Causal conundrums


Can love be explained as a fact of the world just because we find it to be ‘something that happens’ in the world?

What is metaphysics?  Is there another side to reality, derived of thoughts, feelings, ideas and experiences in an otherwise oblivious physical firmament that doesn’t furnish a definitive (true-to-type) explanation of what they are?

If the idea of metaphysics is nothing but a figment of the imagination, is that not sufficient to announce the metaphysical properties of ideas and their figments?

What is the life of the mind?  Are its panoramas no more than shifting and fading images of experience?  Is it exclusively a physical thing?  If so, how do we explain its sentient properties, which remain more in line with metaphysical concepts than anything we can find in the laws of physics?  Also, how does a mind get to know itself?  Does knowledge belong to an objective or a subjective reality?  Is our ‘presence of mind’ something we bring into being or take from it, and how does it add up to mindless causes telling us all we need to know?  What makes us believe that the physical processes supporting consciousness donate consciousness to the cosmos?

Where is the vista of an ‘objective reality’ apart from the phenomenon of a visualising imagination?

Has the case for metaphysics been overstretched by all the fanciful supernatural suppositions that continue to be packed into it?  Has the case for physics been overstretched by the unrealistic attempt to pack the whole of reality into it?

Might the relationship between physics and metaphysics be as real as the ball that becomes essential to the game of football without containing, within itself, any hint of the rules that come to apply?

How do we come to believe in the sovereignty of physical causes as absolute explanations of change?  Do we get the idea from ourselves in seeing how we can act upon the world to create unprecedented effects (such as the unique pattern physical displacements that constitute a game of football)?  But how does this prove that the physical world is the sole agent of change – acting alone to develop new ways of acting upon itself?

Is the physical world as much a product as a source of change?  Indeed, what do we know of the physical other than its appearance as a form of something – in patterns of activity that neither begin nor end in the known physical laws?  And don’t we witness examples of the power of change in those realities seen to emerge through shaping influences that contribute to a greater integration of the whole – now inclusive of intentional acts which can be properly defined as forms of ‘the metaphysical’?

What is this ‘power to exist’ which we purport to explain as a fact of things in existence?  What do we mean by ‘the fact of existence’?  Do we know what we are talking about?  Can we show that it is all ‘one thing’, or that it all began with one cause working alone?  Do we know of any cause that works by itself, indeed anything ‘in existence’ that ‘exists alone’?

If God exists, does it prove that our ancestors knew what to do?  If God doesn’t exist, are we liberated to do our own thing, to gain authority by mutual recognition of our own intellectual prowess, scholarship and know how – but what does that prove; can science certify our humanity though a renewed identity with ‘the power of nature’, now technologised, or are we merely substituting one construct of belief for another?

Do the laws of nature explain everything even if they come to pervade everything?  Do the facts explain for us the forces at work?  Can our down-to-earth familiarity with ‘balances of probability’ ever begin to explain the origin of possibility?  Is the presence of possibility in ‘the real world’ like an enigmatic ‘ghost in the machine’ whose past manifestations include the fact of life and a physical universe created out of their absence?

What is the passage of time?  What does its observation teach us?  Does the inexorable merging of the past into a future yet to exist deposit us in a present that is more real than both, even as it lasts for an infinitesimally small instant?

Is the ‘church of logic’ broad enough to explain change by identifying the fact of what is to come with the fact of what was – essentially, as more of the same kind of thing?

Is there more to the fact of possibility than all that is possible for the time being?  Do we misunderstand the nature of reality in assuming that the future is entirely predictable from a comprehensive knowledge of the past?

Does explanation remain problematic, not because of a shortage of facts, but because the facts alone don’t explain anything?

Is causality the story-line of science, and like any good story it deploys a narrative that plays upon a continuum of caused events within an ethos of uncertainty, which turns dramatic when expectation breaks down?

Mike Laidler


Causal conundrums

3. Cosmology

Where is the evidence to show that the whole of existence condenses into an atomic or sub-atomic level of reality, or that the physical universe defines and explains existence because that level of reality is somehow ‘more real’?  What makes us believe that the broader cosmos exhibits a singular nature rather than a unified plurality of natures?  Surely, we need only look inwards at ourselves to see a nature that differs fundamentally from the universe we look out upon?

Isn’t it obvious that there is more than the laws of physics at work in the universe, since things determined by those laws do not determine what can be done with them – for instance, could the Eiffel Tower put itself there?  Then isn’t one such event on one insignificant planet sufficient to redefine the nature of the whole?

What is existence?  What does it mean to exist?  Is change the determining factor – so to exist is to undergo change?  Is energy the common denominator – but what kind of explanation reduces things to less than they were?

How do things change?  Do causes generate their own possibilities, or is there some additional possibility making causality possible?  Is ‘causality’ another name for possibility-in-action?  But what is the spur to action?  Why do causes-in-action make things possible only when the circumstances are right – what makes an outcome ‘necessarily so’, what is the nature of possibility and its relationship to necessary consequence?  Do the characteristics of the cause predispose the characteristics of the effect, or is it the converse?  Ultimately, is every ‘outcome’ a convergence of factors that bind the past, present and future?  Then can possibilities-yet-to-be affect the course of events; is the greater scheme of things built ‘into’ or ‘upon’ the lesser?

Even though experience shows us that anything can’t happen, what makes us believe that what does happen must already be built into the cause?

Are we misperceiving reality by subsuming our observations to the theory that the future remains entirely predictable from a comprehensive knowledge of the past?

Is explanation biased towards the confirmation of ‘the explicable’ – as if the observable causes must explain all when there is nothing else to see, whilst any discernible gaps in knowledge are to be understood in terms of causes yet-to-be-discovered?

Do the parameters of the cause set the parameters of the effect; if so, how is change possible; if not, how is explanation possible?  That is to say, if there is a difference between a cause and its effect, then how does the cause explain it by being different; but if there is no difference, then what are we trying to explain?  In short, how does causality explain change – for either the effect is the same as the cause and nothing changes, or the effect goes beyond the cause and, therefore, the cause doesn’t explain the difference?

Do causes induce change through their divergence?  But what causes the differentiation? And even if causes were seen to cleave into effects, how would that explain the emergent differences?

Does a causal explanation of existence amount to no more than an edifice of ‘pseudo-explanations’ unless we can explain the putative ‘uncaused cause’ on which it is based?

Has the recent discovery of quantum uncertainty finally confirmed an established fact of life – that there is more going on than all we can presume to know for certain?

Is there more to ‘being possible’ than all that ‘is possible’ for the time being.  Is there more to change than all we can discern from the singular characteristics of the cause in a given time and place?

Is the material presence of the universe explained by another material presence?  Is this a sufficient explanation, or was the ‘original cause’ different enough to rank as an immaterial presence by present standards?  Then is it not possible for further material associations to bear immaterial insignia which do not necessarily begin or end with the beginning and ending of our universe – and what might this say about the overall state of existence – is the physical universe but a branch of something bigger than itself –extending into a mindful cosmos?

What counts as more or less real in the bigger picture of what is, can be or might be?

Is there nothing more to existence than an all-inclusive ‘sciencescape’ as enunciated by the scientific theories laying claim to it?

What do we really know of ‘reality’ apart from our narrow plane of perception, occasionally punctuated with explanations hailed for the time being as matters of fact?

Can words, theories and numbers, in aspiring to nothing but the truth, ever capture a truth that stands for the whole truth, as if it is within our gift to oversee existence in a godlike fashion?

To be in order to become, that is the question – whether there more to becoming than simply being – whether a cause stands on the threshold of something bigger than itself?

To be continued…

Mike Laidler