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Causality in the subjective world

  1. Jul 2, 2006 #1
    I was thinking that there are all these laws of nature that describe physical systems, and our senses receive input from these systems. However, once the input has been delivered, it dissappears into the black hole of our consciousness, where it is manipulated by some unknown principle. Once this principle is done with the input, it produces the output (our actions), which therefore cannot be predicted with any known law of nature.

    That these laws do not rule over causality in a subjective world can be understood when one asks if the number 9 is pulled down by gravity, or when one hears someone tell about his experience of flying around and morphing objects in a lucid dream, or when one anticipates an event 2 weeks down the subjectively simulated road and lets it influence an event 10 minutes down the road.

    So how does causality work in a subjective world, if not by the known laws of nature?
    Or am i mistaken and do these laws still apply?
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2006 #2
    The laws of psychology/computation/cognition are, in principle, supposed to follow on directly from the laws of physics. The idea is that our thoughts obey the rules that govern our brains. Thus, the functional processes of our brains are physically caused in the same way as the orbits of the planets. Not everyone agrees about this, expecially in light of the extraordinary plasticity of our brains, but many researchers believe that the functional processes connected with thinking are entirely explicable in terms of physical causation.

    Of course, this begs the question of whether physical laws arise from the laws of reasoning or vice versa, but generally we automatically assume the latter. Personally, I find it more likely that the laws of reason are prior to the laws of physics.

    According to many people there is similar set of laws that govern the evolution of our consciousness, namely the laws of karma. These are just as detirministic but operate on another plane. Perhaps, using David Bohm's terms, one could say that one set of laws work in the explicate (psychophysical) dimension, the other set in the implicate (phenomenal) dimension.

    Last edited: Jul 3, 2006
  4. Jul 3, 2006 #3
    Is this just in principle or has any of it been demonstrated?
    Im not exactly familiar with laws of computation or how they relate to our subjective world.

    Experiences may or may not be physically caused, but we do know they are completely different from the physical. So if they interact with eachother in this completely different form (the subjective influencing the subjective), then even in principle the physical laws would not rule over this interaction (at least thats how it seems to me).

    That last part about implicate dimension sounds like what im talking about. I had read a tiny bit about it before (implicate order) but not realised its was about phenomenal laws.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2006
  5. Jul 4, 2006 #4
    Imho it’s a mistake to think that nature “obeys” what we call the “laws” of nature or the “laws” of physics. We fall into this way of thinking because we are conditioned to think of laws as being prescriptive. Initially the word 'law' was used in connection with prescriptive moral rules such as those promulgated in the Bible (such as 'Thou shalt not murder', 'Thou shalt not lie', and so on). It is also used in connection with the prescriptive laws that regulate society such as 'Drive only on the left-hand side of the road', 'A passport is required for international travel' and the like. And there are also prescriptive laws passed by Parliament, and enforced by Law Courts, concerning a host of matters. One thing that all of these laws have in common is that they are intended to describe how we should behave, and not necessarily how we do behave. Clearly people can, and do, break such prescriptive laws.

    The idea that there are additional prescriptive natural laws was likely an extension to the idea of prescriptive moral, social and legal laws. God, it was argued, also gave nature its 'natural laws' to obey. But though people can break moral and legal laws, it is not open to nature to break the laws of nature. There seemed to be a kind of “necessity” to the laws of nature that prevented nature from breaking its own laws. Ever since, we have been left with the anarchic intuition that natural laws are both prescriptive and necessary.

    The basic idea of a law of nature is that of a perfectly regular sequence of kinds of happenings that occur without exception. The observed natural world might itself appear to us to be highly irregular, and even somewhat chaotic (think of the weather!). But it was known even to primitive peoples that underneath all the appearance of irregularity there are at least some quite simple and quite general natural laws which somehow “govern” what happens (eg the cycle of day and night, phases of the moon, the tides, the seasons).

    Then Newton managed to show that motions of bodies, including the heavenly bodies, seem to “obey” a small number of perfectly general laws of motion. Bodies behave in a large variety of ways when heated; but in thermodynamics it can be shown that all these happenings “obey” a few, quite general, laws of thermodynamics. Again light exhibits a wide variety of phenomena, such as refraction causing rainbows, polarisation, etc. But all these phenomena can be shown to “obey” a small number of laws governing light such as those of reflection and refraction. The detailed and methodical investigation of the natural world had revealed some of the more fundamental rules and relationships which seemed to apply to material things. The idea of scientific, as opposed to natural, laws had been born.

    Where our intuitions fail us is in thinking that scientific laws somehow mandate or force events to be a particular way. It is not uncommon to find modern texts suggesting that there is a kind of “inescapability” or “necessity” about the laws of nature, of the form : “If Einstein and Newton are right, then of necessity no body can travel faster than c (that is, it cannot but do this); or of necessity all bodies gravitate towards one another according to the law of universal gravitation (i.e., they cannot but behave this way); and so on.”

    Of course we can imagine a world where bodies might travel faster than light; there is no logical contradiction in this. And we can imagine a world where bodies gravitate towards one another according to the inverse of the distance, or the inverse cube, and so on. Newton in fact did envisage these possibilities since there is no logical contradiction in assuming any of them. It is just that our world does not work in any of these ways.

    What the above shows is that there is often an intuition of a certain kind of "necessity" about the laws of nature as they operate in this world. Nature it seems is inescapably committed to behaving in accordance with its laws and cannot behave otherwise. But is this a correct view of the laws of nature?

    Best Regards
  6. Jul 4, 2006 #5
    Nice post. I agree that we tend to think of laws in the wrong way, as if there were a rule book somewhere that had to be consulted before an effect could follow a cause. But I think the question was more about where physical causation ended and 'mental' causation begins, or whether there is a difference between them.

    It is probably the most orthodox assumption in physics and consciousness studies. It is, however, no more than an assumption.

    Whoa. Some people think they are not different. I don't, and obviously you don't, but it's an open question in science as to who is right. You can say "I know that experience is completely different from the physical" but not "we know ...".

    To me also. The problems only begin when we start to wonder if they interact with each other.

    There may be different ways to interpret Bohm's idea and perhaps mine is not correct. However, he is a friend of the Dalai Lama so I assume 'the implicate level of order' corresponds with the phenomenal as opposed to the psychophysical, which would be the explicate level. Don't take my word for it though.

  7. Jul 4, 2006 #6
    Ah but there is a logical contradiction! It is just that people don't examine the consequences as carefully as they should. Your post brings up an issue close to my heart.
    I think you are confusing two very different modes of thought.

    In essence, there are two very different ways of "understanding" anything. There is that emotional feeling that something makes sense; that you understand what is going on and have no doubts as to the validity of your expectations. Then again there is a very different kind of understanding which allows you to logically defend some set of analytical expectations in intimate detail; even in cases where no emotional feeling exists to defend the validity of those expectations (here I am talking about all those totally counter intuitive deductions so common in analytical work).

    In my head, both meanings are very important. When someone says that they "think" something is true, they can have either of the two meanings in mind and they seldom make it clear as to which phenomena they mean to convey. I believe that it is very important that these two different phenomena should be carefully identified and kept in mind whenever rational discussion is attempted.

    I like to use the adjective "logical" to classify a specific kind of thought commonly believed, particularly by intellectuals, to be the only possible variety of rational thought (I suspect they believe rational and logical are merely different words for the same phenomena). In my head, the term "rational thought" implies the idea being expressed makes sense: i.e., it does not generate emotional doubts as to its validity. Under that view, the adjective rational does not always imply "logical" (and neither does it imply easy believability but rather only that the presenter believes it). The view also makes it apparent that "rational statements" (though they seem to make sense) are not necessarily valid, a point anyone familiar with the development of science should be aware. That is, very bright people have made errors in their beliefs from time to time; but that does not mean that those beliefs were irrational.

    If one holds that only logical thoughts are rational, then scientific progress becomes impossible since any deductions must be based on things presumed to be valid without reason (those axioms one starts with) and that is certainly irrational. However, I hold that there is a second kind of rational thought which needs to be clearly understood. Call it intuition, Zen or my favorite "squirrel thought"; whatever you prefer.

    Squirrels are great in the treetops but they lack a bit of skill on the streets. All my life I have heard those smears you see on the street (and I think you know what I mean) humorously referred to as "poor squirrel decisions". Well, they were actually results of real decisions and I think "squirrel" is an excellent adjective to use. I doubt anyone would classify those decisions, whether they are in the tree tops or in the streets, as "logical"; "intuitive" seems much more reasonable .

    So all thought is divided into two categories, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. The great strength of logical thought is that the conclusions reached through logical thought are guaranteed to be as valid as the premises upon which they are based. The weakness of logical thought is that it is limited to a very small number of premises: i.e., the specific number of factors which can be included in the analytical statement of the problem. This is usually a seriously small number when compared to the volumes of information available to us through our senses.

    A further problem with logical thought is that the number of specific steps in the process cannot be excessive as we must be consciously aware of each step. If we are to be truly logical, each and every step must be consciously validated. Anyone who has carefully thought anything out is very well aware of the fact that considerable time is consumed in such an analysis. If a logical process were to involve a few billion steps, I doubt many here would attempt to follow that logic. Now mathematics and formal logic provide us with a certain respite from that last constraint but, even so, logical thought is of very limited applicability.

    Intuitive thought, on the other hand, has its own strengths and weaknesses. Its strength lies in the astonishing number of factors which can be taken into account (seemingly beyond counting though as Paul points out, it cannot be "infinite"). Its weakness is the fact that the process can not be validated: i.e., there is no way to prove your intuitive conclusions are correct. Nevertheless, most of them will be good decisions. Why is that? The answer should be clear. Whatever the mechanisms are, by which those decisions are reached, they have been honed and polished through millions of years of survival; failure to make good "squirrel" decisions has been cleaned from the gene pool by the shear consequences of making really bad decisions.

    What I am getting at is the fact that logical thought is actually a rather worthless endeavor when it comes to life and death decisions. It is often much better to "go with your gut". In fact, in the absence of mathematics, logical decisions are so limited as to be almost entirely inapplicable to any day to day activities. This is why many students can not understand a purpose to learning mathematics. Actually they are quite right, neither math nor logic serve much of a purpose to important problems. I have known very successful people who have never made a logical decision in their entire life.

    However, when a problem can be approached with math and logic, one can be quite sure of the absolute validity of their conclusions. Well, "absolute" to a certain extent: it is always possible that an important factor was omitted or that some axiom thought to be true was, in fact, false. Thus it is important that we understand how those factors came to be established. There is but one answer; intuition (pure "squirrel" decisions). I have come to the fundamental conclusion that these intuitive decisions are the single most important part of thinking; logical thought is not even possible in the absence of intuition. But the problem is that almost everyone has a great tendency to presume their intuition is infallible.

    This is, in fact, the single biggest problem in trying to understand the universe. Most everyone believes the ideas they have arrived at via their personal "squirrel" decisions are the only possible conclusions which can be reached (see my post to the thread: "is computability an empirical fact of the universe?"). The reader should understand that "belief" of anything is a squirrel decision. The ability to communicate (language itself) was acquired through "squirrel" thought. Accept your squirrel decisions as your best bet when it comes to any serious question, but don't ever think that those squirrel decisions are infallible. You don't have to believe they are infallible to follow them; when it comes to life, "you pays your money and you takes your chances" and worrying about it is a waste of time.

    On the other hand, if you want to do science, you should remember that even your most cherished "squirrel" decisions could be wrong. Even you guys who are not "crackpots" should remember that. A lot of science is done in the total absence of logical thought and that has to be so; but scientists should not forget that fact. If they do, science folds over to religion. It may seem to work great, but that does not mean it is valid. Think about that next time you see a "poor squirrel decision".

    Have fun -- Dick
  8. Jul 4, 2006 #7
    I used the wrong words but I didnt mean it like that. I meant that 'from what we currently understand' of the physical (as how it is defined and operates in natural laws), we know that it is completely unlike (better word perhaps) consciousness. And from this follows that however the subjective influences the subjective, it is likely to also be completely unlike how we currently know the physical influences the physical...

    I did not mean they are separate (dualism).

    Can u give an example of a thought that would be logically contradictive to have?
    (i have no idea what this means)

    And this may be a dumb question also, but is there anything logical about a qualia?
    Does a qualia logically contradict itself?
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2006
  9. Jul 4, 2006 #8
    Can you point out the alleged logical contradiction? I cannot find anything in the rest of your post which throws any light on this.

    Can you identify explicitly which two modes of thought you think I am confusing? Again, the rest of your post was very interesting, but it doesn’t seem (to me) to explicitly identify just which two modes of thought you think I am confusing.

    Logical contradiction is a matter of simultaneously saying, putting forward, or defending both some specific and definite statement and the denial of that self-same statement. Or, in other words, it is the conjunction of a statement with its own negation, p & ~p.

    Thus the statement that "Socrates was a man" and "Socrates was not a man" are logically contradictory if both refer to the same male human being, Socrates of Athens, who lived from approximately 469 to 399 B.C.E. and if both mean by "was a man" exactly the same thing.

    Singular of qualia is quale.
    Quale is a noun. There is nothing logically contradictory about a noun. Propositions may be contradictory, but nouns cannot be.

    Best Regards
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2006
  10. Jul 4, 2006 #9
    The very word "causation" invokes thoughts of animism, which I believe is a false view of the world. What we interpret as "A causes B" is simply a conjunction of A and B. In this respect, there is no difference between physical causation and so-called mental causation (which I see as simply a subset of physical causation, and involving the same kinds of conjunctions of events, but without any animism and without any prescriptive laws).

    Best Regards
  11. Jul 5, 2006 #10
    Fair enough. I prefer to think of causation as psychophysical, since if it were not then psychology would be a branch of neuroscience.

    Small point, but according to physicists it is perfectly possible that a mirror universe exist on the other side of the speed of light, in which the mass of a body becomes infinite (or zero, I forget) as it slows down to c. The mathematics allows for this possibility, but whether ones own brain allows it is another matter.
  12. Jul 5, 2006 #11


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    Small point? I prefer to think of causation as psychophysical, since if it were not then psychology would be a branch of neuroscience.

    That's the WHOLE point. For me, causation is not at all psychophysical, and psychology is an (emergent) branch of neuroscience. The more we learn the more psychology shows its neuroscientific roots.

    And don't quote scientific speculations if you can't understand the fuller context they exist in. The history and understanding of tachyon physics does not deserve the description "mirror universe" and the phrase 'mirror universe" was not coined to describe tachyon physics.
  13. Jul 5, 2006 #12
    I asked about qualia because i wanted to know how logical contradictions apply to those. The example of logical contradiction u mention is applied to thoughts, but qualia dont need thoughts to exist or interact with eachother, so logic does not apply to them. For example the taste of a strawberry combined with the smell of onions produces a different experience, but does this proces have anything to do with logic?
  14. Jul 5, 2006 #13


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    This example would seem to be a kind of superposition. The type of logic that applies to such things is a non-distributive lattice, somewhat like Boolean Algebra but without the exclusion of the mean.
  15. Jul 6, 2006 #14
    Don't they? Has anyone isolated a so-called "quale" outside of human consciousness? imho qualia are "virtual reality" illusions created by the process of consciousness.

    In the sense that everything (imho) has a logical explanation, yes. But as far as I can see it has nothing to do with logical contradiction.

    Best Regards
  16. Jul 6, 2006 #15
    Psychophysics is the science of the mental perception of stimuli. Are you suggesting there is no "causation" in the world in absence of mental perception?

    Best Regards
  17. Jul 6, 2006 #16
    I suppose I am, yes. You could think of it in terms of David Chalmers double-aspect theory of information, in which the features of the world have both a psychological and a physical aspect. If so, then in the absence of the minds no phenomena would exist on which causation could operate.

    Self-Adjoint points out that for him, and others, psychology is an emergent branch of neuroscience, thus of quantum physics. But this is an assumption that has not yet been justified. It creates the 'hard' problem of consciouness which appears to be intractable, suggesting to me, and others, that the assumption is false.


    Could you say a bit more about non-distributive lattices?

    Last edited: Jul 6, 2006
  18. Jul 6, 2006 #17
    you are referring here to common and garden macroscopic causation aren't you? things like "the cause of the window breaking was the flying brick"? or "the cause of the burning tree was the lightning strike"?

    Best Regards
  19. Jul 6, 2006 #18
    Yes. I was suggesting that the to explain all caused events in terms of physical causation is problematic, especially in consciousness studies.
  20. Jul 6, 2006 #19
    Wouldnt that imply that:
    1. our consciousness works on the quantum level and
    2. that we can experience superpositions before they collapse?
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2006
  21. Jul 6, 2006 #20
    Well i think qualia exist by virtue of consciousness(the observer), so the answer is no. Can i ask u what ur definition of 'a thought' would be, and also how do u think they arise?
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2006
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