Causal conundrums

2. Nature and evolution

Is ‘nature’ an idea of a thing made of the ‘thing’ or the idea?

What is nature: a ubiquitous presence, the original cause, the mother of life, a non-thing to explain everything – definable as action without intention – but how to include those things, like intentional actions, that do not fit the definition?

Where in nature is the explanation of things occurring by themselves?

Do the laws of nature open a window onto possibilities that are perceptible only to the makers of windows?

Is evolution a cause or an effect of change – or merely a description of things changing that is then paraded as the explanation?

Does nature act with reason and purpose, or does this arise only with the evolution of higher life forms – either way, how does this square with the idea of ‘natural causes’ that are indifferent and insensible?

Is everything a part of nature and, therefore, essentially natural – including those artificial necessities that have become essential to our way of life?

Can we make a self-explanatory fact of ‘cause-and-effect’ by referencing the one to the other?

What comes first: the fact or its possibility – and which ‘settled facts’ would be sufficient to show us that the possibilities had been exhausted?

Does the idea of nature explain the fact of existence, or does it merely stand-in for the lack of an explanation?

Is there a level of reality, which we accept implicitly, at which ‘nature is’ because ‘nature is’, at which nature makes us ‘the way we are’ and ‘the way we are’ is because of ‘our nature’ – and what does all that explain?

Does ‘causality’ explain what is happening because it happens that way, or show us what will happen because of what has happened?  Is the future the protégé of the past and present?  Does it prove that ‘what is’ will translate seamlessly into what happens next?

Is all evolved behaviour, at root, biology – since it can’t happen without biology?  Is the human mind a sublimation of bodily states – particularly ‘natural’ drives?  Is the ‘power of thought’ explained by non-thinking physical causes?  What does it mean to think that the brain is doing the thinking for us?  Do physical causes constitute our reasoning by constituting our brains?  Is hunger the reason why we choose pizza for tea?

When thinking about the way things ‘happen to be’ because of and beyond ourselves, do we imagine that the causality runs through us to emerge from us?

Are we a unique kind of cause, one that acts with a kind of knowledge of its effect, even upon itself – so is nature now thinking about itself through us?

If nature is comprised entirely of causes acting without intention, then might not one intentional act be sufficient to place the entire family of ‘natural causes’ in a very different universe of possibilities.  In fact, are deliberate acts seen to ‘emerge’ from ‘natural causes’ only because ‘nature’ already sits in a very different universe?

Was nature ever so present in all its diversity than when consciousness first opened its eyes to itself?

Is it just possible that there is a critical difference between the processes of physics and psychology that no ‘law of nature’ will explain?

Has the idea of evolution as a ‘fact of nature’ prevented us from considering it as a fact happening to nature?

To be continued.

Mike Laidler

Causal conundrums

  1. Beginnings

If causes explain effects, then what explains causes?

Does the existence of ‘cause-and-effect’ tell us all we need to know about existence?

What makes us believe that the fact of causality proves that existence must have a first cause?

Does it help us to explain chickens or eggs by knowing which came first?

What is a cause without an effect, and what is an effect if it is not radical enough to make a real difference?

What explains causality?  Is it just ‘the first cause’ that defies explanation?  But what would that first cause look like or amount to apart from ‘its effect’?  Then is the effect actually the first significant event, since nothing is seen to happen until it emerges to make a difference?  Yet we attribute that event to a precipitating cause in an unseen (theoretical) reality.  Afterwards, reality moves on visibly, at a pace, with each new event heralding a change to things as they were – otherwise nothing happens.  So is it the same for each successive ‘cause’ that represents leading events in own turn – that is, are we merely observing a chain of empowered effects which, like that first cause, we can only explain in theory?

What makes causality work in the way it does when it doesn’t work that way at quantum levels of reality?  Then could there be yet further levels of reality that we cannot explain in terms of the status quo?

Is anything possible given a suitable cause, or are there ‘boundaries of possibility’ acting as crypto-causes (hidden patterns or ‘blueprints’) ahead of all the action?

Are causes mere agents of possibilities propelling themselves forwards?  But what explains possibility?

Can chance tell us what’s possible by entreating us to believe that anything is possible?  Can chance tell us what makes possibility possible, or why certain alternatives become excluded or included by others?  Does it take an infinite array of alternative universes to explain why alternative possibilities continuously become possible?  Do we know enough about a finite universe of possibilities to know where it all leads?

If one small part of nature can manifest intentional action, then was nature ever deficient; unless, things change – to realise something new – a capacity inherent to a universe of possibilities beyond the bounds of previous ‘natural causes’?

Is science a dialogue with nature that we wouldn’t need to have if the facts really spoke for themselves?

Mike Laidler