Thursday, November 10, 2005

Whether There Are Causes

The article that follows is a amateurish attempt to tackle an issue in the style and tradition of Aquinas’ Summa. It asks a general question and then gives objections to thinking that the answer is negative. It then follows the objections with an appeal to some authoritative source and then a brief explanation of the affirmative position. After that comes brief answers to the objections posed. This is a first attempt at this style and it is understood that many things are assumed and remain to be defended and/or explained. But nevertheless, enjoy.

It appears there are not causes, for: Objection. 1: There is nothing incoherent in the idea that something may arise from nothing. Since a causeless beginning can be imagined there is no need for a cause. Objection 2: Further, a first event would need no cause since it is the first, thus there is a cause is unnecessary. Objection 3: The term "causality" is simply a mental construct to allow anticipation of future actions but it is not a real principle. Objection 4: It will be argued that all things that exist need a cause, but then so does the first cause. Objection 5: Even if there were a first cause that cause would not now exist, just as smoke lingers from a fire that is extinguished.

On the contrary: Hume notes "I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that something could arise without a cause" (Hume, The Letters of David Hume, 1:187). The Philosopher, likewise, observes "It is of ultimate causes that we must obtain knowledge, since it is when we think that we have grasped its first cause that we say that we know a thing" (Aristotle, Metaphysics, I. 3. 1).

I answer that: It is altogether repugnant to the intellect to deny there are causes. Nonbeing cannot cause being, for there is nothing to do the causing – nothing comes from nothing. Only being causes being. By definition all effects need a cause, and by cause is meant that which creates an effect. All effects pre-exist in their cause. No effect is greater than its cause. Events are effects and are thus caused. Likewise that which is contingent is caused by another. All change is simply a reduction of potentiality to actuality, but actuality precedes potentiality in the order of being. Therefore, all things that are reduced from potentiality to actuality are done so by that which is already in act. Potentiality simply limits act to the type of act that it is. There are six causes that are ordered to any effect. The efficient cause is that by which something comes to be as a carpenter is the one that builds a chair. The formal cause is that which something is, it is what defines the carpenter’s creation as a chair. The material cause is that of which something is, as wood is of which the chair is made. The final cause is that for which something is, as the chair is made for sitting. The exemplar cause is that after which something is, as the blueprint for making the chair. And the instrumental cause is that through which something is, as tools are used to make the chair. It is through these causes that it can be said that we know something truly.

Reply to Objection 1: I argue it is wholly incoherent to assert that something may arise from nothing. As nothing is neither in act nor potency. Thus, for anything to come into existence there must be something since all change is a reduction of potency to act, but if there is neither, then there is no change or creation. Further that there was nothing followed by something is not incoherent, but that nothing caused or produced something is repulsive to the intellect. Reply to Objection 2: It is unintelligible to assert that a first event needs no cause. An event is an effect by definition, thus to assert an event is uncaused is contradictory. Reply to Objection 3: Causality is a real principle of human knowledge. It is not simply a mental construct. When potentiality is reduced to actuality a real change takes place, not one simply of intellect. It is true that causality allows for anticipation but it is not limited to such an understanding. Reply to Objection 4: I argue not all things that exist need a cause, only those things that begin to exist. As stated above actuality precedes potentiality in the order of being. If there is no thing already in act then no thing can come into existence. If there ever was a time that there was literally nothing, then nothing now would exist. Reply to Objection 5: This analogy confuses effects and after-effects. The smoke lingers because it is being caused to exist by other physical laws. If those physical laws ceased to exist, then so too would the smoke. Likewise, those who rely on a here and now cause for exist-ing always require a cause for there continuing to exist. The continuing to be of here and now things depends on more than physical laws. Every contingent being needs a cause for its moment by moment existence, since its existence is not intrinsic to them. If existence were ever intrinsic to a contingent being, then it would no longer be contingent but necessary. Existence is ordered to act as essence is ordered to potency. Anything that has the potential to not exist is not necessary. Only that being that has no potential to not exist is necessary. It is thus clear that not only are there causes, but by them we can have knowledge.

24 Comments:

Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Just a quick comment.

Objections 2 and 4 seem to be begging the question.

Take objection 2. By claiming that every event is an effect, you are automatically concluding that it must have a prior cause. This claim is not necessary, and cannot support your argument.

Suppose we look at all the events in the universe (particle collisions, etc) like points in a lattice joined by particle trajectories. The universe then looks like a sort of a crystal but with less orderly bonds. From this view, causality is just another way of saying that the lattice has certain structural properties, namely that the bonds cannot have a slope less than a certain value, and they cannot flow backwards.

Nothing in this picture says that the crystal cannot begin at a single lattice point, i.e., that the crystal cannot have sharp tip.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Lanny Wilson said...

Dr. Logic, thanks for the feedback,

Just a few quick questions. If an event is not an effect then what is it?

Secondly, am I to take events like particle collision as not being caused by the particles actually colliding with each other?

Thirdly, I'm really fuzzy on the crystal analogy. I assume that this is suppose to give an account of how an event is not an effect (am I right on that assumption?). How should I understand this lattice? Is it infinite and eternal? Should I imagine it as being similar to the neurological connections in the brain? Are you suggesting that this particular lattice begins at a certain point and then "expands" from there? I guess the difficulty I'm having is conceptualizing how something can "begin" but not be caused. Everything in my experience that begins appears to have a cause. Thus, I'm not sure how to conceptualize this lattice so any help you provide would be appreciated.

Your thoughts are always challenging and appreciated.

Lanny

9:45 AM  
Blogger Ariel said...

An altogether lovely tribute.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Hi Lanny,

It is certainly intuitive that every event should have a cause. However, our limited, macroscopic, classical intuition has been shown to be misleading in the past. For example, the quantum double-slit experiment shows that we cannot think of particles as having rigid trajectories as if the particles were billiard balls.

Really, an event is no more than a point in spacetime where there is a discontinuous change in some set of empirical values. If conservation laws hold, then the empirical values on one side of (after) the event are dependent on the values on the other side (before) the event.

Now, imagine a crystal shaped like a point cut diamond, and carefully balanced on its tip.

Each atom is supported by the bonds of other atoms. If you like, you can say that the atoms in the lattice are constrained to be consistent with the laws of chemical bonds. All of the atoms are supported by a single atom at the base of the crystal. Yet, we would hesitate to say that the crystal was created at its tip.

In this analogy, the atoms are events in spacetime, and the bonds are like particle trajectories. The universe can begin at a single event in the same way that a crystal has a single atom at its tip.

Of course, unlike a crystal, the universe is polarized - all of the trajectories go forward in time. The universe seems to care about the arrow of time.

To go back to your Reply #4...
I argue not all things that exist need a cause, only those things that begin to exist.

I think you will have to take care in defining what it means "to begin to exist."

Do you mean anything which at an earlier time did not exist?

Or do you mean anything that is bounded? For example, if I have a perfect cube (just the form, not a physical object), does it have a cause if it does not have infinite extent?

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Logic:
Please stop imposing the Copenhagen Interpretation (re: your reference to the two-slit experiment) as an allegedly philosophically sound matrix upon which quantum mechanics is based. This is a convenient rhetorical trick. Just because mathematical formalisms (which are necessarily significant abstractions from the real world) "describe" something which matches experimental observations doesn't imply physical nature itself is indeterminate -- it simply means we don't know YET: mathematical agreement is no guarantee of conceptual validity. If you continue to hang your hat on such assertions, then demonstrate its soundness (don't just prove its validity).

7:05 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anonymous,

What I have said is true in any interpretation of quantum mechanics because its true in the experimental results.

If you don't think there's anything counter-intuitive about the double-slit experiment (I certainly do), then how about the Hydrogen atom? Or Quantum Tunneling? Or warped spacetime in General Relativity?

I say again, human intuition at the macro scale is not very useful in other domains.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Logic:

You still don't get it, do you?

Does the quantum world being counterintuitive to YOU (based on CURRENT experimental observations as described by highly ABSTRACTED mathematical formalisms -- which are beings of reason, which hence leave much of the ontological real "beingness" behind) therefore DEMONSTRATE (as opposed to simply "prove") that Nature itself is inherently counterintuitive or indeterminate? If you assert such a position, then the onus is on you to demonstrate the soundness of your position.

Looking at a side-view mirror of an automobile certainly provides a counterintuitive view of automobiles approaching from behind, but that doesn't mean those automobiles actually ARE farther away. (That's why they put the warning on those mirrors.) A stick apparently bent when placed in water doesn't actually mean that stick is bent.

What you're implying, again by using a convenient rhetorical device at the end of your last posting, is that our intuition can NEVER be "useful" at other scales. That's absolute nonsense. Adjusting one's mind to "see" at other scales is one thing, giving up "seeing" at other scales because you wrongly conclude we cannot (by definition) ever "see" at those scales is intellectual cowardice.

You're not living up to your name, Dr. Logic. And, as a Ph.D. nuclear engineer, I can assure the studio audience, you do NOT have a good grasp of quantum concepts.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anonymous,

And as a Ph.D. particle physicist, I can assure the studio audience that I do understand the difference between QM and an interpretation of QM!

Okay, let's try this again. A claim was made that our intuitive sense of cause and effect serves to determine fundamental physical law. My claim was that intuition is sometimes misleading, and cannot serve as decisive evidence for physical law, especially not at scales which we cannot perceive directly.

And, yes, QM is manifestly counter-intuitive to people like me and Albert Einstein.

Looking at a side-view mirror of an automobile certainly provides a counterintuitive view of automobiles approaching from behind, but that doesn't mean those automobiles actually ARE farther away. (That's why they put the warning on those mirrors.) A stick apparently bent when placed in water doesn't actually mean that stick is bent.

Thank you for making my point so neatly. Our intuition says the stick is bent, but the intuition is wrong. Illusions are counter-intuitive, hence the world isn't completely intuitive, and intuition cannot serve as final arbiter of physical law.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, now that you've compared yourself to Albert Einstein, I guess the rest of us should swallow your empiriometric views without question...

... In any event and once again, please demonstrate to all of us that your trusintg in the Copenhagen Interpretation is DEMONSTRATED as being SOUND by modern empirical science alone. You yourself have asserted unequivocally that if it's not detectable or measureable or observable by modern empirical science, then it doesn't exist. So, please, prove to us the soundness of your metaphysical assertions by using only modern empirical science. We continue to wait... Until that's done, I submit again you don't know what you're talking about - particle physics background not withstanding.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anon,

This is getting tedious. I don't "trust in Copenhagen" because Copenhagen isn't physics. It's an attempt by humans to come up with an intuitive picture of what is happening in QM.

I trust in the power of mathematical models to predict experiment. Interpretations like Copenhagen and Many Worlds are irrelevant. Prediction is all that counts.

The double-slit experiment is counter-intuitive in QM. Interpretations have nothing to do with this.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Logic:

What is tedious is you not being able to support using your own criteria the soundness of your position. So, let's try one more time (quoting you directly): "Prediction is all that counts." Please provide us any scientific or mathematical prediction that supports your assertion that "Prediction is all that counts."

Yet again, you're requested to support your position using your own criteria... and yet again you fail to do so or avoid it. First you demanded modern empirical scientific proof of the metaphysical positions of others (which betrays your ignorance of what metaphysics is), now you demand "prediction." Well, don't you think the same should be demanded of you?

Don't run away: DEMONSTRATE -- USING ONLY MODERN SCIENCE OR MATHEMATICS -- THE SOUNDNESS OF YOUR ASSERTION: "Prediction is all that counts."

10:55 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anon,

Nice of you to pull my quotes out of context.

Let's pad out my statement about prediction:

1) Prediction is what counts in science. That's by definition, don't you agree?

2) Prediction is what makes informed decisionmaking possible, because without prediction from information, you're not really reasoning about anything, you're just guessing.

3) There is good observational evidence that reasoning from information using predictive regularities leads to desired outcomes more often than random guessing.

4) I have observed that I desire certain outcomes.

5) Therefore, I trust in systems that have shown their ability to predict outcomes.

All of these points are based on logic and observation:

1) The definition of science (at least mine) is a recipe. You can observe scientific reasoning and observation, and compare whether or not it meets the criteria of the definition. Implicit in the definition is the rewarding of predictive theories.

2) Bayesian probability theory allows you to decide between alternative courses of action based on past experience by predicting likely outcomes. We know the difference between computing a course of action, and making a random selection. Again, recipes.

3) I can easily devise an experiment to test my third claim. How about Russian Roulette with knowledge of the workings of the gun and the location of the bullet? I would prefer to use this information in a predictive model for outcomes (rather than just knowing the information) before deciding who pulls the trigger first.

4) Is an observation.

5) A conclusion based on the premises.

Done.

And please don't play the infinite regression of meaning game, either. All meaning is founded on empirical observation. That's just the way we learn new, unknown languages, including our native tongue (i.e., show and tell). Consistency and empiricism are implicit in every language exchange. You have to accept both as prerequisites for debate.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Logic:

You are wrong on most counts, and it's not worth my time dealing any more with ignorance of philosophical principles on your part. Just a few points:

First, science is NOT "by definition" about prediction: you confuse method with essence. You also don't understand what science is as mediate intellectual knowledge; and in the specific case of modern empirical science, mediate intellectual knowledge obtain by demonstration that employs true premises by reasoning to sound arguments.

Second, you again repeat (in another form) a logical fallacy when you state: "There is good observational evidence that reasoning from information using predictive regularities leads to desired outcomes more often than random guessing... I trust in systems that have shown their ability to predict outcomes." What you seem to refuse to accept is that mathematical or observational agreement (based on prediction if you'd like) is no guarantee of conceptual validity. Just because you can employ a mathematical equation to make a prediction, AND even if that prediction is held up by certain observations, doesn't mean you have a sound concept of what that object or system is in its full ontological reality. Mathematics and empirical observations can't actualize anything. They describe a given situation to answer the question "how?", but never can answer the question "why"?

I can give you a non-scientific "prediction" if you'd like: you cannot nor will you ever be able to both walk through an open doorway and not walk through the same open doorway at the same time and in the same manner. That's an applied example of the metaphysical First Principle of Non-Contradiction. It's also a prediction. It is manifestly NOT an observation or conclusion of modern emprical science. Yet, by your assertions, it's false because this First Principle is not measurable or able to be captured by mathematics. You spout scientistic assertions, but practically you live by certain metaphysical principles. Yet, you can't account for why you do so with science or mathematics alone. Sounds like a recipe for cognitive dissonance to me.

(And, please, don't provide the QM example again (i.e., both a wave and a particle), because you've previously failed to address my point: you believe that mathematical formalisms not only describe reality but actualize it as well. In other words, because the wave (state) equation is probablistic, you believe then nature is probabilistic. In other words, for you the mathematics drives the ontology, instead of the other way around. You believe mathematics and empirical observation ALONE are sufficient to explain the world -- which is like saying the map which describes the territory IS the territory.)

Third, it is NOT infinite regression to demand you provide an explanation for why you, for example, state "all meaning is founded upon empirical observation." Well, again, for the umpteenth time, please provide measurable phenomena that support that non-scientific assertion. For heaven's sake, you don't even understand the term "meaning," and yet you try to use it... but only end up spouting inept assertions. All meaning is NOT founded upon empirical observations. All knowledge originates from information coming through our five primary senses, but this in no way means all knowledge is sensory knowledge.

Is it "sensory knowledge" or "empirically-based meaning" to assert with 100% certitude the Principle of Non-Contradiction, or the Principle of Sufficient Cause, or, etc., etc.? No, of course not. Yet (to purposefully belabor the point), on the one hand you live as if these are true, yet you can't account for them with modern empirical science or mathematics alone: All the king's science and all the king's mathematics can't explain ontological reality to you, yet you assert they can providing no demonstration to support your assertion.

God's speed to you.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Just because you can employ a mathematical equation to make a prediction, AND even if that prediction is held up by certain observations, doesn't mean you have a sound concept of what that object or system is in its full ontological reality. Mathematics and empirical observations can't actualize anything. They describe a given situation to answer the question "how?", but never can answer the question "why"?

"Conceptual validity" is an illusion, a mirage, a contrivance for visualization. There is no "full ontological reality" of which you speak.

And I agree, mathematics and empirical observation cannot answer the question "why?" However, I don't think that the question is meaningful.

Is it "sensory knowledge" or "empirically-based meaning" to assert with 100% certitude the Principle of Non-Contradiction, or the Principle of Sufficient Cause, or, etc., etc.?

I would say that principle of non-contradiction is the first axiom of mathematics. It is a statement of consistency, and it is what makes logic useful. Without the principle, knowledge would be virtually useless because any proposition stating that such and such is the case would not rule out its negation. And, yes, it is by mathematical experiment that we can know this.

Both the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of sufficient cause have practical uses, but there's no guarantee that either principle is certainly true in every case. In most (but not all) cases, assuming their falsehood renders decisionmaking impossible.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Logic:

The continued ignorance of philosophical issues you display just went off the Richter scale in your last post. Sad, really...

Anyway, you note: "'Conceptual validity' is an illusion, a mirage, a contrivance for visualization. There is no 'full ontological reality' of which you speak." Please, support these assertions with sound reasoning. (Just stating them doesn't make them true.) Also, please limit yourself only to the criteria you have presented, namely mathematics and modern empirical science.

Please also support, with reasoned arguments and using only the methods of mathematics and modern empirical science as your promote them, another assertion you make, namely that the "why" question allegedly not meaningful. Do you believe the "why" question to be meaningless because your personal application of mathematics and science aren't able to capture or "see" meaning -- and therefore by definition for you there is no meaning at all?

Do you understand what the word "meaning" means? Do you believe the universe is, at base, meaningless? If so, don't you (as a member of the universe) believe your statements are also meaningless? If your statements are meaningless, then what is it of which you're trying to convince us. If, on the other hand, you do believe your statements have meaning, on what basis do they have meaning? (Remember, you've already banished meaning behind the "why" question, so you may not revisit it from this angle, i.e., you've already stated science and mathematics can only answer the "how" question and not the "why" because the latter is meaningless (to you). Why are your statements meaningful if neither science nor mathematics can provide a "why"?

"Non-contradiction is an axiom of mathematics... [and] it is by mathematical experiment that we can know this." Okay, I'm game. How do you demonstrate (again, not just prove) this? By simply stating X not equal to -X? Please try again.

"Non-contradiction... is a statement of consistency, and it is what makes logic useful." (??) This assertion is both surprising and asserting given your alleged background in particle physics. I'll leave aside your inability to understand QM and the CI. But to miss Godel's demonstration that runs completely counter to you claims, well... aren't you embarrased... or, again, is it simple ignorance?

You so desperately need physical measurements to be incorporated in an all-encompassing, self-consistent mathematical system... yet Godel doesn’t permit this: he demonstrated no system of ideas or axiom-based logic at least as complex as arithmetic (such as number theory) contains its own proof of consistency. Any system that is sufficiently complicated will have to point outside of itself, because of the oneness of reality, everything is related to everything else. So, you're demanding consistency by applying logic or mathematics only (which are systems of ideas) - yet Godel denies it to you. So, you're left with making assertions to make sense of your world. Again, inconsisteny on your part.

Finally, harkening back to your claim of my beind rude. Again, on what basis of mathematics or modern empirical science do you support your moral judgement? On which aspect of mathematics or modern empirical science do you support any moral imperative? If I stole your computer, which aspect of mathematics or modern empirical science would permit you to demand justice? Please explain what justice means in terms of mathematics and modern empirical science.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

anon,

Conceptual Validity: None of the infinite number of possible (and mutually exclusive) theories about "ontological reality" can ever be supported by experience. It is impossible to show that our experiments have touched the deepest, most fundamental level of reality.

It is utterly pointless to speak of the truth of a proposition, if it is in-principle impossible to obtain its truth value. You might as well ask about the truth value of an isolated proposition in an unknown language - you can propose that it means one thing or another, but you can never say with anything but infinite imprecision. Metaphysical statements have an even lower status than propositions in unknown languages - at least we might one day learn to comprehend unknown languages.

Meaning: I am speaking about semantic meaning, not about emotional response. A proposition is semantically meaningful if you know what other independent propositions would be implied by its truth, and what other independent propositions would be denied by its truth. This is a very inclusive definition of meaning. It also compartmentalizes propositions into contexts that have mutual implications. My statements are not meaningless because they have implications.

Non-contradiction: There is no proof of non-contradiction. The mathematical experiment merely shows the consequences of ignoring non-contradiction, i.e., that non-contradiction is potentially useful to us, and the alternative is not.

Why: Look closely at the meaning of the word "why" in common language. If you separate out the "how" interpretations, what are you left with?

Gödel: Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem showed that certain mathematical systems are incomplete if consistent. That just means that you cannot prove every true theorem within the system. It does not imply that the system is inconsistent. You only need to add axioms from outside to obtain a proof of certain truths in the system. The Incompleteness Theorem has almost no relevance to any of my claims.

QM and CI: From Wikipedia: "It should not, however, be assumed that most physicists consider quantum mechanics as requiring interpretation, other than very minimal instrumentalist interpretations, which are discussed below."

Rudeness: There are widely accepted standards for civil discourse. The objective of these standards is to permit people to sincerely debate ideas without poisonous personal insults that corrupt reasoning and make the enterprise unpleasant. Some people are rude because they are impulsive or because they have not considered the alternative. Others choose a strategy of rudeness in an effort to suppress participation of those with little taste for this sort of behavior.

Moral Imperatives: My own subjective moral imperatives are driven by my emotional desires and by my efforts to find a social framework that satisfies them.

Now that I have answered your questions, it is your turn to answer one of mine.

Please explain what "conceptual validity" is, and why it is either necessary, useful or determinate.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DL:

Sorry, but you are truly ignorant of so many philosophical issues (like demanding proof of non-contradiction) or you're outright wrong on others (QM/CI and Godel) that continuing this would be like speaking to a mathematical wall... which is to what you basically reduced yourself... You are purposefully and a priori closed off to anything other than a mathematical or scientific explanations, and yet you can't "prove" to anyone why that should be the case... And finally, no, you did not (or refused to) answer my questions -- as only one example: please use your self-stated mathematical or modern empirical scientific criteria (and please stop referencing your subjective personal emotional states) to justify applying moral categories such as "rudeness." This is all rhetorical, of course, because given the scientistic straightjacket you imposed on yourself, you're trapped in your own mind, and you'll only continue providing unsupported assertions rather than sound arguments. You may respond if you like, but I will not because your scientistic non-responses don't merit it. Maybe we'll clash again on another blog or another string...

10:25 AM  
Blogger Lanny Wilson said...

Dr. Logic,

Sorry it took so long to respond. A long weekend combined with the clash of the Titans on this thread made me hesitate responding. Are most of your discussions this heated -- Wow! I'll try not to be so caustic.

You asked a couple of questions at the beginning of this thread, so I'll answer as best I can.

Q1: In the vein of "whatever begins to exist needs a cause" you ask, "do you mean anything at an earlier time did not exist?" This, I think, can be answered in two respects -- Yes and no. Yes those things that begin in respect to time need a cause. But no, in respect to it being limited to time bound events. The principle I put forward is that "non-being cannot produce being." This does not matter if there is time or not.

Q2: I'm paraphrasing you here (so correct me if I am wrong), but you then ask how I understand the "form of cube." I assume that you are after how I understand abstract entities and their relation to causality. i.e., did the form of cube come into existence, or did the equation 2+2=4 come into existence. No, I do not think these things came into existence, but that does not mean that they have existence on their own. Abstract entities only have their existence in another. Thus, if there were no universe, then there would be no form of cube, nor would 2+2=4. Why because these are relations in the mind and if there is no mind then these would not exist. Thus, my position is different than the neo-platonic realism that is rampant in modern philosophy.

I'm a little slow in learning things, so maybe you can help me out with something. You describe an event as a point in spacetime that is a discontinuous change of empirical data. This event has the same value at the tail end as the front end (assuming the laws of conservation). This example seems to use the terms of causality to argue that causality does not take place. What caused the change at the point in spacetime? Why should the values at the tail end of the change be the same as at the front? Why can the values not be more? (I don't actually think the values are more, but given the idea that not everything that begins needs a cause, I see no reason not to accept the idea that this is possible).

Further, I'm not sure I disagree with you on the analogy of the cut diamond point. If the universe begins at said point then of course the rest of the universe rests on that point. I guess my contention is why does the point end up there in the first place?

I suppose I'd like for you to comment on your understanding of the principle that "non-being cannot produce being." As I understand this, nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could (to quote Julie Andrews). Your comments and thoughts are always challenging.

Thanks,

Lanny

11:38 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Hi Lanny,

Are most of your discussions this heated -- Wow! I'll try not to be so caustic.

Fortunately, no. :)

But no, in respect to it being limited to time bound events. The principle I put forward is that "non-being cannot produce being." This does not matter if there is time or not.

I think we can drill down to a deeper, more fundamental level.

Why should we demand that "being cannot produce non-being"?

Speaking of temporal causation, I would say that our macroscopic intuition is inadequate to support this claim. However, this principle does serve an important purpose. If things (patterns) can come into existence without contraint from prior history, then we would lose the ability to predict the future from the past. So, at least experimentally, we would have to say that the frequency with which things come into existence from nothing is extremely low.

Yet, the our requirement for causation disappears if there is one single initial event because the raison d'etre for causation does not apply there.

The analogue of causation for non-temporal structures are consistency relations. For example, suppose we have a closed geometric framework of intersecting line segments, governed by the rule that at least three line segments must meet at every intersection point. (A tetrahedron would be an example structure). One might say that a given line in this system is "caused" by the intersection of two other line segments. That is, we have a geometrical constraint analogous to a conservation law in spacetime. In this example, the entire geometric structure wraps around on itself, if you like, causing itself.

What caused the change at the point in spacetime? Why should the values at the tail end of the change be the same as at the front? Why can the values not be more?

In classical physics, the conservation laws don't really give you any options for what happens at an event. It's like the universe is made up of perfect billiard balls, and, though it may be hard to predict, there's not any choice as to what the outcome will be.

In quantum mechanics, there are global constraints on the outcome like energy and charge conservation, but details like trajectory or the species of particle produced may be determined only as a probability distribution. In one case, a colliding electron and positron might create a top quark and an anti-top quark, and in the next it might produce a proton and an anti-proton. There isn't information (or perhaps it is inaccessible to us) going into the collision to make the determination.

If Nature is a consistent system, then symmetries of the laws of motion of that system imply conserved quantities. For example, the fact that the laws of physics don't care where you are in space (my laws = your laws) means that whatever theory you come up with will conserve momentum. There is a theorem (Noether's theorem) that states this. Energy conservation arises when the laws of a physical system don't care about location in time. Because the laws of physics are the same for me as they were for my grandfather, the laws of physics must have conserved energy for the last few decades.

Of course, if we propose that the laws of the universe do depend on time and space, then energy and momentum need not be conserved. Since we live in a very calm sea in the cosmic ocean, we might not easily detect violations of this principle in our neighborhood.

Even if the laws of physics conserve energy generally, I think it is conceivable that if the universe begins at a single event, energy need not be conserved at that event. The reason for this is that there is no 'parent' or 'grandparent' for such an event, so the 'parent-child' symmetry is broken at that point.

Further, I'm not sure I disagree with you on the analogy of the cut diamond point. If the universe begins at said point then of course the rest of the universe rests on that point. I guess my contention is why does the point end up there in the first place?

This gets back to the "why" and "how" questions. The how questions are the truly meaningful ones. How did we get into a war in Iraq? If we try to answer the "why did we get into war in Iraq," we end up looking at people's life histories and the chance coincidences which led them to make the decisions. In effect, all of our meaningful whys are hows. The hows need not be historical, e.g., "How does a bridge support its roadway?" Yet they rely on self-consistency and rules of constraint for their answers. That is, the answer always takes the form of "the system has to be this way in order to be consistent with these rules and with itself." Yet, when the system is the entire universe, the how's are merely aspects on the individual parts. As with our geometrical structure of line segments, we can ask why/how a given line segment must exist at a certain point (given that it must complete certain triple-intersections in the figure), but we cannot answer the question "how is the geometric structure" because all of the consistency is internal to the structure, and there is nothing outside the structure for it to be consistent with.

My brain hurts. It'll have to come out.

I'll just say that last bit again. When we ask how (or why), we are always asking about the connection between the puzzle and its environment. We are asking what must be true of the local environment such that the puzzle makes sense within it. When the puzzle is itself the totality of the environment, it no longer makes sense to ask how it fits in with its local environment (i.e., how the environment can be consistent with the environment).

4:10 PM  
Blogger Lanny Wilson said...

Dr. Logic,

Thanks for taking the time to respond. After reading your response my brain hurts as well ;)

You asked "Why should we demand that 'being cannot produce non-being'?" I'm pretty sure you meant "why can't non-being produce being?" Did you mean to switch that up? If so I missed the point. But to respond to the question. You say that our macroscopic intuition is inadequate to support such a claim. But I think there are at least three good reasons to hold to this principle: 1) it is logically contradictory to hold otherwise; 2) it is physically impossible; and 3) it is metaphysically impossible.

1) Non-being is nothing, it does not exist. As such to say nothing can produce something is to make the nothing something, but that is a contradiction in terms.

2) You hint that, experimentaly at least, the frequency things come into existence from nothing is extremely low. Indeed! You are more familiar with physics (obviously) than I am, but to claim that energy (in whatever form) just "pops" into existence without any empirical evidence is amazing. Of course this leads right into the question of whether the universe itself popped into existence from nothing (more on this below).

3) It is metaphysically impossible that nothing should produce something (I grant you will not find this argument very convincing, but it is for the benefit of the studio audience). As a metaphysical principle of reality, all physical things that exist are in a state of actually and potentiality. Actuality precedes potentiality absolutely but potentiality limits actuality. But if there is nothing there is neither act nor potency, hence, from nothing comes nothing.

If I understand you correctly, I do not disagree with you on the laws of conservation -- you should know them better than I. I suppose the point I was trying to bring up, however (and maybe you answered this and it went right over my head), is that if in the case of the universe it came from nothing. That is, there was nothing and then all of the energy needed to sustain the universe appeared, then it would seem that there was a state with a value of 0 went to a state with say a value of 10. But conservation would seem to say that if you have a value of 10 if it changes it would change to 7 and 3; or 2, 5, 1, 2. The value at the beginning is the same as the end. But in creation there is no such symmatry. The beginning value is 0 as such the only available value that comes from 0 is 0. Thus, even if now the laws of conservation are in effect what would prevent that from changing? Given that energy can "pop" into existence for no reason, then it is conceivable that you begin with a value of 10 but then get 7, 2, 5. To claim that this is how this universe simply works and is interconnected seems inadequate. You already addressed the "how" and "why" above and I agree these are the questions that give meaning. But they are not limited to that. Further, where did this macroscopic knowledge of the universe come from? It cannot be from experimentation, can it?

Given the alternatives that the universe came into existence by nothing or by something. I think it is wholly rational to hold the universe came into existence by something. As always, your thoughts and comments are challenging and appreciated.

Lanny

9:55 AM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

I'm pretty sure you meant "why can't non-being produce being?"

Yes, but maybe I can be more precise. What I'm really saying is that time can be bounded. Just like a soccer ball has a boundary, so can time. In that case, there is a beginning of time and a first event, but there is no prior event.

At that first event, the universe has all the energy it will ever have. The Big Bang model is consistent with this picture.

1) Non-being is nothing, it does not exist. As such to say nothing can produce something is to make the nothing something, but that is a contradiction in terms.

Again, if time is bounded, then it's not a question of "nothing causing something." There's just an initial event without a cause. Your question assumes that there is a causal relation between the nothing and the something. Yet we would not say that the void of space "causes" the surface of the moon.

Going back to my last post, cause (the how) is a question of consistency. We can declare that all events must be consistent with any prior events. Having a universe with a single initial event does not contradict this principle.

but to claim that energy (in whatever form) just "pops" into existence without any empirical evidence is amazing.

Well, we physicists are used to things popping into existence now and again. :)

Black holes and were also considered quite absurd when they were first proposed, and yet they exist. Likewise, we're talking about exceptional circumstances, not the everyday.

Thus, even if now the laws of conservation are in effect what would prevent that from changing?

What prevents the law from changing is the fact that the more fundamental rules of the universe seem to be relatively indifferent to the time and place where an experiment is carried out. However, it is possible to imagine scenarios in which the rules do care about time and place. An initial event is one such place.

If you ask what is more fundamental, self-consistency or conservation of energy, I would side with self-consistency every time.

Further, where did this macroscopic knowledge of the universe come from? It cannot be from experimentation, can it?

We know from experiment that the Big Bang happened, and we know that at some point the universe was very small (much smaller than the size of a proton). However, at some small enough scale, our physics is inadequate to say much about what happens at any smaller scale (earlier time).

Classical gravity (General Relativity) says that the universe begins at a mathematical point, but we are confident that there is a non-classical, quantum theory of gravity that will tell us more about the smaller scales.

Though our best classical model says that the universe (and all space and time) begins at a mathematical point, it may not be true. We might live in a universe that has been oscillating (bang-crunch-bang...) forever, or the universe could have existed in some highly compacted state forever. However, if the universe did have a beginning, it didn't need a cause because there is no "outer time" in which a cause could have acted.

To claim that this is how this universe simply works and is interconnected seems inadequate. You already addressed the "how" and "why" above and I agree these are the questions that give meaning. But they are not limited to that.

I think this is the crux of our disagreement.

Your claim is that a scientific model of the universe that is self-consistent and that has an initial event is somehow inadequate.

In my previous post, I claimed that the how and why questions make no sense vis-a-vis the universe as a whole. You can only ask whether each part of the scientific model is locally consistent, or whether the overall system is self-consistent.

You cannot ask in what way the overall system is consistent with something external. There is nothing outside the model that it needs to be consistent with.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Lanny Wilson said...

Dr. Logic,

Again I appreciate your prompt and insightful response. I must admit I did not think you would respond as quickly as you have.

A couple of things. I agree with you that time began and all the energy that the universe has began at the big bang. At least the big bang is the best model we have. As far as I understand your reasoning I don't even disagree with you much on the scientific evidence or reasoning.

I'm not sure I understand why time being bonded seems to be so important against what I'm saying. Maybe you can help me understand what you are talking about. I understand time to be co-related with space and matter. You can't have one without the other two. You seem to indicate that my position needs time before time or an event before the first event. But I assure you that is not what I hold. Before the universe began there was no time, space, or matter. There was nothing of the physical universe at all.

Further, how does your definition of event mesh with the universes beginning. You said (way back at the beginning)"an event is no more than a point in spacetime where there is a discontinuous change in some set of empirical values. If conservation laws hold, then the empirical values on one side of (after) the event are dependent on the values on the other side (before) the event." But in the initial event there is no discontinuous change -- it is a creation. The empirical values are completely different at the end of the event than the beginning. This energy must come from "somewhere" -- right? (I know you'll say no, but this seems incredible).

I agree with you that one of the crux's of our difference is not the nature of the scientific evidence or model itself, but what it does or does not tell us. I do think that the scientific evidence is inadequate in many respects to explaining "why" the universe is here or even "how" the universe got here. The reason for this is that science is limited to this universe system. But this does not mean that we cannot know things other than scientific truths (this is not the place for a full defense of this statement -- maybe on a future blog). I guess to close this thread (please respond if you choose) I'll attempt to show where we agree and disagree:

Agreements: 1) The universe began at a particular point in time (via Big Bang). 2) Since that time we have referred to phenomena called causes to explain actions and reactions. 3) Space, time, and matter are co-related. (If I have stated anything you disagree with please correct me)

Disagreements: 1) The universe needs a cause for its coming into existence (L. affirms, Dr L. denies). 2) A consistent scientific model is the only valid means of knowledge (L. denies, Dr. L. affirms). (Again, if I have stated anything you disagree with please correct me)

Thanks, for the sparring

Lanny

2:04 PM  
Blogger Doctor Logic said...

Lanny,

You seem to indicate that my position needs time before time or an event before the first event. But I assure you that is not what I hold. Before the universe began there was no time, space, or matter. There was nothing of the physical universe at all.

It might be beter to say that there was no "before the universe." Does that help? If there's no time outside the universe, there is no "before the universe" either.

The universe should be thought of as a 4D sphere. Time is just a measure of latitude on this sphere. If causality if temporal, then it cannot apply outside of the universe. If it is not temporal, then it must represent some sort of external support structure for the sphere. However, if this were true, then the support structure would be part of the universe.

Agreements: 1) The universe began at a particular point in time (via Big Bang). 2) Since that time we have referred to phenomena called causes to explain actions and reactions. 3) Space, time, and matter are co-related. (If I have stated anything you disagree with please correct me)

Basically, yes. Space and time are definitely co-related. Matter probably so.

Disagreements: 1) The universe needs a cause for its coming into existence (L. affirms, Dr L. denies). 2) A consistent scientific model is the only valid means of knowledge (L. denies, Dr. L. affirms).

1) Correct. I would say that the expression "coming into existence" presupposes a time before the Big Bang.
2) Correct. I include mathematics and computation as sciences. They are both scientific in that, if you do operation correctly, you always get the same answer.

Thanks, for the sparring

Thank you!

3:00 PM  
Anonymous The term paper writer said...

You know for centuries, there have been recurring claims that Thomas had the ability to levitate.

1:41 AM  

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