Cause-and-Effect. Is Causality necessarily true?

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  • #1
Mentat
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This issue was brought up in the thread, "I think therefore I am", by Manuel_Silvio; and I wanted to get some answers to the question: Is Causality necessarily true?

Here is an example that Manuel used, and I think it sheds some serious light on the matter: Suppose I flip a coin, and get "tails" every time, and there's a mosquito on the window-sill. Now, do I attribute my having gotten "tails" every time to the mosquito's presence? Let's say I do it 100 times (with the mosquito still present), and get "tails" every time, do I now attribute it to the mosquito's presence? What if, after the mosquito leaves, I flip "heads"? Do I now conclude that it was the mosquito's presence that caused me to continually flip "tails"?

Most would find this preposterous, and rightly so, IMO. However, what if everything that we have ever believed was caused by something we did, was actually going to happen anyway?

Any and all comments on this subject are welcome.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Iacchus32
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Originally posted by Mentat
Most would find this preposterous, and rightly so, IMO. However, what if everything that we have ever believed was caused by something we did, was actually going to happen anyway?

Any and all comments on this subject are welcome.
I think most of us learn these things as we get older when we realize it's not always our fault (as others might insist).
 
  • #3
Mentat
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Let me give an example of cause-and-effect that we might take for granted: I slap someone in the face, and they recoil in pain. Every time, out of 100, I slap someone in the face, they act hurt. So, I assume that there is a "causal bond" between slapping and being hurt. But what if there is no such connection? What if the person was going to recoil in pain anyway, and I just happened to be slapping them at the same time (much like the presence of the mosquito could have just been coincidental).
 
  • #4
Iacchus32
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Originally posted by Mentat
Let me give an example of cause-and-effect that we might take for granted: I slap someone in the face, and they recoil in pain. Every time, out of 100, I slap someone in the face, they act hurt. So, I assume that there is a "causal bond" between slapping and being hurt. But what if there is no such connection? What if the person was going to recoil in pain anyway, and I just happened to be slapping them at the same time (much like the presence of the mosquito could have just been coincidental).
Well then maybe we should put them up for an Oscar, or an Emmy? Or perhaps their "acting" would be the causality that leads to some other reward. Like to sue your ass off or something!
 
  • #5
FZ+
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The truth is that you need to do more than just show a correlation of occurances for causality. You need to show a direct link, in terms of theoretical logic, and practical evidence. Millions of things just happen to occur at the same time - very few are the cause. The chance that something just happened to appear to be the cause is generally very small, but that is a big risk in the use of statistics.
 
  • #6
drag
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Greetings !
Originally posted by Mentat
and I wanted to get some answers to the question:
Is Causality necessarily true?
Causality is the result of the concept of time.
This concept in turn appears to be
basic and thus unprovable and its origin
appears unexplainable.

So, is it true ? Or rephrasing that - most likely ?
Yes, it does appear to be most likely from
observation but QM appears to change it
somewhat by changing its previously defined
connection with time.

Live long and prosper.
 
  • #7
Iacchus32
2,313
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Originally posted by FZ+
The truth is that you need to do more than just show a correlation of occurances for causality. You need to show a direct link, in terms of theoretical logic, and practical evidence. Millions of things just happen to occur at the same time - very few are the cause. The chance that something just happened to appear to be the cause is generally very small, but that is a big risk in the use of statistics.
And yet some causes are more readily apparent than others, for example the dominoe effect, where all it takes is one little nudge of a finger to set the whole chain in reaction ...
 
  • #8
DrChinese
Science Advisor
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Causality is NOT true, at least in some universal sense.

The definition, as previously mentioned, requires that causes precede the effect in time. When a "cause" does not precede the effect, it is - by definition - not a cause.

Since quantum events occur for which there is no predecessor cause (such as when quantum observables do not take on discrete values until the wave state is collapsed by observation), the candidate event cannot be an effect. The effect (value of the observable) occurs simultaneously to the observation (when the wave function collapses). Because cause and effect occur simultaneously in such cases, causality does not apply. QED.
 
  • #9
kyle_soule
240
1
Originally posted by Mentat
Let me give an example of cause-and-effect that we might take for granted: I slap someone in the face, and they recoil in pain. Every time, out of 100, I slap someone in the face, they act hurt. So, I assume that there is a "causal bond" between slapping and being hurt. But what if there is no such connection? What if the person was going to recoil in pain anyway, and I just happened to be slapping them at the same time (much like the presence of the mosquito could have just been coincidental).

Wouldn't you have to observe people recoiling in pain from an apparent slap, when in fact no slap was delivered before you could conclude they would have recoiled in pain if you had no delivered a slap?
 
  • #10
Mentat
3,918
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Originally posted by FZ+
The truth is that you need to do more than just show a correlation of occurances for causality. You need to show a direct link, in terms of theoretical logic, and practical evidence. Millions of things just happen to occur at the same time - very few are the cause. The chance that something just happened to appear to be the cause is generally very small, but that is a big risk in the use of statistics.

But is Causality necessarily true?
 
  • #11
Mentat
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Originally posted by kyle_soule
Wouldn't you have to observe people recoiling in pain from an apparent slap, when in fact no slap was delivered before you could conclude they would have recoiled in pain if you had no delivered a slap?

No, I can't conclude that. However, I can't conclude that I was the cause either. They are both possibilities.
 
  • #12
Mentat
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Originally posted by DrChinese
Causality is NOT true, at least in some universal sense.

The definition, as previously mentioned, requires that causes precede the effect in time. When a "cause" does not precede the effect, it is - by definition - not a cause.

Since quantum events occur for which there is no predecessor cause (such as when quantum observables do not take on discrete values until the wave state is collapsed by observation)...

But if the quantum observables do not take on discrete values until the wave state is observed, then the observer would be the "cause", wouldn't it?

...the candidate event cannot be an effect. The effect (value of the observable) occurs simultaneously to the observation (when the wave function collapses). Because cause and effect occur simultaneously in such cases, causality does not apply. QED.

I had thought of this example before, but (as I stated above) I'm not sure that it's independent of a "cause".
 
  • #13
Mentat
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Originally posted by drag
Causality is the result of the concept of time.
This concept in turn appears to be
basic and thus unprovable and its origin
appears unexplainable.

*Non-sequitor Alert* How in the world does it's being basic make it unprovable.
 
  • #14
heusdens
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Originally posted by Mentat
Let me give an example of cause-and-effect that we might take for granted: I slap someone in the face, and they recoil in pain. Every time, out of 100, I slap someone in the face, they act hurt. So, I assume that there is a "causal bond" between slapping and being hurt. But what if there is no such connection? What if the person was going to recoil in pain anyway, and I just happened to be slapping them at the same time (much like the presence of the mosquito could have just been coincidental).

I advise you not to try it. It's not for the benefit of science to slap someone in the face.
 
  • #15
FZ+
1,599
3


Originally posted by Mentat
*Non-sequitor Alert* How in the world does it's being basic make it unprovable.
My guess is that because it is fundamental, and hence not actually caused by anything else, the only way to deduce it is to use inductive logic. Ie, you can't deduct it from other axioms - it IS an axiom. So, by default, it is kinda unprovable, just being something we assume because it seems to make sense.
 
  • #16
drag
Science Advisor
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Greetings !
Originally posted by Mentat
*Non-sequitor Alert* How in the world does
it's being basic make it unprovable.
Well, if you can't define it (like I can
define an orange, which is apparently not basic
according to what we know, as a group of certain
types of molecules in certain amounts and ratios)
you can't prove it either, can you ? :wink:
I mean, you could define time as causality
but then how can you define causality ? It's
self-referential.

Anyway, the reason I mentioned all of this
is because you asked about the "truth" of
causality and the word "truth" is right up
my "red alert" alley. (Guess I should relax
a bit... )

But, I guess you weren't digging that deep and
just wanted to ask if it's the likely choice
for now. Well, I think it's not according to the
classical "cause before its effect". I mean,
QM disrupts these relations - both the "before"
and the "its" part. According to QM we can
have instant and in relativistic reference
frames even opposite positions of cause and
effect. Further more, it is impossible to
define the exact cause or the exact effect.
So, I guess the clasical meaning of causality
is long since dead and barried.

Does something remain ?
Well, yes I think that "something" that we
can call causality or maybe find another word for
it does remain because physics still maintains the
concept of time and that concept still implies
change, we just need to redefine this change.

Sorry again for being so jumpy...

Live long and prosper.
 
  • #17
wimms
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Don't let QM confuse you. Causality is deeper than just usual life experience or apparent behaviour.

My take on causality is that it has direct correspondence with internal logic of a system. Not necessarily Aristoteles logic we use, but any consistent logic. For eg. Fn=Fn0+1 encodes causality of a sort. Premises are cause of our conclusions.

In particle world, cause/effect are not easily separable. When particles interact, they have mutual effect on each other, there is no clear cause or clear effect. In face of Planck time uncertainty, cause and effect occur simultaneously. Nevertheless, some sort of rules of logic defines the outcome of interaction, and that's causality. If it wasn't so, there would be impossible to observe consistent world, no justification for any conservation laws, any laws. Even though we might be unable to describe particle behaviour, it doesn't mean they behave acausally. Probability distribution has also some cause, however weird it might seem to us.

I disagree that causality is direct result of time concept, although as always, time has tight ties with anything. Yet time is a beast of its own. Fundamental it is.

However, one might ponder, what happens if suddenly infront of him most scary devil imaginable appears acausally. Odds are there that one would **** his pants off from fear, which is perfectly causal effect. Basically, any acausal event in our universe will be immediately consumed by causality if it interacts in any way. If it doesn't interact, it does not exist. Any interaction, however weird, is constrained by causality. Therefore, imo, the only acausal event possible is appearance from nowhere or disappearance to nowhere.
Possible that at fundamental levels acausal events are usual, but any kind of laws would imprint causality to that immediately. We can see only causal world.
 
  • #18
kyle_soule
240
1
Originally posted by Mentat
No, I can't conclude that. However, I can't conclude that I was the cause either. They are both possibilities.

Hmmm...let me see about this example.

Two teams are playing basketball, team A brings it up the floor and passes to another played, while the ball is in the air team B steals it and goes down the court and lays it up. If casuality was true, wouldn't it say that the ball would have changed directions and went down the court and fell in the basket, all on it's own?
 
  • #19
Mentat
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3
Originally posted by kyle_soule
Hmmm...let me see about this example.

Two teams are playing basketball, team A brings it up the floor and passes to another played, while the ball is in the air team B steals it and goes down the court and lays it up. If casuality was true, wouldn't it say that the ball would have changed directions and went down the court and fell in the basket, all on it's own?

You mean "if causality wasn't true", don't you? If causality wasn't true, then yes, the ball may have done that anyway. And yet, we'll never know, because that particular event will only occur once, and that one time, they happened to be doing what they were at the time.
 
  • #20
Mentat
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Originally posted by drag
Well, if you can't define it (like I can
define an orange, which is apparently not basic
according to what we know, as a group of certain
types of molecules in certain amounts and ratios)
you can't prove it either, can you ? :wink:
I mean, you could define time as causality
but then how can you define causality ? It's
self-referential.

I don't define "time" as synonymous to "causality". "Time" is a dimension.

Anyway, the reason I mentioned all of this
is because you asked about the "truth" of
causality and the word "truth" is right up
my "red alert" alley.

And when you said that "'truth' is right up your 'red alert' alley", was that a true statement? :wink:

But, I guess you weren't digging that deep and
just wanted to ask if it's the likely choice
for now.

No, actually I was hoping to see everyone's opinion about whether it is really true.

Sorry again for being so jumpy...

I really hadn't noticed jumpiness.

Note: I've already attempted to counter the "QM defies Causality" position, in an earlier post. Please respond to my points there, if you disagree with them.
 
  • #21
drag
Science Advisor
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Originally posted by wimms
I disagree that causality is direct result
of time concept, although as always, time
has tight ties with anything. Yet time is
a beast of its own. Fundamental it is.
Originally posted by Mentat
I don't define "time" as synonymous to
"causality". "Time" is a dimension.
Time is a physical parameter used in physics
to define change - a sequence of events
following each other. The form of its
mathematical represantation which happens
currently to correspond to a dimension in
the theory of relativity does not affect
that fundumental role.

I did not say that time IS defined as
causality - it could for example be chaotic
events with no connection between them. I said
that time COULD be defined as causality.

Anyway, before that I was talking about
causality itself and said that it's a result
of time and since time is basic and
(most likely) unexplainable - causalit's
"truth" is not descernable. (Not mention,
the truth of anything else real is also
unknown and most likely can not be known.)

Live long and prosper.
 
  • #22
Mentat
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Originally posted by drag
Time is a physical parameter used in physics
to define change - a sequence of events
following each other.

That's not what GR postulates.

The form of its mathematical represantation which happens
currently to correspond to a dimension in
the theory of relativity does not affect
that fundumental role.

Yes it does - just as it affects the "classical" role of space (to define the distance between objects).

Drag, why do you think that something that is considered basic shouldn't be explainable?
 
  • #23
Time is a physical parameter used in physics
to define change

In a quantum universe (that is, in parallel universe theory) change is an illusion. Therefore, cause-and-effect is also an illusion. Cause and effect is a description of 1 reality, not the whole reality.
 
  • #24
wimms
496
0
Time

Originally posted by drag
Time is a physical parameter used in physics
to define change - a sequence of events
following each other.
Thats concept of order.
However much we try, we can't get rid of time as independant physical reality. But let's try once again.

Change, transformation. It doesn't happen instantly. Suppose it did. Then infinite density of events must necessarily happen all simultaneously. Transformations A->B->C->D and a->d happen simultaneously. So, states B,C exist simultaneously with states a,d, and must be able to interact with equal possibility with any of states A-D. Existing simultaneously removes timetravel barriers, distances. What is justification to say that state change a->d can happen only once, while 'at the same time' state A goes through all B,C,D? There is none, apart saying that states A-D change 'faster' than states a-d. You can't say that for change a->d to happen, unrelated state changes A-D must complete first. Thats introduction of concept of time.

Either infinite number of states must be entangled with infinite number of states, or you need time as separate physical reality, necessarily finite at lower bounds.

There is a way to represent time as illusion of reality: as stillshots of infinite 'movie tape', all predetermined, nothing changing. And now you move along that tape perceiving time as real. Difference between snapshots is 'change'. To even move along that 'dimension' you need external concept of time. Without it, you don't move anywhere.
We might be enclosed in such movie tape, perceiving as time something that isn't real, but that does not remove necessity for concept of time - to perceive differentiable moments, you need to 'move' along that tape, meaning along some other 'external', real time.

Time we have in our universe, may be virtual, unreal, detached from the 'real thing', but you can't deny necessity of absolute time. Without it, everything would fall apart and loose any meaning.

Definition of time as dimension, caused by change, change itself being movement along that dimension - is selfreferential. It is not explainable, therefore it is postulated, one way or other.

Either change must consume finite measure of time, or state must remain unchanged for finite measure of time. There is no other way to separate states into differentiable meaningfulness.
We as creatures inside, can only measure changes, relative amount of changes between states, and we call that measure of time. It is illusory time, yes, but it can't exist without underlying real time.

In our models, we deal with only illusory time, measured by changes we can detect. We call it Planck time. It does not matter how we look at it, dimension or change. But below that Planck time, we face timescale and events outside of our world. It is nevertheless real. Something definitely happens between two Planck time moments, and it takes finite amount of time. That might be those 'parallel universes' or whatelse.
 
  • #25
Originally posted by Mentat


Here is an example that Manuel used, and I think it sheds some serious light on the matter: Suppose I flip a coin, and get "tails" every time, and there's a mosquito on the window-sill. Now, do I attribute my having gotten "tails" every time to the mosquito's presence? Let's say I do it 100 times (with the mosquito still present), and get "tails" every time, do I now attribute it to the mosquito's presence? What if, after the mosquito leaves, I flip "heads"? Do I now conclude that it was the mosquito's presence that caused me to continually flip "tails"?

Most would find this preposterous, and rightly so, IMO.

As a scientist, I don't think this is preposterous.

Of course from this experiment it is clear that coin flips "tails" namely (or mainly) due to mosquito presence. Indeed, as you said, removal of mosquito results in coin flipping only "heads".

If this indeed is correct (=verified by futher experiments to rule out chances of various error and to get reliable statistics), then the next step is to find physical connection between coin and mosquito and to find mathematical explanation (=theory) for this connection.
 
  • #26
Mentat
3,918
3


Originally posted by Alexander
As a scientist, I don't think this is preposterous.

Of course from this experiment it is clear that coin flips "tails" namely (or mainly) due to mosquito presence. Indeed, as you said, removal of mosquito results in coin flipping only "heads".

If this indeed is correct (=verified by futher experiments to rule out chances of various error and to get reliable statistics), then the next step is to find physical connection between coin and mosquito and to find mathematical explanation (=theory) for this connection.

So that's what our big "Causality" deal comes from, eh? Wow, we could really be mixing some abstract, and unrelated concepts!

Basically, you are saying that the mosquito's being the cause of my flipping "tails" is a hypothesis, and could in fact become a theory?

BTW, I want to make sure I take the opportunity to thank you (Alexander) for participating in my thread (was starting to miss your purely materialistic (though powerfully scientific) approach) :smile:.
 
  • #27


Originally posted by Mentat
So that's what our big "Causality" deal comes from, eh? Wow, we could really be mixing some abstract, and unrelated concepts!



Unrelated? Not a chance. Directly related: mosquito in - coin flips "head", mosquito out - coin flips "tail".


Basically, you are saying that the mosquito's being the cause of my flipping "tails" is a hypothesis, and could in fact become a theory?

Of course. More than that - this is more like experimentally observed and verified by futher observations law of nature (mosquito in = head, out = tail).

Theoretical explanation of this law can be, say, as follows.

Mosquito's wings oscillate at certain frequincy which is in strong resonance with certain feature on coin's head side. This feature in coin head thus also oscillates strongly in mosquito's presence nearby, so coin is not stable when it lands head down, so it continues to flip and roll till it lands tail down (=head up).
 
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  • #28
drag
Science Advisor
1,100
1
Greetings !
Originally posted by Mentat
That's not what GR postulates.
dimension, dimension, dimension...
I'm beginning to think you got a semantic
problem with this. How's that relevant to
what I say anyway ?!
Originally posted by Mentat
Yes it does - just as it affects the
"classical" role of space (to define the
distance between objects).
Oh... so that's not space's "role" anymore ?
Originally posted by Mentat
Drag, why do you think that something that
is considered basic shouldn't be explainable?
Because something "basic" defies explanation
by definition. [zz)]
How do you explain an electron ?
And if you do somehow explain it - how do you
explain whatever you used for that and so on...:wink:

Live long and prosper.
 
  • #29
Mentat
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3


Originally posted by Alexander
Unrelated? Not a chance. Directly related: mosquito in - coin flips "head", mosquito out - coin flips "tail".

Good point. In fact, if this keeps on being observed, on would think it very strange for you to flip tails, when the mosquito is not present.
 
  • #30
Mentat
3,918
3
Originally posted by drag
Greetings !

dimension, dimension, dimension...
I'm beginning to think you got a semantic
problem with this.

I've got a semantic problem with every semantic error. I've also got a scientific problem with every scientific error. Your post has met both of those qualifications for giving me a problem.

How's that relevant to
what I say anyway ?!

You said that time was just a physical parameter and tried to down-play it's physical existence. How is what I said not relevant?

Oh... so that's not space's "role" anymore ?

Hilarious.

Because something "basic" defies explanation
by definition. [zz)]

How do you explain an electron ?
And if you do somehow explain it - how do you
explain whatever you used for that and so on...:wink:

Then you would be the semantic freak (if you demanded a definition for every word I use). Besides, you have to use words to ask what my words mean, and so you fall into the same trap.
 
  • #31
drag
Science Advisor
1,100
1
Greetings !
Originally posted by Mentat
Then you would be the semantic freak
(if you demanded a definition for every word
I use). Besides, you have to use words to ask
what my words mean, and so you fall into the
same trap.
I don't care about the words you use, I'm
talking about apparently basic stuff in reality.
(I talked about this a few dozen times in
the past I think...[zz)])

I'll try one more time to repeat my PoV on the
original subject here 'cause I'm tired with
all that time stuff you keep throwing my way
with complete irrelevance to my point.
If you wish I'll make no direct link to time.

So, first of all causality HAD it existed would
be a basic constituent of reality (if you
don't wish to grasp it as a specific type
of time - the general thing), which means it
would defy explanation or is based upon things
that most likely defy explanation like everything
else in the Universe. Second, currently science
rejects causality according to it's classical
definition from Newtonian Mechanics.

Live long and prosper.
 
  • #32
Mentat
3,918
3
Originally posted by drag
Greetings !

I don't care about the words you use, I'm
talking about apparently basic stuff in reality.
(I talked about this a few dozen times in
the past I think...[zz)])

I'll try one more time to repeat my PoV on the
original subject here 'cause I'm tired with
all that time stuff you keep throwing my way
with complete irrelevance to my point.
If you wish I'll make no direct link to time.

So, first of all causality HAD it existed would
be a basic constituent of reality (if you
don't wish to grasp it as a specific type
of time - the general thing), which means it
would defy explanation or is based upon things
that most likely defy explanation like everything
else in the Universe. Second, currently science
rejects causality according to it's classical
definition from Newtonian Mechanics.

Live long and prosper.

I still don't get why things that are basic defy definition. Could you please explain that?
 
  • #33
drag
Science Advisor
1,100
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Originally posted by Mentat
I still don't get why things that are basic defy
definition. Could you please explain that?
Because they don't have one, unless it is
self-referential of course...:wink:
 
  • #34
The Opiner
16
1
I take exception to claims that "contemporary, modern science" has relegated necessary cause and effect to the dustbin of history. Surely the vast majority of scientists and educated, non-superstitious people would grant, after some thought, that macroscopic objects, like rolled dice or falling leaves, have completely determined outcomes (however incapable we are to predict, in advance, their final resting positions - thus "random" in common parlance).

Serious claims to the contrary seem to come at the quantum level - apparently originating around the time of the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM. I have long been interested in this discussion as a lifelong determinist and so joined in some discussion to this effect in the Physics and Theoretical Physics fora. Through these discussions I have learned, and been generally encouraged by, input by apparently informed participants and suggested websites, that this issue is far from settled. There are at least some current physicists (as well as famed ones from the past) that are investigating different interpretations which are deterministic (cause and effect without exception). A partial list: Einstein (a good man to have on one's side!), David Bohm, Roger Penrose, Jeffrey Bub, John Bell, and the recent Nobel Prize winner from Denmark (please forgive my memory here).

As I have remarked before, how anyone can accept that some things happen without cause - that is for no reason what-so-ever - and not go insane is beyond me.
 
  • #35
drag
Science Advisor
1,100
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Greetings !

Welcome to PF Opiner !

Well, you are correct about this issue
being far from settled. What I did say
is that regardless of the interpretation
the currently accepted theory of QM does not
allow for classical determinism and hence
classical causality. Not just due to the
HUP and wave-particle duality but also due to
lack of individuality - identity (and perhaps
other principles I'm a bit too tired to
remember right now, sorry).

Live long and prosper.
 

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