William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

What Is Cause Like?

Mine didn't have the white stripe.

Mine didn’t have the white stripe, and was one model year earlier.

Time for the two-week teaching sojourn.

In order to grasp cause, we need a brief, a very brief, introduction to the Aristotelian metaphysics of change. These are ancient views, largely abandoned in moderns, but becoming current one again. Philosophers like Nancy Cartwright, Ed Feser, and others are restoring a full philosophy of causation back to the sciences. This is a précis of Feser’s Scholastic Metaphysics. Full arguments are not given here; interested readers should follow up with the authors mentioned.

Contingent things exist as composites of act and potency, or actuality and potentiality. A lump of clay is potentially a vase. A lump of clay is not potentially a 1965 Barracuda with a 278 (a weepingly beautiful automobile) nor is it potentially a stereo. A vase is in potentia to being a pile of shards. A vase is in actuality a vase, and a lump of clay is in actuality a lump of clay. The reader is in potentia to receiving a salary of fifty-thousand a year, unless he already possess that trait, and is therefore in actuality receiving it. And so on.

Some thing or things must cause every potentiality to be an actuality, must cause every change. A potter, say, is required to turn the potential vase in a lump of clay into a vase, while a child can actualize the shards which are in potentia in that vase. Feser (p.33) : “These potentialities or potencies are real features…even if they are not actualities.” Potentialities exist. The number of numbers between 0 and 1 is potentially infinite, but not actually infinite in practice, a fact which has special consequences in measurement.

Whatever is changed, is changed by another: whatever is in potential, is made actual only by something actual. Whatever cannot be changed, is not changed. (Don’t skip that sentence.) It is not the lump’s potential to be a vase that turns it in into a vase, it is an actual potter. The potter uses his power of making a vase; his hands are the efficient cause. Clearly, the potter has the power to make the vase even when he is not making it (say, when he’s taking his Barracuda out for a spin). Aquinas said “nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality” (Summa Theologiae I.2.3; quoted in Feser). This is the principle of causality which I take as axiomatic and necessary to do any science. Things do not happen without causes.

Science deals with the contingent: (p. 106) a “contingent thing is such that its existence is distinct from its essence, where its essence is in potency relative to its existence, which actualizes it…To cause a contingent thing is thus to actualize a potency…whatever is contingent has a cause…” which is everything in science. This is not to say that everything has a cause; only that contingent things do.

A child throws a ball and it hits the vase. As the ball hits, the vase buckles; as the ball hits, the vase begins to break. The “event” is the ball-hitting-vase, and it is simultaneous, which is not to say instantaneous. The ball hitting and the vase buckling happen through a short period of time; they are not different events “entirely loose and separate”, to use Hume’s mistaken phrase. It is not because we “happen” to see, or “chance” upon the spectacle of ball-hitting-vase that we know the ball caused the vase to break. It is because we learn, via induction, that balls traveling at sufficient speed have the power to break vases of this certain type. It is the vase’s nature to break when hit by balls like that under these circumstances. We are back to essence. Understanding essence and powers is to understand cause.

Many modern authors put this the wrong way, saying first the ball hits then the vase breaks. This is not so. There are not two separate events, but one joint event, spread through time. This point is crucial. It is difficult to find modern examples where distinctness in events and separateness in time is not assumed. The mistake leads to some curious views indeed. An example is in Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin’s The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy which proposes the “laws” of nature change through time, but which leaves out what these causes are.

Of course, that the ball-hitting-vase is spread through time, however brief, does not mean that all events are. Certain quantum mechanical events are thought to be instantaneous. But that merely confirms the view that we are not witnessing “loose and separate” events, but joint ones.

Knowing the ball was the efficient cause of the vase breaking is not the whole story, though it is enough for most (it was for my mother). There are all sorts of forces involved, including the ball’s momentum, friction, elasticity of both objects, and so forth. These are not necessary to understand to say the ball caused the break. These additional forces can be investigated to form a deeper understanding of the precise mechanisms. Each of these investigations are no different in spirit than the gross (my mother’s) version. The essence and powers of the forces involved are understood to be causes. But there are limits.

Let’s investigate the joint event more closely. The ball and vase are not monoliths, but composed of smaller parts. As the ball pushes into the vase, the molecules of the ball and vase are themselves undergoing change. These changes, which are actualizations of potentials, are caused by something actual, which are the atoms in the molecules. These are also undergoing change, which are again actualizations of potentials, and are also caused by something actual. This might be the interactions of the constituents of the atoms, the electrons, protons, and nuetrons, which are also undergoing change. More actualizations of potentials caused by other somethings which are actual. These may be quarks, which are themselves pushed about by (say) actual strings (or super-strings or God knows what), which themselves, perhaps, are caused to change by something below those. All of this is happening here-and-now, simultaneously, but again not necessarily instantaneously. This is called a per se times series, or a per se series of events in the here-and-now time.

But you can see that this process cannot continue to infinity. It must bottom out, or nothing can ever get moving; no changes could ever be made. There must be some “first cause” or “first mover” or “changer”. This first cause must be entirely actual and have no potential. It is what makes all “bottom” potentialities actual. It is responsible for every contingent event, at base. This is the prime or primary cause, which is ever-present. Science is and must forever be ignorant of this cause. It is a handy explanation of quantum mechanical EPR-like events, or whatever is “beneath” them.

All of the other here-and-now causes—string into quark into protons into etc.—are secondary causes. All have powers and essences, and it is the goal of science to understand these.

There is another type of causal series, this one distinct in time, an accidental series. The classic, and really perfect, example is that a grandfather caused his son to be made and he, your father, caused you to be made. This doesn’t stop with your grandfather, naturally, but continues along a string into the past. Remove one of the knots in the string, i.e. remove one of the causes, and you would not be reading this now.

Unfortunately, in practice, data analysts often compile accidental series as if they were causal. Example: yearly (or monthly or daily) average temperature (or sales figures, etc.). Last year’s average did not and could not cause this year’s average. Results? Misascribed causes and wild over-certainty. I leave discussion of these accidents until later.

79 Comments

  1. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 15, 2015 at 9:16 am

    There are not two separate events, but one joint event, spread through time.

    Whitehead said much the same thing in his book The Principle of Relativity. There are no “point-events” in physics, even when it is computationally convenient to treat them as such. (Orbital dynamics would be ever so much more complicated if we had to integrate over the entire volumes of the ponderable bodies rather than treat Earth and Sun as point-sources.)

  2. Very nicely done. Beautifully explained.

  3. G Boggs said: Very nicely done. Beautifully explained.
    Well said G Boggs

    The number of numbers between 0 and 1 is potentially infinite, but not actually infinite in practice

    Does a Mathematical Proof actualize this?

    Knowing the ball was the efficient cause of the vase breaking is not the whole story, though it is enough for most (it was for my mother).

    Briggs, you remind me, I was half-asleep on the couch, heard my daughter come in, heard some clattering noises followed by a tinkling sound.

    I heard an “uh oh!” and my daughter left the room.

    I finally roused myself, went over to the original source of the sound, and found a brick-a-brack in pieces on the floor.

    I called to my daughter, whom we’d apparently been drilling on the names of shapes, because when I picked up a largish piece to show her and asked sternly, “What’s this?”

    She looked carefully and said brightly, “That’s a triangle, Dad!”

    Guess who got away with a travesty of justice? Even when my wife got home and I related the story, the only one she could punish was me for taking an unscheduled nap.

  4. John B(),
    Smart kid. My young cousin once broke a lamp and the only excuse he could offer was a speculative “maybe some bears came in and doed it.”

    Briggs,
    Can you elaborate on what distinguishes an accidental from a non-accidental causal series? Doesn’t removing one in a series of causes and thereby resulting in termination apply to all strings? I’m not getting the distinction for acccidental.

  5. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 15, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    In an accidental series, any member of the series can vanish and subsequent members retain the power to act. Hence, if your grandfather were to have died, you would still retain the power of generating a son. Whereas, if Tiger Woods were to vanish, his golf clubs would have no power to drive the ball. That is, in an essentially-ordered seried, each member receives its powers from the concurrent action of a higher priority actor.

  6. Thanks, YOS. IOW, the secondary cause must have the ability to cause a tertiary action on its own initiative and not be acting merely as an agent transferring power from a primary cause. Tiger’s club can’t whack a golf ball all on their own.

  7. Yes, well…

    re your comment:
    “Many modern authors put this the wrong way, saying first the ball hits then the vase breaks. This is not so. There are not two separate events, but one joint event, spread through time. This point is crucial. It is difficult to find modern examples where distinctness in events and separateness in time is not assumed”

    1) of course these are separate events (imagine a super high speed camera);

    2) however.. our 13 year old is working on his 1st dan (Wadoryu) and one the hardest things to get him to understand and do is that techniques consisting of multiple actions should appear (and be done) as one action, not as a mechancial sequence of separate actions. I keep telling him he has to go from A to B without a(i) but the intuitive understanding needed is still missing.

    There is a large body of thought on this – but, of course, it’s art, not science – see 1 above.

  8. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 15, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    “Hitting” is not a single “event” (whatever that is). As Whitehead noted, in physics such things are spread out over an interval and are not instantaneous. There is, for example, no first instant at which the vase cracks. Suppose the vase is cracked, then the crack is of a certain length. But then there must have been a prior instant in which the crack as half that length; etc. Just so, there is no last instant at which the ball is not in contact with the vase. Suppose the ball is not in contact with the vase. Then there is a distance that separates them, and so there is a later instant in which they are separated by half as much; etc. But since there is no last instant in which the ball and vase are separated and no first instant in which the vase is cracked, there is no reason to separate the two into separate “events.”

  9. This idea of ‘essences’ immediately disintegrates into incoherent nonsense after a few moments of reflection. The ancient and useless concept of ‘essence’ is defended because Aristotle et al., are the intellectual fathers of the Church, and the Church and The Religion *must* be defended even if the cause is lost.

    What is the ball? What is the vase? These are collections of atoms lumped and grouped in certain ways surrounded by less dense matter. They are not realizations of platonic forms, they are lumps of matter shaped a certain way and labelled by a human mind. We know this now, this is not a debatable topic. So let’s move on from this ancient nonsense. Deciding that the ball contained the potentiality to ‘break’ the vase is an arbitrary projection of a human mind. What gave the ball its kinetic energy? Where did that energy come from? Ultimately there are no cut off between events. All causes blur into events Ad infinitum. At best you can begin your study at a point in time.

    So one modern view is that events are some studied fraction of the geometry or architecture of reality.* Everything is connected to everything else in the modern view. We gained insight into this from Einstein’s view of gravity. In a like manner, this view is bolstered by theories that our universe may be a holographic projection. If you don’t like the word geometry then another way to view the matter is to consider the universe as computation. Does 1 have the ‘potentiality’ of 2? No. But 1 + 1 = 2, but unfortunately 1 – 1 = 0. If ‘1’ has potentiality it is a very useless sort of potentiality. Where everything is the potential of everything else. Hence, why this archaic Aristotelian nonsense was tossed away and also why it won’t be making a serious come back, except in religious circles and even then, nobody will pay attention. Intellectual honesty is always admired in philosophy over religious conviction.

    (For all the cleverness of a Ed Feser, who clearly has a brilliant mind, nothing he says or writes is ultimately of any importance, because he has tasked himself with reframing difficult problems in less useful ways, rather than in breaking new ground intellectually. Of course, that is easier said than done.)

    *There are alternative modern views, which I feel are philosophically as nonsensical as Aristotelian views. But this comment is already too long.

  10. Not much given to philosophysing but a lump of clay is not a potential vase. It can sure be made into a vase, but the form a of a vase is in no-way latent in the clay, so cannot be potentiated.

  11. Briggs

    June 15, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    ad,

    You’re right. You’re not given to much philosophizing.

    YOS,

    Thanks as always, brother. And I hope you’re healing up.

    I have a copy of the document we’re all anticipating. I’m on it.

  12. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 15, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    This idea of ‘essences’ immediately disintegrates into incoherent nonsense after a few moments of reflection.

    Jeez, I hope not. Otherwise, you’d not be able to tell a hawk from a handsaw, even were the wind southerly.

    What is the ball? What is the vase?

    See?

    These are collections of atoms lumped and grouped in certain ways surrounded by less dense matter.

    So? When you wrote: lumped and grouped in certain ways, you were grasping their essences, which are inter alia the certain ways in which stuff is grouped.

    Technically, however, only things have essences. Heaps do not and artifacts obtain their essences/forms by artifice. Some further thoughts here, esp III et seq.:
    http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/Forms.html

    Everything is connected to everything else in the modern view. … In a like manner, this view is bolstered by theories that our universe may be a holographic projection.

    Which is why you go into your wind up and throw a vase at the batter, on the grounds that it is just a continuation of the ball? A very useless sort of concept, where everything is everything else

    Of course, that everything is “connected” to everything else was believed by the ancients. We got astrology from the idea that the universe was a vast, inter-connected being. The notion of the world being a projection– shadows-on-a-cave-wall — goes back at least to Plato. These ideas are even more archaic than Aristotle!

    Does 1 have the ‘potentiality’ of 2? No. But 1 + 1 = 2, but unfortunately 1 – 1 = 0.

    It would be well to understand ‘potentiality’ before criticizing it. For example:

    a very useless sort of potentiality. Where everything is the potential of everything else.

    which is simply is not the case. Vide supra, “A lump of clay is not potentially a 1965 Barracuda with a 278 … nor is it potentially a stereo. ”

    A set of building materials has the potential to become a house. It also has the potential to become a barn for storing grain, a scaffold for dealing with impertinent comm boxers, a grandstand for others to watch the aforesaid entertainment, or it may remain a set of building materials. It does not have the potential to become an aardvark, so it’s not Heraclitus’ “Anything Goes” or “everything is the potential of everything else.”

    When construction begins, the “wave function” of all those various potentialities collapses to a particular potential aimed at the one particular end. This is the first act: the potency becomes an “actual potency.” The second act is when the process reaches its equilibrium state (“final cause”): the house is actually finished. Hence, the distinction between “building” as the participle of a verb and “building” as a noun.

    Between the first and second acts there is an intermission.

    Ho ho, YOS jests. Between the first and second acts is what Aristotle called ‘motion’ or kinesis. (Cf., the distinction between potential energy and kinetic energy.)

  13. Sander van der Wal

    June 16, 2015 at 12:15 am

    A hydrogen atom can have its electron in an exited state. A photon with just the right amount of energy can put that electron there. Hence a hydrogen electorn is actually in its ground state and in potential in one of it exited states. And the cause of the exited state is the photon. This is all clear.

    The atom can also fall back to its ground state ‘just like that’. There is nothing doing it, like the photon putting it in an exited state.

    If you define cause as the thing that moves another thing form its actual state to a potential state (which becomes the actual state) then the move from the exited state to the ground state is “uncaused”.

  14. The reason why the ‘modern’ view ( and by ‘modern’ I mean the actual modern, not the ‘pretend modern’ — the Cartesian view) is useful is because it can be demonstrated to be so. I can program a model to represent the real world. I can create a 3D simulation of a real world, inside a computer, for example. I can do this computationally. That doesn’t mean the model is the real world. It’s a simulation, but a simulation that produces a measurable result. The model has isomorphic properties. It tells us something.

    You can ramble on about ‘essences’ and this produces nothing but rambling. The rambling has gone on for nearly three thousand years and has produced nothing. These cranks are still debating the same nonsense that was debated three thousand years ago. Being able to BS in a way that mirrors actual thinking, and to convince the dim witted that you are doing thinking and not posing, is not hard to do. Any fool can do that.

  15. (As a side note, an actual modern view that I consider a nonsense view, is the quantum view. Naturally YOS latched onto this because I suppose nonsense mixes well with nonsense. Dr Brigg’s holds this view as a nonsense view, and on this point we both share exactly the same perspective.)

  16. Will, are you saying quantum mechanics is “nonsense”? If so, I’ll strongly disagree with you. There has been no case where a prediction made via the mathematical apparatus of quantum mechanics isn’t satisfied with a high degree of accuracy. On the other hand, interpretations of quantum mechanics–i.e. qualitative pictures made on the basis of our macroscopic experience are many (I think there are at least 17 in the Wikipedia article, and only one–the local real–has been disproved experimentally–the Bell’s Theorem experiments). As Feynman said (quoting roughly), “If someone says he understands quantum mechanics, don’t believe him”. And as Bernard d’Espagnat (involved in the Aspect experiments on Bell’s Theorem) would say, there is a veiled reality underlying quantum mechanics that can’t be satisfied by a totally realistic or totally idealistic picture of the world.

  17. Sander, you’re describing a “model”, a picture of what’s actually going on, which is not necessarily always the case. You could equally well describe it using quantum field theory, with creation and annihilation operators, and then there would be causal effects.

  18. @Will Nitschke:

    “You can ramble on about ‘essences’ and this produces nothing but rambling. The rambling has gone on for nearly three thousand years and has produced nothing. These cranks are still debating the same nonsense that was debated three thousand years ago. Being able to BS in a way that mirrors actual thinking, and to convince the dim witted that you are doing thinking and not posing, is not hard to do. Any fool can do that.”

    As YOS demonstrated you do not even grasp what potency is. So, by your own criteria, you are even less than a fool. And while admittedly your rambling has not gone on “for nearly three thousand years”, it has produced even less than “nothing”, being dull and tiresome in the extreme. One could not expect from a Hitchens the bare semblance of an argument, or even expect so much as actual knowledge, but he had real grace and wit, and knew how to entertain (he was a journalist after all). Rhetorical question: what are you good for?

    @Bob Kurland:

    “only one–the local real–has been disproved experimentally”

    Nitpicking, but there are some loopholes a “local realist” could still exploit like superdeterminism, so what you say is not strictly true.

  19. G. Rodrigues, you are of course correct, and this thought has occurred to me not only with respect to the Bell’s Theorem experiments, but the delayed choice experiments–if the observer is predetermined to select or not select one of the double slits then there’s no paradox.

  20. Sander van der Wal

    June 16, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    @Bob Kurland

    If you could be so kind as to elaborate. Apparently there is a cause for the collapse in a better theory, but what is it?

  21. Good question, Sander. The best way to represent the math of quantum electrodynamics intelligibly is by Feynman diagrams. Google “Feynman diagram for photon absorption” or look at http://www.quantumdiaries.org/tag/feynman-diagrams/

    If you look at these the photon absorption wavy line can represent a cause for the excited state of the electron, the straight line following the intersection of the photon line and the electron line.

    Even so the picture you described in your comment and the Feynman diagrams, or more complicated mathematics are MODELS–as the philosopher Nancy Cartwright would put it, “simulacra” to represent what actually goes on, and no more. So, to say they show or don’t show that causation occurs is not warranted.

  22. Bob Kurland,

    I never wrote anywhere that QM was nonsense. I wrote that philosophical theories about causality derived from QM are nonsense.

  23. Rodrigues,

    The problem is I have little interest in the nonsense you believe in, and for your information I’m not an expert in: Dianetics, Naturopathy, Psychoanalysis, Homopathy any many other foolish things. A short aside: I’ve been a martial arts practitioner for many decades. The older styles claim that you need to study their techniques for 30 years and that you will acquire mystical fighting skills of various sorts. Once, I was not an expert in a certain style of Taekwondo. Yes I could have studied for 30 years their techniques, but instead I sparred with their fighters and beat everyone up. Matter decided. Their style was rubbish and all the yelling, screaming and name calling in the world about me being ‘ignorant’ of their techniques, is hardly something that held any weight by that stage. Much like your name calling and angry posturing.

  24. Will, I’ll quote: “an actual modern view that I consider a nonsense view, is the quantum view. ” … If you meant to say that views such as expounded in “What the Bleep” are nonsense, I’d agree with you. On the other hand Quantum mechanics forces constraints on what philosophical views are, in fact, reasonable. Read Bernard d”Espagnat’s “On Physics and Philosophy” or do a Google search “d’Espagnat physics philosophy”.

  25. Bob Kurland,

    I hope you appreciate that the comments made by most of us here (except those who inevitably go off topic) relate to the subject matter at hand, so need to be taken in that context. A reminder, this thread happens to be about, or should be about, the metaphysical basis of causality. As for your claim that QM ‘forces’ constraints on what philosophical views are reasonable, well as a generalization that statement is untrue or mostly untrue. If you have something specific in mind I might or might not agree, so spell it out if you wish to clarify.

  26. Will, I’d need a book to answer your question, and there are books. As I said, previously, Google d’Espagnat physics and philosophy.

  27. @Will Nitschke:

    “The problem is I have little interest in the nonsense you believe in, and for your information I’m not an expert in: Dianetics, Naturopathy, Psychoanalysis, Homopathy any many other foolish things.”

    I do not know why is this supposed to be a “problem” (maybe you are laboring under the delusion that I actually care about your opinion), but then go away and stop cluttering the combox with your bloviating. I presume you do not go into forums where these other things are discussed and, while frothing at the moth, call everyone a crank, a fool, show to everyone’s satisfaction you do not understand any of it and then add that you are not even so much as interested. Because it would be, among many other things, a supreme waste of time. So why should we suffer your particular brand of foolish and witless verbal diarrhea?

    “Much like your name calling and angry posturing.”

    One of the more ironic, and iconic, characteristics that you exhibit is the complete lack of self-awareness. I will re-quote what you said:

    “You can ramble on about ‘essences’ and this produces nothing but rambling. The rambling has gone on for nearly three thousand years and has produced nothing. These cranks are still debating the same nonsense that was debated three thousand years ago. Being able to BS in a way that mirrors actual thinking, and to convince the dim witted that you are doing thinking and not posing, is not hard to do. Any fool can do that.”

    Implied here are the following insults (or to borrow from you, “name calling and angry posturing”) at Aristotle, Aquinas, Briggs (the host and owner of the blog, to whom, one would guess, more respect is due), myself, and countless others: crank, BS’er, dim-witted, fool.

    Here is the thing: you really are an ignoramus. Your behavior is repellent. And when your cluelessness and stupidity is laid bare, you lash out in the usual, predictable manner. Our Lord taught us not to lay our pearls before swine; on the other hand he was silent about *throwing* them. Since rational discussion is all but impossible, expect sniping and, if the winds and a steady hand so favors me, a little bump in the forehead.

  28. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 17, 2015 at 8:36 am

    I’m not an expert in: Dianetics, Naturopathy, Psychoanalysis, Hom[e]opathy any many other foolish things

    That many things to which you give no credence are foolish does not imply that everything to which you give no credence is foolish. However, if one wished to detail the foolishness of [say] Dianetics, it would still be necessary to understand what its practitioners mean by it. Otherwise, one runs the risk of saying things like “evolution is foolish because dogs don’t turn into cats,” which shows only that the speaker does not understand what practitioners mean by an “evolution.”

  29. Sander van der Wal

    June 17, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    @Bob Kurland

    AFAICS, the Feynmann diagrams do not show what is causing the changes, like a photon turning into a electron-positron pair am then back into a photon. Whether this is a model is beside the point. The model, the theory, doesn’t show the causes. If these things are caused, then a better model would show them.

  30. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 17, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    Sure, it’s like Newton’s Laws don’t show what causes gravity.

    Partly, that may be due to an inadequate understanding of “cause.” Many people confuse “caused” with “predictable,” and may even balk at statistical predictability, demanding instead predictability of individual particulars.

  31. swordfishtrombone

    June 17, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    One flaw in the (my paraphrase) “everything is caused by something but that creates an infinite regress” argument is that everything is not “caused by something”. At a deep level, the universe simply isn’t classical in behavior. When a virtual particle-antiparticle pair spontaneously appears out of nothing near the event horizon of a black hole, one particle may fall in, the other may escape (Hawking radiation) where is the cause and effect in “appears out of nothing”?

  32. Rodrigues,

    Your style of ‘argument’ which is to spit and yell and name call, is very typical of the fanatical crank. You have no interest in engaging in argumentation and have never bothered to do. Your vitriol is full of projection. I’ve laid out various criticisms of Aristotelian thought, which of course, are never addressed. Two parallels spring to mind; the angry Marxist and the angry global warming activist. It’s all about feelings, not thoughts. No one is forcing you to read my comments and I gather even small children have some degree of impulse control ( that so far you’ve managed to fail to demonstrate). As a small aside, arguments from authority don’t work if your belief system has no general claim to authority. On matters scientific and philosophical, warming activists have the IPCC behind them. Marxists have Marx, which is equivalent to nothing (except to Marxists). The Church has moral standing in our society, but lost its scientific and philosophical credentials long ago (except to some Catholics).

  33. “When a virtual particle-antiparticle pair spontaneously appears out of nothing near the event horizon of a black hole, one particle may fall in, the other may escape (Hawking radiation) where is the cause and effect in “appears out of nothing””

    Here you assume your premise. Because you already believe that there are such things as particle-anti-particle pairs, and that they spontaneously appear out of nothing. How do you know? Your statement is only true if your assumptions are true, but you don’t know if your assumptions are true. Don’t confuse observations with explanations.

    We both agree that the underlying structure of reality is non classical. Good. But how do know it came out of nothing? How do you know the nothing is a nothing and not a something? The typical response to these sorts of questions goes along the lines of ‘well we don’t have better theories to explain what happened so this must be what happened…’ This is a fallacy known as an argument from ignorance.

    The particle only ‘came out of nothing’ because that is the only way the event might have been understood to have occurred in the classical sense. But you just admitted that the event is non classical. So why frame the event in classical terms if we know the event is non classical?

  34. By the way Bob, Swordfishtrombone elucidated in his comment exactly what I hinted at when I wrote about the ‘nonsense view of QM’.

    Please note: I’m not claiming Swordfishtrombone is talking nonsense or is deficient in intelligence. I don’t know if the fellow is of average intelligence or a genius. Very smart people view such questions the same way Swordfishtrombone views such questions.

    What I mean by the nonsense view is that we currently live in a intellectually parochial and philosophically bankrupt age.

  35. Sander, I agree and in fact was trying to say (not very well I guess) that models/pictures/simulacra/mathematical theories don’t really show “causes”. If you have a Feynman diagram with one axis a time axis and there is a new trajectory moving in the +t direction occurs after an intersection of two trajectories both moving in a +t direction, then one can impute a causal relation in the sense “post hoc, ergo propter hoc”. However, this criterion (using time as a measure for “post hoc”) is itself not secure, since there might be events A and B being post hoc on one timeline, and B and A post hoc on another.

  36. Will, if you’re saying there is a “veiled reality” underlying quantum mechanics then you agree with d’Espagnat. Or perhaps I misunderstood your last comment.

  37. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 17, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    Aquinas explicitly denies that everything has a cause. He held that “to be caused by another does not appertain to a being inasmuch as it is being; otherwise, every being would be caused by another, so that we should have to proceed to infinity in causes — an impossibility…” (Summa Contra Gentiles II.52.5). For writers like Aristotle, Plotinus, and Aquinas and other Scholastics, it is not the fact of something’s existence as such, or of its being a thing per se, that raises causal questions about it. It is only some limitation in a thing’s intrinsic intelligibility that does so — for example, the fact that it has potentials that need actualization, or that it is composed of parts which need to be combined, or that it merely participates in some feature, or that it is contingent in some respect. Hence these writers would never say that “everything has a cause.” What they would say is that every actualization of a potential has a cause
    — Edward Feser

  38. @Will Nitschke:

    “You have no interest in engaging in argumentation and have never bothered to do. Your vitriol is full of projection. I’ve laid out various criticisms of Aristotelian thought, which of course, are never addressed.”

    News flash: what you are doing is not “engaging in argumentation”. Complaining about “cranks [are] still debating the same nonsense that was debated three thousand years ago” is not an argument. Saying that you “have little interest in the nonsense [you] I believe in” is not a member of the set of valid “criticisms of Aristotelian thought”. To say that you are not “an expert in: Dianetics, Naturopathy, Psychoanalysis, Homopathy any many other foolish things”, while possibly an interesting personal detail for those that care about such things, does not further the discussion, or any discussion at all for that matter. To complain about my alleged unwillingness in “engaging in argumentation”, when your whole shtick, repeated ad nauseam in this and all the other threads, has been that there is nothing to argue about, is just one facet of your intellectually repellent behavior. To complain about my “vitriol” being “full of projection” is a delightful irony. Please, do inform me about my lack of “impulse control”. To date, that must have been your best and only “criticism[s] of Aristotelian thought”.

  39. Bob,

    “Will, if you’re saying there is a “veiled reality” underlying quantum mechanics then you agree with d’Espagnat. Or perhaps I misunderstood your last comment.”

    I don’t know who d’Espagnat is but I did read his Wiki profile which if it is accurate (it may not be), then he sounds more like a crank to me. Borderline, maybe. Winning the Templeton Prize is usually a bad sign. 😉

    Trying to fit QM into some sort of neo Hegelian framework sounds about as adept to me as YOS trying to make Aristotle compatible with QM.

    No, I don’t mean any of that sort of nonsense. Let’s state for the record that we should all be happy with QM as a set of observations. Whatever physical theory replaces the standard model (if or when that happens), it will have to incorporate every one of those observations in the same manner that Einstein subsumed Newton. By “nonsense” I make what should be an uncontroversial claim. (Although it isn’t among the philosophically illiterate.) That is, that the brick wall we have reached with QM is in fact a brick wall. The brick wall isn’t reality. It’s just another wall.

  40. Will, d’Espagnat played an important role in the experiments (Aspect was the prime investigator) testing Bell’s theorem. The last thing one might say about him was that he was a “crank”. He’s a brilliant physicist (with many honors besides the Templeton Prize) and a profound philosopher. You’re calling “a brick wall” what he’s calling “veiled reality”. And I think this is where further discussion will probably not be profitable to either of us.

  41. I fail to see why there is any enthusiasm for Edward Feser. He is a brilliant rhetorician, nothing more. His philosophical ideas are there to prop up his religious convictions. To wrap his feelings in intellectual cloth. They don’t stand on their own feet; they are nonsense. Of any interesting modern question or debate, Feser indulges in the cowardly practice of proffering a link or footnote. The link or footnote invariably pointing to a dead end or some old argument long rebutted.

    Of course, my comment is rhetorical also: we all know the answer to my question.

  42. Bob,

    Things aren’t black or white in the real world. Linus Pauling was a genius, but also a crank. One doesn’t preclude the other. So your argument makes no sense to me.

    You need to define what you mean by your phrase ‘veiled reality’. If you mean by it, that QM is not QM, that there are ‘hidden variables’ or some such, maybe there are or maybe there are not. But that’s not what I’m talking about. If by ‘veiled reality’ you mean we haven’t yet got a complete picture of reality, instead we understand some fraction of it, i.e., we don’t understand everything (is the universe a hologram, what is dark energy, how do we reconcile QM with gravity), then hopefully we’re on the same page and you’re not denying the existence of the veil. Most do, in some form, you know.

  43. Sander van der Wal

    June 18, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    If a photon is causing an electron to fall back to the ground state, why not postulate the existence of a new kind of particle (or field exitation, or whatever) that causes the electron to fall back to its ground state in the cases where it now appears to fall back uncaused?

  44. Sander, there are such in the mathematical language of quantum mechanics–they are virtual photons represented by annihilation and creation operators
    that are used to deal with the example you’re concerned with, spontaneous emission.

  45. swordfishtrombone

    June 18, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Will Nitschke,

    I’ve read your reply several times but am still not clear exactly what your objection to it is. I suspect that you don’t know either. You’re certainly reading too much into the phrase “appears out of nothing” which is just my handy description of something which can’t be visualised and which would probably best be described with a blackboard full of equations. I certainly didn’t imply that “nothing is a nothing” – I would have thought that QM self-evidently argues the opposite. I’m not clear if you’re suggesting some sort of “hidden variables” interpretation of QM – if you are, it’s almost certainly not in agreement with observation.

    “What I mean by the nonsense view is that we currently live in a intellectually parochial and philosophically bankrupt age”

    That is what you would expect to happen when our understanding of nature becomes more accurate.

  46. swordfishtrombone,

    I think the point of a hidden variables interpretation is that the question of observations becomes something of a moot point. If the variables were consistent with observations, they would not be hidden, would they?

    But leave that aside. The point I am actually making, which I am trying to lead you to (because that is the only way you have a chance of grasping it) is that things may appear out of nothing or physical objects may appear ‘uncaused’ because you are considering what is happening within the context of a classical framework. But you admit the observations are not consistent with a classical framework, so your mistake is to use the framing while admitting the framing is untenable. If you say the behaviour of individual photons are ‘uncaused’ (random) because that is consistent with observation, you made a fairly common mistake. For example, I can assert that the Sun does indeed travel around the Earth because that is consistent with my observations. The point being, observations are like everything else around us, subject to interpretation.

  47. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 18, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    If you say the behaviour of individual photons are ‘uncaused’ (random)

    “Random” is not “uncaused.”

    When there are more than a handful of factors (in gravitational theory, this is as few as three bodies!) the analytical methods of Modern science break down. In fact, the use of mathematical models on a few variables succeeds because we simplify using frictionless planes, perfect vacuums, perfectly elastic collisions, etc., tossing all the other factors into a bucket called “?” and ignoring their effects.

    When we have many variables, but they act in essentially the same manner (assuming you believe in essences) it is possible to create models that are statistical rather than mathematical, replacing the many individual bodies with “averages.” (Disorganized complexity). This works for actuarial tables, thermodynamics, etc.; but the resemblance to mathematics confuses people and they think that because the statistical models don’t predict a particular individual outcome, that outcome is “uncaused.”

    Even this breaks down for Organized complexity; when, as von Hayek noted, we have not only numerous bodies but must also take into account how those bodies are connected with one another. (Some will recognize this as “matter” and “form.”) Statistical methods don’t work because the individual bodies do notact in essentially similar ways, so the average cannot be substituted for the individual elements. And the computer models often wind up with terms that do not correspond to any measurable, real-world factor, so there is much confusion about causation in this case as well.

    http://joelvelasco.net/teaching/120/cartwright-How_the_Laws_of_Physics_Lie.pdf

  48. ““Random” is not “uncaused.”

    This claim is incorrect. Unless you believe in magic, essences, or whatever. Since I don’t believe in magic, we are going to differ in our views on this issue.

    You’ve also muddled statistical analysis (probabilities) with what is a cause and what we define as randomness. Your confusion is philosophical. I’m hoping and assuming you have a good grasp of statistical concepts. Probabilities don’t ’cause’ anything.

  49. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 18, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    Probabilities don’t ’cause’ anything.

    Precisely. Neither do mathematical equations or computer models. That is why I took issue with equating “random” with “uncaused.” The former is a confession of ignorance.

    Consider the man who is brained by a hammer while on his way to lunch.
    Everything about his perambulation is caused. He walks that route because his favorite café is two blocks distant from his workplace. He sets forth at the time he does because it is his lunchtime. He arrives at the fatal point because of the pace at which he walks. There is a reason for everything that happens.
    Likewise, the hammer that slides down and falls from the roof of the building half a block along. It strikes with the fatal energy because of its mass and velocity. It has achieved the terminal velocity because of the acceleration of gravity. It slid off the roof because of the angle of the roof, because of the coefficient of friction of the tiles, because it was nudged by the toe of the workman, because the workman too rose to take his lunch, and because he had arranged his tools where he had. There is a reason for everything that happens.
    Not much of it is predictable, but who said causes must be predictable?

    The hammer has a reason for being there. The diner has a reason for being there. But for the unhappy congruence of hammer and diner, there is no reason. It is simply the crossing of two causal threads in the world-line.

  50. “Neither do mathematical equations or computer models. That is why I took issue with equating “random” with “uncaused.” The former is a confession of ignorance.”

    This is also a wrong. If I build a computer model of the orbits of the planets and my model correctly predicts something novel, such as a lunar or solar eclipse, we have rational grounds upon which to consider the equations in the model to be a fair presentation of the actual movements of the planet. Note, this is not a guarantee that the model is correct, only that our model may have identified a cause. The reason why it is not a guarantee is that it may be possible for more than one model (with differing equations) to make the same prediction.

    I don’t think anyone is confessing ignorance, but one party is demonstrating it.

  51. Actually my last comment sounds like some sort of veiled insult when I reread it now and it wasn’t meant to be like that. I agree with your last sentence of what I quoted.

  52. @Will Nitschke:

    “This is also a wrong. If I build a computer model of the orbits of the planets and my model correctly predicts something novel, such as a lunar or solar eclipse, we have rational grounds upon which to consider the equations in the model to be a fair presentation of the actual movements of the planet. Note, this is not a guarantee that the model is correct, only that our model may have identified a cause. ”

    Sigh. This is beyond ridiculous; you cannot even follow YOS’ elementary point. So allow me to try (and most probably fail) to explain it to you. He said, and I quote:

    “Precisely. Neither do mathematical equations or computer models. That is why I took issue with equating “random” with “uncaused.” The former is a confession of ignorance.”

    which means exactly what it says on the tin, i.e. that “mathematical equations or computer models” are not the cause of anything (besides some potential headaches), so the inference from their stochastic nature to a claim of a-causality in nature is fallacious. Then you went on to misread him as denying that the predictive successes of a model does not give rational warrant in said model having identified objective features of the world.

    It really is amazing. You insult and smear others left and right, from Aristotle to Feser, but cannot get even one *single* thing right, not one, whether what potentiality is (one of the bedrock, fundamental concepts in Aristotelean thought — but then you are not “interested” in it anyway, right?), whether a most elementary point made by YOS. And having misread him you then go on to presume to correct him. Amazing.

  53. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 19, 2015 at 9:50 am

    If I build a computer model of the orbits of the planets and my model correctly predicts something novel, such as a lunar or solar eclipse, we have rational grounds upon which to consider the equations in the model to be a fair presentation of the actual movements of the planet. Note, this is not a guarantee that the model is correct…

    The last part is true, since the Ptolemaic model made good predictions for more than 2000 years, right up to 1610, and that involved aspects that the mathematical model simply did not cover.

    But the first part is not correct. A model that makes correct predictions means only that it is a useful model, not that any part of it is physically real. There is literally nothing in the mathematics that plays the role of “cause.”

    But surely you are familiar by now with our host’s contention that we call a thing “random” only when we don’t know enough about it, such as in life insurance or roulette. Actuarial tables treat deaths as random within various categories of risk factors, like age. And yet every death is caused. We cannot predict which slot the little white ball will fall into ahead of time, yet the ball falls in the slot due to causes.

    “Random” is what we say about a pattern of variation when it is due to a host of small, common causes in a system, no one of which is dominant — rather than assignable to, say, one “special” cause. It does not mean there are no causes. Examine the behavior of the balls dropping through a quincunx: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/GaltonBoard.html
    No one outcome is predictable, but the overall pattern is; and each event is caused — by hitting this pin or that pin on the way down.

  54. Rodrigues,

    “which means exactly what it says on the tin, i.e. that “mathematical equations or computer models” are not the cause of anything (besides some potential headaches), so the inference from their stochastic nature to a claim of a-causality in nature is fallacious.”

    You are really a very poorly educated in nearly everything as far as I can ascertain. Which I don’t mind, except you have vast over confidence in your ignorance of these matters. You are basically asserting that things such as Newton’s equations (his physical model of matter in motion) cannot describe anything ‘causal’ because they are just numbers or something? Your knowledge of basic scientific philosophy is surely not that ignorant? Well, apparently so.

    You are something of a very sad fellow.

  55. Ye Olde Statistician,

    “But the first part is not correct. A model that makes correct predictions means only that it is a useful model, not that any part of it is physically real. There is literally nothing in the mathematics that plays the role of “cause.””

    Yes of course. But this is one of those arguments that sounds like it is saying something but says nothing. A claim such as this is vacuous because anyone can turn around and point out we can never have 100% complete knowledge of anything (unless you a celestial being perhaps). All claims scientific, philosophical, and so on, are subject to this sort of critique, making the critique empty. I.e., a word game. So the first part of what I wrote is correct, and your assertion that it is not, is not. (Unless you have something of more substance to add.)

    As for the second part of what you wrote, well you, me, and Dr Brigg’s all agree. There is no point discussing this further as we’ll no doubt just end up patting each other on the back. Of course, although we all agree, we all agree for very different reasons.

  56. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 20, 2015 at 8:48 am

    But surely you recall that Newton came in for much criticism precisely because his Laws did not posit “causes” and he replied that he was content to describe how gravity behaved without worrying about what it was. That is, his laws were descriptive, not causal.

    Besides, the question here is the false equation of “random” with “uncaused.”

  57. @Will Nitschke:

    “You are basically asserting that things such as Newton’s equations (his physical model of matter in motion) cannot describe anything ‘causal’ because they are just numbers or something? Your knowledge of basic scientific philosophy is surely not that ignorant? Well, apparently so.”

    What I said was and I quote:

    “which means exactly what it says on the tin, i.e. that “mathematical equations or computer models” are not the cause of anything (besides some potential headaches), so the inference from their stochastic nature to a claim of a-causality in nature is fallacious. Then you went on to misread him as denying that the predictive successes of a model does not give rational warrant in said model having identified objective features of the world.”

    Which is *not* what you attribute me to say. At all. Boggles the mind. Really, can you even read?

  58. I thought your explanation was very well stated, but I have a couple of quibbles.

    First is that stating that there must be a first efficient cause or else things couldn’t get moving is not really a proof, it is begging the question. To see this, consider a similar proof of a final efficient effect, that there must be a final efficient effect or else things could never stop. This stopping is the same thing as a final effect, just as the starting is the same thing as a first cause; this is why those arguments beg the question. Perhaps there is some proof that there must be a final efficient effect, other than simply asserting it must be so, but this is no more obvious than that there must have been a first efficient cause. Frankly, I think it is a little shaky to think one can prove there is any moment but this one.

    Also, the problem with that kind of uncaused cause is that it doesn’t seem much like God. Even if the proof works, all it proves is that there is an initial, uncaused state of being. The uncaused cause could be anything, for example it might be a universe in an initial vacuum state, or a primordial proton. It needn’t be a sentient creator.

    Finally, it appears that there can be nothing within a given moment that causes time to move to some other moment. That is, if you imagine a catalog of the objective facts of the history of reality, the assignment of a given time to the “present” cannot be among those facts. Time, in that sense, is like the page numbers of a book. They only subjectively reveal which page is the current page. The fact that a given page is the current page is not an objective fact about the page alone, if it were, then the current page could never advance, because all of the objective facts about that page remain true about that page.

    Rather than the chain of efficient causation, I prefer a chain of causation that operates, without reference to a timeline, along the Aristotelian chain of material causation. This is made of that is made of the other, etc. Everything that is, has an ultimate ground from which it arises in this moment. The ultimate “ground of being” (to borrow Tillich’s term) is the uncaused material cause of this moment and in this moment. But what is this ultimate material cause? It is the awareness within which this moment exists. This becomes apparent from a consideration of the facts available to us within each moment.

    Just as time only advances within awareness, the present only exists within awareness. The existence of reality cannot be an objective fact about reality. For example, a machine that is designed to ascertain the existence of reality would yield the same result in a simulation as it would if the reality actually existed. A mere book of the objective facts of a potential reality, if it contained such a machine, would record the result of that machine’s operation. No, the difference between a potential reality and an actual reality lies not in the abstract (i.e. the objective), but in the real, (i.e. subjective) awareness. Reality meaningfully exists because of the awareness of it. The subjective experience is the real referent of the objective abstraction.

    This “Great I AM” that underlies the being of each moment seems much more inherently God-like.

    @Will Nitschke—Don’t be so sure that ideal forms don’t exist. They do exist, but they are not external . That is, in nature there is no such thing as a oak tree. If you look closely, you will see only small elements, such as molecules, each behaving according to the laws of physics, but nowhere will you observe anything that requires the notion of “this is an oak tree”. The observed facts correspond to the idea of an oak tree only within our minds, because the human brain is essentially a pattern-recognition machine, and it somehow puts the facts into a pattern under the label “oak tree”. The forms that Plato thought were “out there” are actually features of our own minds.

    Also, the strange things about quantum mechanics (such as the refutation of local realism) don’t just exist within the QM model. There have been a lot of experiments, the initial ones being done by Aspect after Bell’s theoretical suggestion, that show these features are fundamental in nature, regardless of whether the QM model persists. That is, the experiments are apparently irreconcilable with local realism.

  59. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 20, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    stating that there must be a first efficient cause or else things couldn’t get moving is not really a proof, it is begging the question.

    You may be confusing “first” with “initial.” There were many ladies in the US before Michelle Obama, yet we call her the First Lady. Further, only essentially ordered series need a first cause. These are series in which the members do not have the causal power unless another is acting upon it concurrently: e.g., the violing is not making music unless the bow is rubbing the strings [or some equivalent actuality]. Otherwise, it would sit there mute. Similarly, the bow would not scrape the strings unless a hand were moving it; and so on. In such a context, none of the members could act at all unless something were acting upon them.

    that kind of uncaused cause is that it doesn’t seem much like God.

    Aquinas spent hundreds of pages demonstrating that it does, and our host has been covering the reasoning over the past many moons. The problem is that too many people stop at the first theorem and then complain that they don’t see the conclusion of the tenth theorem.

  60. YOS,

    “But surely you recall that Newton came in for much criticism precisely because his Laws did not posit “causes” and he replied that he was content to describe how gravity behaved without worrying about what it was. That is, his laws were descriptive, not causal.”

    Quite correct. But note the objection came largely from Scholastics — the old school — who could not grasp a new way of understanding ’cause’. As we both know, the Cartesians thought this was a problem and tried to identify the ‘why’. And failed. Now we understand the question was ill posed. As modernists we don’t demark between ’cause’ and a description of a ’cause’. We understand our description is correct (or at least on the right track) if it is predictive. That is why Einstein described gravity geometrically.

    Besides, the question here is the false equation of “random” with “uncaused.”

  61. Shack Toms,

    I don’t think you wrote anything that argues against anything I’ve written. I’m not ignoring your input, but there is not much we can debate if we don’t disagree. (At the end of the day, if Platonic Forms exist only as arbitrary mental states, I don’t think we can attach that label to them, as they are too different from what the Scholastics meant by them.)

  62. Rodrigues,

    You quoted what I wrote, then quoted what you wrote. This exercise simply reaffirms my point that you’re contradicting yourself. The frightening thing is that you apparently lack the insight to understand the contradiction.

  63. Sorry YOS, I failed to comment on:

    ‘Besides, the question here is the false equation of “random” with “uncaused.”’

    Again, you are merely stating your conclusion, not an argument. While the two words have slightly different meanings, for the purposes of what we are discussing — causality — we can treat them as equivalent.

  64. Ye Olde Statistician

    June 20, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    we can treat [“random” and “uncaused”] as equivalent.

    No. “Random” means only that the variation is due to chance combinations of many small causes, Galton’s quincunx being the canonical example. Consider the following example:

    Suppose your job is to roll dice. This may seem like a stupid job, but consider your latest assignment from your boss. By the way, the upper spec limit is 11. So you go on your merry way rolling the dice and one day, you roll a 12. That’s out of spec, so you pull out the Three-Part Corrective Action Report form and fill it out. #1. Nature of defect: rolled a 12. #2. Cause of defect: Hmm. I was just rolling the dice the way I usually do. I dunno. Maybe I rolled them too hard that time. Yeah! That’s the ticket. I rolled them too hard. #3. What will you do to prevent recurrence of the defect? Will not roll the dice too hard any more. (Unless you are management. Then you write, told the operator not to roll the dice too hard.) But being careful, you test the theory and roll the dice gently — and if it doesn’t come up 12, and that proves it works. (Unless it’s FDA regulated; then you have to roll the dice three times.) Well, results support the theory, right? So you amend the process instructions to mandate Gentle Rolling™, train the workforce in it, and include it on the process audit checksheets.

    And then one day, you roll another12. Dang. Well, you’ve been real careful about the Gentle Rolling™, so it must be something else. Maybe it was the angle at which the dice struck the floor! So you have Engineering whump up a fixture to that the dice will always hit at a 45º angle. You conduct an equipment qualification test: throw the dice (gently!) using the plane, and if it doesn’t come up 12, that proves it works.

    Well, you know what happens. Eventually, you throw another 12. The third time you roll a 12 you pull out the Production Report Form and write “11”.

    Why do you do this heinous thing? Because your mama didn’t raise no stupid kids, and it doesn’t take long to figure that no matter what you do about this cause or that, you will still get the same results.

    The outcome 12 is random not because it is uncaused, but because it has too dang many causes, and the outcomes are due to different combinations of these causes.

    In fact, the first cause (so to speak) is not any of the efficient causes, but rather the formal cause: the dice are each six-sided and numbered from 1 to 6. To eliminate the 12s you must redesign the form of the dice.

    To be “uncaused” is an entirely different matter; but you cannot simply assert the existence of an uncaused cause. You must support the claim with reasoned arguments.

  65. Your definition of ‘random’ is idiosyncratic and is not a correct formal definition. By it you simply mean ‘too complex to compute the result’. So a feather dropping from a building will land in a ‘random’ place. That’s fine for every day language use, but it’s not the mathematical description of randomness. A random even is something that by definition cannot be computed. It is not something that is merely *difficult* to compute. And what is computable is by definition deterministic. Of course, this does not mean that all events can be determined in practice, as one may not have access to the required information or be prepared to wait around for the computation to be performed.

    “To be “uncaused” is an entirely different matter; but you cannot simply assert the existence of an uncaused cause.”

    Of course you can. What you are asserting is completely nonsensical. In fact, all causal chains lead ultimately to something uncaused. That is why gravity is thought of these days in terms of geometry. You cannot ask the question, what caused this geometric shape? (Well you can, the ’cause’ is matter. But you cannot then ask what causes matter to produce this shape and not some other shape or even no shape?) The geometric structure of space is axiomatic. Even for an Aristotelian there is an ultimate uncaused cause, which in your case is God.

  66. If anyone wants a textbook example of what psychiatrists call ‘projecting’ please read any reply by Will Nitschke in this thread. Or other threads for that matter. He accuses others of his quintessential attributes.

  67. @Will Nitschke:

    “The frightening thing is that you apparently lack the insight to understand the contradiction.”

    There is no “contradiction” anywhere except in the back void of your skull. But at this point, I will content myself in registering your creative relationship with the Truth.

    I did forgot to comment on one thing:

    “You are really a very poorly educated in nearly everything as far as I can ascertain. Which I don’t mind, except you have vast over confidence in your ignorance of these matters.”

    The only things I commented was about were your, rather obvious by the way, utter and complete ignorance of what Aristotle, Aquinas and their modern day progenie actually hold, your incapability to either follow an elementary point or in reading basic English. And your consistent schtick has been that what they, that is, Aristotle, Aquinas and their modern day progenie, believe in is “nonsense”, “gibberish”, etc. So it seems you take exception at my “vast over confidence” in “ignorance” of what exactly? “Nonsense”?

    But let us leave all this aside, there is not one single instance of factual mistake or error that you have, or even could, point out, or even a glaring misunderstanding. Not one. So we already knew that you were clueless and incapable of reading basic English. We also know that you have no problems inventing bogus charges out of whole cloth.

    But please, do continue. What will you invent next?

  68. @Will Nitschke:

    And as long as we are speaking of ignorance, how about this:

    “We understand our description is correct (or at least on the right track) if it is predictive. That is why Einstein described gravity geometrically.”

    There is no intrinsic relationship between the geometrization of a physical theory and its predictive success, much less any outlandish metaphysical conclusion you may wish to draw from it. All physical theories can be described geometrically, from classical mechanics (e.g. in the Hamiltonean formulation it is a chapter of symplectic geometry) to Quantum mechanics. That was not the “why” Einstein described “gravity geometrically”. At all.

    Or this:

    “A random even is something that by definition cannot be computed.”

    This is just *wrong*.

    But let us take your definition of “random” as a sound one. The Church–Turing–Deutsch principle (CTD for short) states that a universal computing device (e.g. a universal Turing machine) can simulate every physical process. Since what Turing machines can simulate is what they can compute, and by definition everything they can compute is computable (actually, this gets the definition exactly backwards; what is computable is what can be computed by a Turing machine), it follows that either CTD is true and there are no random events in nature, or you a have counter-example to the Church–Turing–Deutsch principle. The latter is *major* claim; so please write that paper now and send it to the relevant journals.

  69. swordfishtrombone

    June 21, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    @Will Nitschke:

    1) “your mistake is to use the framing while admitting the framing is untenable” My original comment tried to question the classical Aristotelian view of cause-and-effect by finding a QM-based example which contradicts it. You then tell me that I’m not allowed to use a classical cause-and-effect interpretation of a non-classical event to disprove a classical interpretation. This is very much like saying that scientific reasoning can’t disprove homeopathy because homeopathy doesn’t use scientific reasoning.

    2) “Observations are […] subject to interpretation” Yes but your Sun-goes-round-earth example contradicts other observations. In the same way, “hidden variables” interpretations of QM contradict other known aspects of reality. As Shack Toms says: “That is, the experiments are apparently irreconcilable with local realism.”

  70. swordfishtrombone,

    I wasn’t referring to anything you’d written about Aristotelian philosophy, which frankly, is too silly for any serious person to even bother with these days. Its interest is purely historical and educational on that basis.

    “You then tell me that I’m not allowed to use a classical cause-and-effect interpretation of a non-classical event to disprove a classical interpretation.”

    It’s not me that is allowing or not allowing you, it’s the rules of logic.

    “This is very much like saying that scientific reasoning can’t disprove homeopathy because homeopathy doesn’t use scientific reasoning.”

    Correct. Because it’s not scientific it’s not subject to scientific objective standards. You can’t use scientific reasoning to critique a poem by Keats, either. But that was not the actual point I was making. Which was simply this: If you’ve determined that p not q, you can’t then continue to draw conclusions on the assumption p -> q.

    “Yes but your Sun-goes-round-earth example contradicts other observations. In the same way, “hidden variables” interpretations of QM contradict other known aspects of reality. ”

    Well we’ve got to the point where you acknowledge that one set of observations can contradict another? Good. So which set of observations are correct? And if you’ve decided that one set of observations are wrong, how do you know the set of observations you have selected won’t be superseded yet again by a better set in the future?

    This is why your argument is a non sequitur. Your “known aspects of reality” may be contradicted by new observations. In fact this is very likely inevitable, otherwise physicists would not be spending time on the LHC if they thought it would not produce new observations that would supersede our current “known aspects of reality”. Or do you take the view that the LHC is there merely to add a more decimal points to our current equations? (As was assumed with Newton for a very long time.)

  71. Rodrigues,

    “There is no intrinsic relationship between the geometrization of a physical theory and its predictive success.”

    Because you say so? Did you understand what I wrote to YOS? Apparently you failed to grasp anything in the exchange so far. YOS is making some insightful comments. All you are doing is stating your conclusion and not even bothering to presenting arguments to support your beliefs. Philosophical reasoning does not work like religious dogma. You have to do more than merely state your ‘doctrine’ and then declare ‘so there!’.

    “(actually, this gets the definition exactly backwards; what is computable is what can be computed by a Turing machine)”

    Again, you simply make up a statement which seemingly is pulled out of thin air, and assert it to be true, merely because you say so…

    “it follows that either CTD is true and there are no random events in nature, or you a have counter-example to the Church–Turing–Deutsch principle. The latter is *major* claim; so please write that paper now and send it to the relevant journals.”

    Your writing is so poor I cannot even determine what you are asking here. Do you accept or reject the CTD principle? And if you accept it, why do you think I do not? If you reject it, on what basis?

    You seem to have serious problems both comprehending written English and clearing communicating your thoughts back into English. You also seem to think, somewhat delusionally perhaps, that CTD has been ‘answered’.

  72. @Will Nitschke:

    “Apparently you failed to grasp anything in the exchange so far. YOS is making some insightful comments”

    Well that is a step up from June 16, 2015 at 3:14 am:

    “Naturally YOS latched onto this because I suppose nonsense mixes well with nonsense.”

    At any rate, I asked:

    “What will you invent next?”

    and you answered with, among the other things which will pass by with no response,

    “You also seem to think, somewhat delusionally perhaps, that CTD has been ‘answered’.”

    Amazing.

  73. Rodrigues,

    I’m not sure why you bombard me with so many comments since you are entirely out of your depth and the cascade of insults only reaffirm your status as court jester. People are complicated. YOS is very likely a crank, but do not confuse cranks with fools. On very rare occasions cranks can even be geniuses. A few cranks in history, have won Nobel Prizes (although obviously not over what their crankish obsessions were focused on). It’s never ceases to surprise me that that people on the internet can write angry ad hominem and be entirely unself-aware that they shoot themselves in the foot each time they do it. To me it’s just the buzz of angry intellectual mosquitoes.

  74. @Will Nitschke:

    “I’m not sure why you bombard me with so many comments since you are entirely out of your depth and the cascade of insults only reaffirm your status as court jester.”

    I have already answered the (implicit) question but I will note that Court jesters served a function; because they were deemed fools, an occasional truth could slip out of their tongues without giving offense. I have asked this already, but will do it again, what possible use can you have?

  75. It’s not for the clown to decide what the grown-ups should think, Rodrigues. I’ve given you a fair chance, but you’ve been a waste of time, so I will no longer be reading your posts. You and Sylvain now enjoy that honour. A parting comment. If you object to someone’s point of view, then go away, study and learn enough to deconstruct the other side’s argument if you can. If you can’t, consider changing your mind. Don’t stamp your feet, yell, scream and carry on like a petulant child. You simply concede to your opponent when doing that and where’s the fun in that for anyone? And don’t get too angry when you have your beliefs threatened. The anger and the bluster reveal your insecurities and fears that you beliefs are fragile. A mature person confident in their understanding raises an eye brow, not a temper tantrum.

  76. Briggs

    June 22, 2015 at 8:27 am

    All,

    Gentlemen, decorum, please.

  77. @Will Nitschke:

    “I will no longer be reading your posts. You and Sylvain now enjoy that honour.”

    You were reading my posts? Methinks you jest, Good Sir. But do not be quick to bestow honors where none were asked.

    “The anger and the bluster reveal your insecurities and fears that you beliefs are fragile.”

    Alas, now that you have finally tired of toying with me and will no longer concede me the honor and privilege of revealing my psychological insecurities and fears, what will I do now? I am afraid that… Where else can I get such valuable advice? Or such a stellar example of intellectual conduct to look up to? In truth I tell you, it is not everyday that one has the pleasure of meeting the likes of yourself. But I do feel a little guilty for not having relished all the “fair chance[s]” you, in your magnanimous condescension, have granted me, so I hope you will not begrudge me if I keep reading your posts as they afford a not inconsiderable amount of amusement. Between the “nonsense” of an Aristotle, or the “gibberish” of an Aquinas, or the crank-ness of a YOS, and your prose what would you choose? The question answers itself. And in this day and age, one gets what one can. And herein I guess, lies the answer to my question in the previous comment.

  78. swordfishtrombone

    June 28, 2015 at 7:33 am

    @Will Nitschke:

    There’s not much point continuing with this discussion as you agree with my criticism of Aristotelian philosophy but your last comment contains stuff so obviously wrong that I have to respond, otherwise it looks like I agree with you.

    The whole point of my “you can’t disprove homeopathy with science” example is that it is quite clearly false. Of course you can disprove homeopathy with science. It can be done by pointing out that the very high dilutions used leave no trace of the ‘active’ ingredients used and it can also be done by clinical trials which show that it has no effect beyond placebo.

    In exactly the same way, you can use scientific reasoning to disprove “classical” philosophical interpretations of the universe. The universe simply isn’t made from a collection of little billiard-ball atoms bouncing off each other.

    Finally, when you say that future findings might supersede current ones then you are correct but that doesn’t mean QM is going to be falsified – it is simply a fact of nature which has been probed to at least 20 orders of magnitude. Future findings cannot force the universe to operate in a non-local way, any more than they can make black white.

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