenberg is doing here is denial of his, and the qualists' problems. He has come close to admitting that if nature is causally closed under physical interactions, then the qualist position is just what they have accused the physicalist position of being: incoherent. On the horns of a dilemma between epiphenomenalism and dualism, as he says.

    Now if your premises lead you to a false conclusion, you should reject those premises. This is the basis of the famous proof technique called reduction ad absurdam in logic and contrapositive in mathematics. And the only reason to suppose that natrue is not causally closed under physics is that the qualist premises require it!

    Do a thought experiment; leave the qualist position out, and try to imagine any evidence for non-closure under physical causes. Science is often accused on these boards of ignoring everything outside of physical causes, but it does that because it works! No experiment has ever shown any force or energy flow other than physical ones. And indeed if there are non-physical forces, that are truly causal, then you are back at dualism in all but words, since you have posited an independent principle required to explain the world.
     
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  3. Mar 24, 2005 #2

    loseyourname

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    It gets pretty crazy when you have people stating that the law of conservation of energy and the law of conservation of momentum are just guesses that must be thrown out in order to accomodate an antiphysicalist view, which has happened in this very forum. I don't even know what to say at that point, but I certainly do try. At least hypnagogue is willing to admit that this is a genuine problem.
     
  4. Mar 24, 2005 #3

    hypnagogue

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    selfAdjoint, you seem to have misunderstood the point (perhaps I did not write it clearly enough). Rosenberg does not reject causal closure of the physical. He says that if we choose to do so and adopt interactionist dualism, then we seem to have a way out of the knowledge paradox (only to open a host of other problems, of course). However, Rosenberg does not want to reject causal closure of the physical at all, and in fact, this is his primary reason for rejecting interactionist dualism. In fact, you might notice that Paul Martin has taken Rosenberg to task for precisely this in the thread for chapter 7. Martin thinks Rosenberg is rejecting interactionist dualism dogmatically and out of hand. We would not see such a reply if Rosenberg were suggesting that we really should consider rejecting causal closure of the physical.

    This seems to pose a unique problem for the Liberal Naturalist. Neither epiphenomenalism or interactionist dualism are appealing options. This leads to the natural conclusion that perhaps we should reject the premises that forced us to choose between these two in the first place. But doing such would mean accepting physicalism, which the Liberal Naturalist already has strong reasons for rejecting. It seems that nothing will work. However, the framework Rosenberg develops in his book allows us to escape this dilemma. On Rosenberg's framework, one can deny that p-consciousness is physical, but also coherently deny both epiphenomenalism and interactionist dualism.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2005
  5. Mar 24, 2005 #4

    selfAdjoint

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    Since I don't have the book I depend on your summaries, hypnagogue. I will go back and reread what you posted. But I may have more questions after that. Right now, off the top of my head, I can't think how Rosenberg could do that trick.
     
  6. Mar 25, 2005 #5

    loseyourname

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    I have to admit that I haven't kept up with the reading, as I've had quite a bit of other reading to do, but from what I could tell, Rosenberg postulates that the intrinsic experiential capacity of his "carriers" of causation are what dictate physical causal properties. It's actually similar to Hobbes' view of causation; that we have "Agents," or effective properties, and "Patients," or receptive properties. The nature of the agents and patients is what shapes the causal relations between physical objects.

    Honestly, I don't think this view is really all that different from epiphenomenalism. It just makes epiphenomenalism coherent. A conscious agent still cannot change the natural course of causation. It just happens to be that what we experience are the very properties that dictate this natural course.
     
  7. Mar 26, 2005 #6

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    Usually that method starts by assuming the claim it is trying to prove false is true and then makes a number of valid logical deductions to reach a contradiction from it. In this case, the steps are something like this:

    1. We believe in (as in "talk about") non-physical qualia.
    2. Non-physical qualia exist.
    3. The physical world is causally closed, in that every physical event is only a result of other physical events.
    4. Since talking is physical and caused by the physical brain, we would talk about non-physical qualia whether or not they exist.
    5. Qualia exist even though we can't be justified in believing they exist.

    Strictly speaking, the conclusion (5) isn't a paradox, it's just unsettling enough as to be unacceptable. This is actually working a proof by reductio ad absurdum backwards, because we know we've reached a contradiction but we don't know which step is the flawed one, just that one of them must be. You feel (2) is the only reasonable one to deny. But I think Rosenberg will argue that it is possible that (3), or maybe (4) are more subtle than they appear, and could be incorrect. Those of us who take the existence of qualia as an empirical fact need to expore these steps in greater detail.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2005
  8. Mar 26, 2005 #7

    hypnagogue

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    Rosenberg doesn't argue that the world is not causally closed under physics. But he does argue that the physical causal story is not the complete causal story. He sees physics as being a description of effective causation (that which places causal constraint), but also argues that we need some notion of receptivity (that which receives causal constraint) that is not included in physics.

    I'd prefer to wait on the details until the group discussion reaches that point. But for now, I'd like to emphasize that Rosenberg does not propose anything that is incompatible with existing physical laws or principles. He doesn't seek to rewrite physics, only to add to it. In fact, his framework winds up resonating with certain things such as determinism/indeterminism, non-locality, and the fundamentally relational structure of spacetime in a rather satisfying and reassuring way.
     
  9. Mar 26, 2005 #8
    I've done that experiment. It shows that the idea that the universe is causally closed gives rise to undecidable metaphysical questions relating to the the first cause (and last effect). For this reason the doctrine of causal closure in incoherent in my opinion. The explanatory gap to which the doctrine gives rise seems to me pretty good evidence that it is not the case.
     
  10. Mar 26, 2005 #9

    selfAdjoint

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    I think the spacetime view, with time STARTING at the big bang and no preceding cause because no preceding time, just as nothing is south of the south pole, is a coherent view. What leads you to find it incoherent?
     
  11. Mar 26, 2005 #10

    selfAdjoint

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    Rosenberg's Gateway site

    Searching for another source for Rosenberg's views, I found this site, http://ai.uga.edu/~ghrosenb/book.html [Broken]. He summarizes his proposed additions to the concept of causality. I suppose the reading hasn't got far enough to reach this, but it seems his qualist addition to causality is key to his argument in chapter seven.

    What does everybody think of it?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  12. Mar 26, 2005 #11

    hypnagogue

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    I'm not sure what you mean by this; could you clarify?
     
  13. Mar 27, 2005 #12
    I don't entirely disagree with the notion of causal closure, and agree that spacetime is not fundamental. However, to say that there is no cause for the existence of spacetime is a cop-out imho (iow an appeal to ignorance). It is saying that the universe is causally closed - once it exists. To me this proviso is the undoing of the causal closure idea. (I know (vaguely) all that Hartle, Hawkings et al stuff about the south pole. However in my layman's opinion it smacks of desperation, and does not explain the existence of the south pole).
     
  14. Mar 27, 2005 #13

    selfAdjoint

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    What desperation? The "South Pole" is just an intrinsic feature of GR cosmology; it wasn't brought in for any special purpose. For that matter you can say that desiring an explanation for the universe is a category error; the universe is the theater of causality, and "The sovereign is no subject."
     
  15. Mar 27, 2005 #14

    Q_Goest

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    If we don't know how the universe was started, then isn't this the same as saying we don't know if it is causally closed or not?

    Regardless of the beginning of the universe, I believe the original post was intended more towards philosophy of mind.

    I take that to mean, in the universe today, "try to imaging any evidence for non-closure under physical causes."

    Isn't this same philosophy the reason Einstein said "God doesn't play dice" when he refered to the lack of a 'cause and effect' in quantum mechanics? He assumed there were simply some hidden variables within nature and physicsts would soon find them and cause and effect would once again reign as the most fundamental concept in physics. But despite decades of experiments, physicists have come up empty handed in their efforts to find hidden variables. I believe that at this point in history, hidden variable theories have largely been relagated to the trash can.

    Nevertheless, we assume, because quamtum phenomena occur at such a microscopic level, and because their seemingly random nature statistically cancel out any gross randomness in this universe, that cause and effect govern all phenomena larger than a few hundred molecules*. Yet we can't apply cause and effect to the very building blocks themselves. As an engineer, that doesn't bother me. I can design structures and thermodynamic systems without concern that they won't act as I'd expect. But from a philisophical viewpoint, I find the lack of cause and effect at the microscopic level fascinating.

    *Have you seen that these quantum phenomena actually occur on molecules as large as C60 and C70 Buckyballs? So even fairly large chunks of matter seem to be governed by something which is NOT cause and effect related.
     
  16. Mar 27, 2005 #15

    selfAdjoint

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    You keep saying that there is no cause and effect in quantumland, but it is there! A Josephson junction is a macroscopic quantum device; its behavior depends crucially on its QM nature. But Josephson junctions can be designed! Squid devices amploying them can be designed and built and their behavior is predictable! You just mistake your own disquiet over counter-intuitive ideas for a lack of causality.

    Please, people, stop using "quantum randomness" as a mantra. Learn what the QM formalism really says, and learn how experiments are reliably, causally, designed to show off its counter-intuitive properties.
     
  17. Mar 27, 2005 #16

    Q_Goest

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    Yep, there are things man has designed and built which take advantage of quantum phenomena. Not sure the point there.

    Perhaps I'm missunderstanding what you mean by "causal closure". If that means, if a physical event has a cause, then it has a physical cause then I would have to ask, what is the physical cause of any given atom which undergoes radioactive decay?

    Radioactive decay of any given atom is a strictly random event. We can find a "cause" in that we my find that some nucleus is unstable. But what is the cause of atom A decaying in 5 minutes, and an identical atom B decaying in an hour? Why does atom A decay now, and atom B decay 55 minutes later? Both atoms are identical, right up to the point in time that one decays and the other doesn't. I fail to see how such a phenomena is a causally closed system.
     
  18. Mar 27, 2005 #17

    selfAdjoint

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    This is often stated, but I think it's just an epistomological problem. You say the atoms are identical, but we can't prove that; we don't know what antineutrons are flying around, capable of catalyzing the weak interaction. After all, an atom, in quantum terms, is very much a collective system.
     
  19. Mar 28, 2005 #18
    Q Guest

    I'd say so. As Paul said it is either not causally closed or not explanatarily closed, depending on which way we look at it. If it is not explanatorily closed then we have to take it on faith that it is causally closed.

    However there is a possible subtlety in all this. Self-Adjoint seems to right in saying that causation only operates in time. So perhaps the universe arises from 'something' which provides the contingent condition necessary to the existence of space and time but which, strictly-speaking, does not cause them. If so then the doctrine of causal closure is neither quite right or wrong.
     
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2005
  20. Mar 28, 2005 #19

    Q_Goest

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    Isn't this and any concept like it simply a hidden variable theory?
     
  21. Mar 28, 2005 #20

    Q_Goest

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    I googled "explanatorily closed" and only came up with seven links, one of which was here at this forum. So maybe a short discussion on the concept is worth while for those of us without the philosphy background and knowledge of terminolgy that comes with it.

    Does "causally closed" refer only to 3 linear dimensions and time, such that all matter, energy, dark or otherwise, is governed by cause and effect relationships? Or does this term assume cause and effect relationships which occur not just in 4 dimensions, but in all dimensions (whatever that may mean)?

    If a single extra dimension is added, can one say that all possible quantum phenomena occur in these 5 dimensions? Then perhaps one can consider those 5 dimensions as causally closed. Similarly, string theory suggests 10 or 11 dimensions. What is the basis we're using for "causally closed"?
     
  22. Mar 28, 2005 #21
    My ideas is that there is no gap in causality, but that we need a new theory of causation. I've been frustrated by the fact that when debating the issue of causal closure (and free will/determinism), it seems most people on both sides have in their minds a world of classical mechanics. I believe there are several reasons to think we need a new treatment of causality:

    1. quantum mechanics has overthrown the classical picture, but philosophical treatments oversimplify by assuming it is a simple probablistic version of the classical.

    2. complex non-linear systems resist classical reduction, but no one has offered a new explanation, except to say higher level features somehow emerge.

    3. remember also the difficulty we have of finding an adequate physical description for the asymmetrical "flow" of time, in which causality takes place.

    Let’s take the case of QM, where the causal process is indeed richer than the classical one (SelfAdjoint, please correct mistakes in what follows if you have the time and patience):

    We have a unitary process of evolution described by the wave function, then we have a second process: measurement. There is obviously more going on here than in the classical picture of billiard ball ‘A’ effecting billiard ball “B”. One or both systems involved in a measurement need to have an additional (natural) property in order to have a quantum causal event. This “ability to measure” or “ability to observe” or “ability to receive information” property is an integral part of the picture.

    I know it seems that many folks get overly enthusiastic about the implications of QM for ontology (Tao of Physics, etc.), but I see the door as open to efforts to create a more detailed description of causality which makes this “ability to measure” property explicit and theorizes about the role it plays in construction of natural systems, including complex macroscopic ones like us.
     
  23. Mar 28, 2005 #22
    But we know from Bell's theorem and the Aspect experiment that there
    are no local hidden "causes" of at least some putatively random events.
     
  24. Mar 28, 2005 #23

    selfAdjoint

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    I completely accept the standard QM view of the entanglement correlations and the Aspect and similar experiments. Would you please state some specific "randomness" at the elementary level, not at the compound level like radioactive atoms? Then we can discuss that. Recall I distinguish "randomness", i.e. acausality, from the unpredictability of which eigenvalue will be observed, where QM has given you the probabilities of the different possiible cases.
     
  25. Mar 28, 2005 #24

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    Are "The physical world is causally closed" and "The laws of physics are correct" equivalent statements? In classical physics, the answer must be yes. If a particle changes velocity, it is because a force is acting on it. If no force acts on it, it won't change velocity. The force will either be gravitational, electromagnetic, strong, or weak, and the source of all these forces is also known and completely physical. So if these laws are correct, there is no room for outside influence. Is this an accurate assessment?

    So if there is any room for consciousness to interfere, it must do so quantum mechanically. Now, the two ways a QM system can evolve are (1) deterministically according to the schroedinger equation and (2) by random wavefunction collapse. The first leads to the same conclusion as before: if the laws are correct, there are no causal gaps. The second is very strange. We still don't know exactly what constitutes a measurement. But the "random" part seems to imply that even if a measurement is precisely a conscious observation, it can do nothing to affect the physical behavior in a way that would cause us to say things like "I am conscious". Could it? It seems to me that either the laws of physics are correct or that we can justifiably say things like "Qualia are not physical". This is the biggest paradox for me, because I believe both. Maybe someone who's read the Rosenberg book can hint at whether he chooses one of these options or if he finds a loophole.
     
  26. Mar 29, 2005 #25
    The unpredictability of eigenvalues on the basis of either the known
    information or local hidden variables is the very essence of the
    issue of quantum randomness as far as most people are concerned. If it is not
    for you, I can only conclude that you are using the word 'random' in an unusual way.

    The unpredictability of eigenvalues on the basis of either the known
    information or local hidden variables. The Aspect experiemnt uses spin-correlated photons.

    You appeal to the "compound level" seems to be a plea to some additional
    piece of causal machinery (you suggeted antineutrons in the case of radioactive atoms) which, if included, would render the event determinate
    and predictable. Any such additional factor woudl constitute a local
    hidden variables, and LHV's as a class are excluded by the Aspect experiment.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2005
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