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

 

The ‘Technocene’

The dream of science is to look upon existence and explain it; but in reality, its paradigm of a universal ‘thingness’ could turn out to be just another grandiose edification of the imagination.  In this ‘image of objectivity’ the mystery of existence is sought in the technical details, with scientific knowledge perched at the cutting edge of truth and functioning as a positive feedback system in which a physical nature expresses and reconfigures itself by becoming self-aware through us – in particular, through scientific thinking, observation and experimentation.  In other words, nature is eminently explicable and, likewise, the human mind is a physical system that operates as an extension to its living ‘Technocene’; consequently the scientific brain currently represents the best known example of nature thinking about itself – and there is no arguing with nature – the only way a scientific explanation can be challenged is with an alternative scientific explanation.  But is explanation (qua theory) more of an imaginative state of mind than an objective state of the facts?  Does the assumption of an objective reality objectify the assumption?

Theoretically, the cosmic ‘Technocene’ is still evolving – nature is turning electronic in the advent of ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) with the potential to overtake ‘brain power’ by a factor of many thousands because of its advanced operational efficiency – electronic circuits being faster than neural networks.  AI is seen as superior in the same sense that a person in a quiz or IQ test proves to be superior by being able to think faster than others.  But will ‘out-smarting’ remain the ‘name of the game’ in a post-evolutionary environment that is unencumbered by the usual biological fetters?  Ultimately, could AI out-compete us to extinction precisely because it has no need to compete and survive?  Would it need a biosphere at all?  So is humanity, indeed the biosphere as we know it, destined to go the way of the dinosaurs?  Or is the survival factor in Darwinian evolution just a ‘stop-gap’ theoretical attempt to mount an explanation on top of all the inexplicabilities of life and its origins?  Crucially, what theory of extinction explains the presence of life; what experiment teases-out the fact of life?

Unlike most scientific theories, the theory of evolution does not make specific predictions – even life is a ‘given’ – nevertheless, it has been highly successful at promoting a core scientific dogma – namely, that the ‘why’ of existence amounts to a subjective non-scientific departure from the objective question of the ‘how’ of natural events and their reasoned explanation.  Accordingly, the theory resonates with the idea of life as a technicality – an outgrowth of the laws of physics awaiting a precise explanation in the mechanism of nature – with reasoning, deliberation, knowledge and understandings operating as a part of nature and the sentient mind being the organic product of successive evolutionary adaptations.  But there is a contradiction in the claim that mental events are reducible to physical processes, thereby to become explicable in the uncharted depths of a physicality that is ‘observable’ on its own – as if the peculiar presence of an observer is not sufficient evidence of a radical change in the nature of nature – or as if those ‘how’ questions don’t trade on theoretical assumptions about the objective nature of nature and natural causes.

In sum, evolution proffers a retrospective biological explanation of human intelligence linked to our success as a species in the ‘fight for survival’, yet it remains theoretical, as do our ideas about whether the one depends on the other.  So it is not an inevitable fact that human and artificial intelligence will need to compete or that the human intellect will prove to be inferior to the lightening ‘mind’ of AI – or that quick-wittedness steers progress and innovation?  Nor is it certain that intelligence is ‘brain power’ or that AI will automatically gain intentionality or become ‘intelligent enough’ to recognise itself – to recognise its limits and seek to improve itself?  In any case, by what inductive logic do we presume to quantify intelligence against some arbitrary metric of ‘thinking-time’?  Furthermore, what makes us think that the dependency of life upon its chemistry explains things?  Is reality reducible to its lesser forms – is a ‘final analysis’ destined to show us everything by showing us a primordial next-to-nothing?  In fact, is the resounding success of science as science distracting us from its precipitous failure as a philosophy?

Mike Laidler

 

 

Metamorphs

What is ‘the inanimate’

– a vague comparison

with what we know of life?

Yet isn’t everything animate

from chaos to concern

– defining existence

as ‘being in existence’ –

the direction for there to be order

the consolidations of form

the purpose in ‘being alive’

the meaning in awareness

the moral in thought

the thrust of emotion

the urge to know

– manifestations

of the power to be

into realities

borrowing.

 

Mike Laidler

 

 

Trains of thought

What do we know

of what we do not know?

What can we know

of truths beyond recognition?

Or is the unknown a destination,

built upon the track of the known

– a terminus linked to our point of departure

from a truth we chose to leave behind?

Mike Laidler

Universals and particulars

What is existence?

Can we capture it in a word?

An ever-flowing presence

replete in its transformations,

particular to everything?

 

But where is this everything?

Is it more than our universe

– too big to be seen at once

spanning all pasts and futures,

the seeming we cannot see without?

 

Mike Laidler

The hylozoism hypothesis

Is explanation the final factual frontier?  When we come round to thinking that something ‘requires’ an explanation we base the project on our idea about what might count as such.  But once we assume that we have our explanation we are inclined to forget that the idea of it is grounded in the hypothetical.  Consequently, we move away from the fact that we are relying upon assumption by assuming that we are not, because the fact is now ‘explained’.  And without doubt, the prevailing assumption of our scientific age is that ‘hard facts’ provide the real explanations – that causal explanations rationalise those facts and a joined-up knowledge puts things in their place – with scientific proofs standing at the summit of the known.  In other words, we assume that a real knowledge of the world seeks to explain it and anything ‘known’ in the absence of an explanation is inferior and incomplete.  It follows logically that our knowledge of ourselves, reality, life, the universe and indeed existence in general, must remain incomplete until we find the ‘final’ explanation?  But in what way might we expect it to finalise things?

  • If our presence in existence reflects the power and capacity of the universe as a whole, then is the universe both alive and not alive, thinking and unthinking, chaotic and organised, logical and irrational – and ultimately self-aware, self-justifying and self-explanatory?
  • If life is a material property is matter basically alive?

Despite all our scientific advances and achievements we still can’t account for the ‘isness’ of being.  Then how do we explain ourselves?  All we can do is refer one state of being to another – so life is  basically chemistry and everything is bound up with comings and goings that symbolise the impermanence of the ‘power to be’ within the overwhelming embrace of the ‘law of entropy’.  However this generalisation is more apparent than real and its logical premise merely adds to the confusion.  Confused means ‘fused with’ – for instance, the logic of explanation equates the mind to the brain as if their entirely different states of being are scientifically and, by implication, factually irrelevant.  This resembles the premise of the now defunct ‘hylozoism’ hypothesis: that life is an intrinsic property of matter since there is nowhere else for it to be.  Undaunted, science remains bent on explaining everything into-existence from some primal state – certified as the original cause of any change.  But when the child asks about life and death – that is, really asks – we find ourselves juggling with these conceptual confusions – hoping that our bodies and brains might hold the ‘material’ answers, somewhere.

Mike Laidler