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What does modern physics say about uncaused effects

  1. Jan 20, 2007 #1
    What does modern physics say about "uncaused" effects

    The old Cosmological argument says that everywhere we see an effect like motion or change we see a cause. This is a useful way of looking at everyday things. It goes on to say that regressing they form a chain. This is something we experience and take for granted. The argument goes on to say that they can't go on forever, and that we must stop at one and only one uncaused cause. I can see no reason to assume that they can't go on forever or stop at any single uncaused cause.

    I don't really know a lot of physics. I wonder if current physics has any bearing on this question? First of all, even though we may not readily see them there might be many 'effects' with no known cause. But it would be pointless to argue if every motion we ever observe has a cause. I've heard about quantum fluctuations and people have claimed that energy sporadically appears and dissapears. I suppose it's open to a lot of interpretation, but I wonder if this is something like a 'effect' without known causes. Then there is the big bang. To a lay person such as myself it kind of looks like you could trace everything back to a small set of causes. However I am aware that time and space don't follow our everyday intuition on that scale. Any thoughts that point me in the right direction would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 21, 2007 #2
    An effect or an event that has no cause is self-created since it does not depend on anything for its creation (by definition). Its production is independent of anything else that exists, independent of anything real. It literally appears out of nothing.

    The first question that springs to mind then is this: how often do self-created events occur? Being independent of anything real, there is no limit to the production of spontaneous effects. No rule established in the real domain can possibly determine or calculate or control their rate of production since they are purely independent. Since science can only deal with the natural world, this becomes a matter of philosophy more than physics.

    We can still speculate. Given the complete absence of any restriction, it is not unreasonable to consider that if self-created events occur at all, they may very well occur with infinite frequency, in which case everything we observe is spontaneous. No room would remain for caused events, or they would be completely obliterated by the infinite number of spontaneous effects anyway. The laws of nature as described by scientific theories must therefore be coincidental correlations more than true laws: there cannot be any without true causes and effects. In an infinite reality of purely self-generated events, the probability of a world like ours at one time or another is actually a certainty: infinite possibilities exist, ours is just one of them. We happen to be part of the current coincidence, which can end at any moment. No worry, we might not even notice if it spontaneously ends.
  4. Jan 22, 2007 #3
    It would be enlightening if you could explain HOW something could literally appear out of nothing. I could accept that something can appear from 'nothing' that consists of something that we do not understand or cannot detect, but appearing from 'nothing-nothing' does not compute because it negates the meaning of nothing.
  5. Jan 22, 2007 #4
    I want to start over. Are any uncaused causes known to physics? That is are there anything that causes changes, motions, etc. that we can observe that we have no reason to think was itself caused by anything itself?
  6. Jan 22, 2007 #5
    No kidding. But any explanation could only be a fable. If something can occur without a cause then you cannot possibly describe HOW it happens. What would you state as a cause when the premise is that there isn't one? What process could you describe that involves nothing?

    Of course this is not what the OP is asking. The question is not about causes we have not yet identified but about events that literally have no cause.

    Actually it doesn't, it only negates the universality of cause and effect relationships. There is no irrefutable proof that all events must have a cause, only spectacularly consistent evicence of this. It is proof enough for most reasonable scientists, but truly revolutionary theories are not produced by reasonable people who are content to accept the common sense of the day.

    You may want to ask this in the quantum mechanics section of the forum. I understand that certain quantum theories involve something of that nature.
  7. Jan 22, 2007 #6
    Yes. Every quantum event is like that (as far as we can tell <-- edit). We cannot cause them to occur but only determine their probability of occurring.

    It makes sense that there must be uncaused events otherwise every event/cause would rest upon an infinite regress of preceding causes or there would exist closed causal loops.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2007
  8. Jan 22, 2007 #7
    It may appear "like" that, but how can we rule out the possibility of an unknown cause for these unpredictable quantum events? Not by their unpredictable nature since it may just be our failure to grasp the underlying cause. Also, if we can calculate probabilities under various conditions, then at least some degree of predictability applies, which in turn suggests that quantum events indeed have causes, albeit of an unknown nature.

    How do we know we are not in an endless loop of epic proportions? Big-Bang, Big-Crunch, Repeat. It would not bother me.
  9. Jan 23, 2007 #8
    The problem is if we identified an event that literally had no cause we could never know that it had no cause. We will never be sure we have identified the smallest thing(s) in the universe and therefore we will never know if there is something we do not know about has caused the event. We can, however, believe things that we will never know.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2007
  10. Jan 23, 2007 #9
    Indeed. When we cannot reconcile an event with its cause according to our current set of theories, we have two possibilities: either the event was self-created or our set of theories is incomplete. Scientists assume the latter and get to work to try to find more theories. Non-scientists just go play football. Both approaches have merit. :smile:

    Yes. People tend to believe whatever makes them feel better.
  11. Jan 23, 2007 #10
    An excellent piece of sophistry. Perhaps one should not confuse the concept of nothing-something with the concept of cause-noncause or the concept of being-nonbeing.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2007
  12. Jan 23, 2007 #11
    Say, it's a short accusation. Do you care to explain instead in which part of my statement you think there's a trick?
  13. Jan 24, 2007 #12
    I can think of at least two uncaused events.
    Virtual particles being spontaneously generated in a vacuum and radioactive decay. Another possibility is proton decay.
  14. Jan 25, 2007 #13
    the issue is not how you can get creation ex nihilo- the issue is with the concept of Nothing: nequaquam vacuum- nowhere a void- the Universe Exists- therefore Nothing does not [and if Nothing did exist it would not by definition!] Nothing is Not- the idea of Nothing is very anthropomorphic and only a relational idea- you cannot imagine that there was some form of Nothing in which the Universe emerged through self-creation- the Universe exists-

    so you are only left with the Prime Question of "why is there Something rather than Nothing?" the question :"how did something arise from nothing?" doesn't work
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2007
  15. Jan 25, 2007 #14
    It seems that we have Something and Nothing. The only plausible answer is there has always been Something and Nothing. But Why? or How? We do not yet know.
  16. Jan 25, 2007 #15
    If one claims that an event (or anything else) can come from or originate from literally nothing (as opposed to apparently nothing) and presents no real evidence that it can happen and refuses to even speculate on How it might happen, then faith, dogma, or sophistry are the only ways to support that claim.
  17. Jan 26, 2007 #16
    Ah, so you criticized me for a claim I didn't make. I didn't say that uncaused events truly happen, or that they do not happen. I see no evidence either way. I even doubt that proof can be produced either way. Since the topic of this discussion is uncaused events then the first thing to do is clarify what they are if we hope to understand anything. Read my posts again and you will see that this is what I was doing. I also speculated as an aside (and said that this is what I was doing).

    Uncaused events are fairly simple: they have no cause. I see no need to debate the meaning of nothing versus something and other philosophical squabbles. If you want to analyze something that isn't there then go ahead but I don't see how you can describe what isn't and what it doesn't do. So when you ask me HOW uncaused events happen then you waste a question. It's not sophistry, just common sense.

    Now, Royce cited two such "uncaused" events: generation of virtual particles and radioactive decay. I believe the theories that mention these are simply models that are useful to describe some behaviour. A real cause for these is probably not even of concern to the theories in question which work perfectly well without the need to specify any. I don't think the theory literally claims that the events have no cause of any kind but simply disregard the matter as unnecessary using Occam's razor. Royce or any other quantum theorist can correct me if I'm mistaken.
  18. Jan 26, 2007 #17
    I guess it is better to state that there is Something AND Nothing, and that the question as to "why is there something rather then nothing" is pure sophistry, since the question already treats something and nothing (or, better termed: being and nonbeing) as absolutely seperate, and not in their unity, which is becoming.
    A statement or argument that is using a baseless assumption [which insists on treating being and nonbeing as absolutely seperate and which therefore do not form a unity of becoming, and in such way, that a begin of something, or becoming, becomes incomprehensible] is not dialectics but sophistry.

  19. Jan 26, 2007 #18


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    Four words: Bell's Hidden Variables Theorem.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that...

    quantum events (such as decay) do indeed happen spontaneously, without a cause, we can measure them and predict them, but QM is based upon the acceptance that it cannot be explained how or why.It is critical to note that it is not a matter of "we don't know yet", it is a mtter of there CANNOT be causes we might not know about.

    See, as soon as QM was put forth and showed how bizarre some of these spontaneous phenomona are, the counterargument was put forth that there could be hidden variables that caused these things to happen - variables that we have not discovered yet.

    Alas, Bell came along. "[URL [Broken] theorem[/URL] elegantly and brilliantly shows that there CANNOT be variables which we are unaware of. If there were, we would not see the results we see.

    His theorem has been called by some as "the most profound in science".
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  20. Jan 26, 2007 #19
    I am not using baseless assumptions. I am using definitions. I do not believe nonbeing and nothing are precisely the same. It is for sure that they are not the same words and probably produce slightly different neurological reponses during cognitive processing. It is easy to conjure up some mystical method of nonbeing transmuting into being, but it is logically and semanticly impossible for pure, literal nothing to changes to something. If 'nothing' has the ability to change to something, then that ability to change is something, and that 'nothing' was really something. Its OK to believe that Hegel is the path to enlightment but I believe that philosophy should be written as plainly and precisely as possible.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2007
  21. Jan 26, 2007 #20
    It appears that Bell's Theorem has become Bell's Law. I think I will wait until we understand how gravity works before I accept the proposition that we know everything.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
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