• mew
    51
    Hi, I'm reading a book called "The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself" by a scientist named Sean Carroll and I want your opinions as there are many things I'm not sure I understand. He writes...

    The strangeness evaporates once we appreciate the substantial difference between the kind of relationship of the past to the future that we get from the laws of physics, and the kind we usually think of as cause and effect. The laws of physics take the form of rigid patterns: if the ball is at a certain position and has a certain velocity at a certain time, the laws will tell you what the position and velocity will be a moment later, and what they were a moment before.

    When we think about cause and effect, by contrast, we single out certain events as uniquely responsible for events that come afterward, as “making them happen.” That’s not quite how the laws of physics work; events simply are arranged in a certain order, with no special responsibility attributed to one over any of the others. We can’t pick out one moment, or a particular aspect of any one moment, and identify it as “the cause.” Different moments in time in the history of the universe follow each other, according to some pattern, but no one moment causes any other.

    Certainly when we speak of the actions taken by human beings, we like to assign credit or blame to them; that won’t work if we can’t even say that their actions caused any particular outcome. Causality provides a very useful way of talking in our everyday lives

    I don't really understand this. Causes do not exist but nevertheless we use them to assign credit or blame? If there are no causes, we are wrong to assign credit or blame but we do it because it's "useful"?

    Also, he says...

    The world is what exists and what happens, but we gain enormous insight by talking about it—telling its story—in different ways

    Within poetic naturalism we can distinguish among three different kinds of stories we can tell about the world. There is the deepest, most fundamental description we can imagine—the whole universe, exactly described in every microscopic detail. Modern science doesn’t know what that description actually is right now, but we presume that there at least is such an underlying reality. Then there are “emergent” or “effective” descriptions, valid within some limited domain. That’s where we talk about ships and people, macroscopic collections of stuff that we group into individual entities as part of this higher-level vocabulary. Finally, there are values: concepts of right and wrong, purpose and duty, or beauty and ugliness. Unlike higher-level scientific descriptions, these are not determined by the scientific goal of fitting the data. We have other goals: we want to be good people, get along with others, and find meaning in our lives. Figuring out the best way to talk about the world is an important part of working toward those goals.

    But if "causes" is just a way of talking about the world who says that we want to do it only when it comes to human behavior? I think there are many scientists who do not speak about patterns at all, they speak about causes and why shouldn't they? If how we talk about things is based on what is useful, then for a modern atheist scientist like Mr. Carroll talking about patterns is the most useful way but that does not mean that this is the only way a scientist can talk about things. Other scientists might find it more useful to talk about causes.

    What do you think?
  • Accursius
    5
    Cause and effect implies a timeline that is congruent to our own. For the example of a ball travelling at x velocity in y circumstances, we perceive not only distance, but also the time in order to evaluate and project its course and location at a specific moment. I think what is most useful here is to take the assumption that everything happens at once. That is, time move forwards as easily as backwards, and it is only our perception and our conditioning to the scientific method that prevents the latter of these events from adhering to meaning. The ball has travelled in all locations already, but our mind's decipher meaning from the trajectory. My opinion on the underlying meaning is that the cause and effect is merely our interpretation of events, which are biased towards our own goals. An example is the results from any study being twisted to make multiple conclusions. The problem is that we cannot separate our mind from the analysis, and therefore by using causes, it only makes gives meaning to those who would agree with your perception. To delve a bit deeper, morality is constantly evolving, and not every country agrees with the death penalty. Only those who already agree with the death penalty can attribute a specific cause and effect with a crime.
  • mew
    51
    I think what is most useful here is to take the assumption that everything happens at once. That is, time move forwards as easily as backwardsAccursius

    Actually, Mr. Carroll says that time moves forward and it's practically unlikely to have backward processes, because of the second law of thermodynamics.

    Also, my question is about the distinction between patterns and causes. In this respect, these are the same, one event follows another. The difference is that in the first instance, we just have a specific pattern of events while on the other instance we have causes as well. And I was wondering that if there are multiple ways to talk about things and if we choose the way we talk about things based on our goals or on their usefulness, why should I prefer to talk about patterns (instead of causes) if the vocabulary of causes suits me better?
  • Accursius
    5
    Firstly, I would challenge you not to take Mr. Carroll's word as gospel, as much as any other person. I am no expert in the realm of thermodynamics, but as much as we see the science of the past as primitive, so might future generations look back on our own as such. There are many scientists in the corner of "time does not exist" to use such a bad cliche.

    In terms of patterns and causes I have to disagree in terms of one event following another. For example, if you look at twin studies, you will find people who were separated at birth who have chosen the same occupation, hairstyles, lifestyles etc. This is despite the multitudinous differences in their upbringing. That is, they have created a pattern beyond the distinctions that we would attribute to human behaviour, and done so without a common cause. If you will, the epicentre of the pattern does not rely on a known chain of events. When we speak of causes, we must also mention correlation. Ice cream sales increase at the same time that shark attacks do. Do we blame ice cream for shark attacks? Or do we see that in Summer more people eat ice cream and swim in the ocean. In this way you cannot talk of patterns in the same light as causes. One is tied to a definite origin, where the other is the result of variety.
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    Professor Carroll, I think.

    The strangeness evaporates once we appreciate the substantial difference between the kind of relationship of the past to the future that we get from the laws of physics, and the kind we usually think of as cause and effect — Sean Carroll

    I think what he is referring to is the fact that the equations of physics are independent of time, in other words, time is not fundamental to the picture that physics provides. When he says ' Causality provides a very useful way of talking in our everyday lives', he might mean that causality is in some sense a 'useful fiction', i.e. even though it is not represented by the equations of physics, it is indispensable when it comes to living life. A matter of 'practical wisdom', you might say. That seems to be what he's saying in the next paragraph:

    There is the deepest, most fundamental description we can imagine—the whole universe, exactly described in every microscopic detail

    I think he's saying that this is what is the most fundamental reality, and that other 'ways of speaking' are effective within other 'domains' - like those of values, or of economics and the social sciences.

    None of that means that scientist can't speak in relation to those other domains. But I think the inference is that on 'the deepest level', the physical description is the ground of the other levels - that they 'emerge' from it, or 'supervene' on it, but that is the fundamental reality.

    Incidentally, a review of the book is here,
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k


    Quoting Carroll, here...

    The world is what exists and what happens

    Does he ever fully explain what he means by this? This reads super vaguely.

    but we gain enormous insight by talking about it—telling its story—in different ways

    Yet, the same man who just wrote the above is also vehemently against the many religious traditions that, unfortunately for him, tell a similar story in a multitude of different ways! Not to mention that he's glossed over idealist philosophy, and even poetry, art, etc. It seems he has, rather predictably, tried to pigeon-hole science into being the "story" which alone grounds our understanding of material reality, and causality is but a construct which which humans use in order to facilitate said story.

    I think there are many scientists who do not speak about patterns at all, they speak about causes and why shouldn't they? If how we talk about things is based on what is useful, then for a modern atheist scientist like Mr. Carroll talking about patterns is the most useful way but that does not mean that this is the only way a scientist can talk about things. Other scientists might find it more useful to talk about causes.mew

    I'd argue that patterns indicate causes, and vice versa. Neither patterns, nor causes, exist in a microcosm. Though, does Carroll provide a measure for what constitutes greater and lesser degrees of usefulness? Perhaps I've glazed over that, but unless there's some sort of ethic, let's say, then who's to say whether Carroll's story of scientific inquiry is, in fact, useful, and not useless?
  • mcdoodle
    1k
    Laws happen in a universe where laws are It. An imaginary universe of ceteris paribus. When a law meets an event outside its purview - a fly lands on a billiard ball - then the two worlds collide. Then the lawmaker says, the fly caused the deviation from my lovely law. I think Carroll's is foolish talk, for the most profound knowledge lies in poetry, music and art, and scientific knowledge is itself marvellous but not all-encompassing.
  • tom
    1.5k
    I'd argue that patterns indicate causes, and vice versa.Heister Eggcart

    You mean like night follows day follows night? Which one is the cause of the other?
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    Neither...or both? Night and day exist in a relationship. When one goes, the other goes.
  • tom
    1.5k


    Why could neither Hume nor Russell could find causality anywhere in Reality? What did they miss?
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    Because the idea of the first cause is a toilsome one.
  • tom
    1.5k


    I see, it's philosophy and physics vs your religious prejudices.
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    I have religious prejudices?
  • tom
    1.5k


    If there is no cause, then how can there be a first cause, absent religion?
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    Why could neither Hume nor Russell could find causality anywhere in Reality? What did they miss?tom

    Kant, 'who rescues the a priori origin of the pure concepts of the understanding and the validity of the general laws of nature as laws of the understanding, in such a way that their use is limited only to experience, because their possibility has its ground merely in the relation of the understanding to experience; however, not in such a way that they are derived from experience, but that experience is derived from them.' (SEP)

    To paraphrase, even though the principle of causality can't be demonstrated empirically, the operations of thought are predicated on its reality. In other words, reason cannot proceed without it, and insofar as we know things by way of reason, then we must presume causal relationships, in the absence of which, scientific analysis would not be able to proceed (bolded passage in the above.)
  • tom
    1.5k
    To paraphrase, even though the principle of causality can't be demonstrated empirically, the operations of thought are predicated on its reality. In other words, reason cannot proceed without it, and insofar as we know things by way of reason, then we must presume causal relationships, in the absence of which, scientific analysis would not be able to proceed.Wayfarer

    But the point is the laws of physics say otherwise, and somehow scientists are able to discover them and reason about them and use them. The laws of physics agree with Hume and Russell.
  • Wayfarer
    10.9k
    Science would know nothing about laws without the ability to reason, and 'the ability to reason' is neither a product of, nor is expicable with reference to, the laws of physics.

    The deception of physicalism is that somehow reason supervenes on or can be derived from physical laws.
  • tom
    1.5k
    Science would know nothing about laws without the ability to reason, and 'the ability to reason' is neither a product of, nor is expicable with reference to, the laws of physics.Wayfarer

    And it would be a mistake to refer to "cause" in your reasoning if there is none. There is none.
  • mew
    51
    Does he ever fully explain what he means by this? This reads super vaguely.Heister Eggcart

    I think he means that there's no other realm, no supernatural realm, that the world exists by itself...

    The broader ontology typically associated with atheism is naturalism—there is only one world, the natural world, exhibiting patterns we call the “laws of nature,” and which is discoverable by the methods of science and empirical investigation. There is no separate realm of the supernatural, spiritual, or divine; nor is there any cosmic teleology or transcendent purpose inherent in the nature of the universe or in human life. “Life” and “consciousness” do not denote essences distinct from matter; they are ways of talking about phenomena that emerge from the interplay of extraordinarily complex systems. Purpose and meaning in life arise through fundamentally human acts of creation, rather than being derived from anything outside ourselves. Naturalism is a philosophy of unity and patterns, describing all of reality as a seamless web
    Yet, the same man who just wrote the above is also vehemently against the many religious traditions that, unfortunately for him, tell a similar story in a multitude of different ways!Heister Eggcart

    I think this might be because he thinks that it goes against his second point...

    -There are many ways of talking about the world.
    -All good ways of talking must be consistent with one another and with the world.
    -Our purposes in the moment determine the best way of talking.

    Though, does Carroll provide a measure for what constitutes greater and lesser degrees of usefulness?Heister Eggcart

    I'm not sure, I still haven't reached very far but this is what he says...

    I’m going to argue for a different view: our fundamental ontology, the best way we have of talking about the world at the deepest level, is extremely sparse. But many concepts that are part of non-fundamental ways we have of talking about the world—useful ideas describing higher-level, macroscopic reality—deserve to be called “real.” The key word there is “useful.” There are certainly non-useful ways of talking about the world. In scientific contexts, we refer to such non-useful ways as “wrong” or “false.” A way of talking isn’t just a list of concepts; it will generally include a set of rules for using them, and relationships among them. Every scientific theory is a way of talking about the world... Today, we would say that Kepler’s theory is fairly useful in certain circumstances, but it’s not as useful as Newton’s, which in turn isn’t as broadly useful as Einstein’s general theory of relativity

    What we’re seeing is a manifestation of the layered nature of our descriptions of reality. At the deepest level we currently know about, the basic notions are things like “spacetime,” “quantum fields,” “equations of motion,” and “interactions.” No causes, whether material, formal, efficient, or final. But there are levels on top of that, where the vocabulary changes. Indeed, it’s possible to recover pieces of Aristotle’s physics quantitatively, as limits of Newtonian mechanics in an appropriate regime, where dissipation and friction are central. (Coffee cups do come to a stop, after all.) In the same way, it’s possible to understand why it’s so useful to refer to causes and effects in our everyday experience, even if they’re not present in the underlying equations. There are many different useful stories we have to tell about reality to get along in the world.

    So, I'm wondering who decides that it is only useful to consider causes "real" at a higher level and not at the fundamental level too? As I said, I think that it is useful to Mr. Carroll because he thinks it fits his atheist/naturalist view better, but if someone does not have that view, then it might not be useful to get rid of causes at the fundamental level. If usefulness determines the reality of things, then doesn't it follow that different people who find different things useful (in order "to get along in the world") will talk about the world differently? After all, talking about causes at the fundamental level, does not make predictions less accurate. Am I wrong???
  • mew
    51
    I think Carroll's is foolish talk, for the most profound knowledge lies in poetry, music and art, and scientific knowledge is itself marvellous but not all-encompassing.mcdoodle

    I think he recognizes that, he's quite clear about this point. My question is different. That if "usefulness" determines the way we talk about the world, then it is possible to talk about the fundamental (scientific) level in different ways. An example of this would be the issue of "causes" and "patterns". "Causes" can be useful to certain people on the fundamental level as well, not just on some "emergent" level.
  • mew
    51


    But there is non on all levels, so it is wrong to assign blame or credit, because noone of us is the cause of anything. Why can we ignore that there are no causes on some level while we can't ignore it on other levels?
  • tom
    1.5k

    I see, you seek to apportion blame.

    Accepting that everything obeys the laws of physics, and that there is no place for causality in these laws, does not mean that there are not equally true explanations at a higher level of emergence that employ the notion of causality.

    For example, consider a scientist who valued truth and the growth of knowledge above all else, who dedicated her life to her work. Do you think that explanation for the physical changes to reality is less fundamental than a description of what happened in terms of atoms? Can you even explain her discoveries in terms of atoms?
  • mew
    51
    So, are there causes at higher levels? It is not just a way we talk about things because it's useful to us?
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    I think he means that there's no other realm, no supernatural realm, that the world exists by itself...mew

    Perhaps this is why he feels the need to remove causation, otherwise he'd have to explain how exactly the world came to be.

    “Life” and “consciousness” do not denote essences distinct from matter; they are ways of talking about phenomena that emerge from the interplay of extraordinarily complex systems.

    >:O

    -There are many ways of talking about the world.
    -All good ways of talking must be consistent with one another and with the world.
    -Our purposes in the moment determine the best way of talking.

    Wait, wait, wait, you just quoted him as saying...

    There is no separate realm of the supernatural, spiritual, or divine; nor is there any cosmic teleology or transcendent purpose inherent in the nature of the universe or in human life.

    So, our purpose is to determine the best way of talking about the world without there, however, being a transcendentally true purpose...So, how exactly, can one determine what is "best" if there is no end purpose?

    I’m going to argue for a different view: our fundamental ontology, the best way we have of talking about the world at the deepest level, is extremely sparse. But many concepts that are part of non-fundamental ways we have of talking about the world—useful ideas describing higher-level, macroscopic reality—deserve to be called “real.” The key word there is “useful.” There are certainly non-useful ways of talking about the world. In scientific contexts, we refer to such non-useful ways as “wrong” or “false.” A way of talking isn’t just a list of concepts; it will generally include a set of rules for using them, and relationships among them. Every scientific theory is a way of talking about the world... Today, we would say that Kepler’s theory is fairly useful in certain circumstances, but it’s not as useful as Newton’s, which in turn isn’t as broadly useful as Einstein’s general theory of relativity

    Carroll seems to be more interested in whether something is useful or not rather than if something contains the truth. For example, x, y, or z scientific theory may not be true, but if it's regarded as useful, then that's all that matters, Carroll might argue...right?

    If usefulness determines the reality of things, then doesn't it follow that different people who find different things useful (in order "to get along in the world") will talk about the world differently? After all, talking about causes at the fundamental level, does not make predictions less accurate. Am I wrong?mew

    Okay, let's run with that. If usefulness determines reality, what else, besides reality, can determine what is useful? To write another way, what is x in the following?

    x > usefulness > reality

    How might Carroll answer that, or you?
  • tom
    1.5k
    So, our purpose is to determine the best way of talking about the world without there, however, being a transcendentally true purpose...So, how exactly, can one determine what is "best" if there is no end purpose?Heister Eggcart

    It's the one we are left with after falsifying or refuting all other ideas.
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    Falsifying and refuting doesn't leave the truth left over.
  • tom
    1.5k
    Error correction is the only known way to make progress towards what is true.
  • Buxtebuddha
    1.8k
    Error correction? You're assuming there's such a thing as progress firstly, and secondly, that uncovering facts = discovering truth.
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