Summary of the general theory of cause

By Dr Graham Little PhD AFNZIM © October 2003 Graham Little

This paper summarizes the general theory of cause as developed in the body of the five main papers at this site, and this summary needs to be read in conjunction with those papers, especially the first three papers. The theory defines cause as: a relation between classes of relation between classes of events. Summarized below are the underlying details of this statement.

1.       Defining an event: the base of the theory of cause is events.

a.       Events are defined as the factors of immediate perception that is a change the perceptual field resulting in change in the perceptual mechanisms of the observer.

b.       So defining an event necessarily defines the observer.

2.       Classes of events.

a.       Being immediate perception, any event is not necessarily interpreted by the observer, but could be so interpreted if noted by the observer.

b.       Single unique and unrepeated events are of little interest, they do add to knowledge, but do not advance understanding.

c.       Repeated events of similar nature become grouped by the properties of the event and are so classified.

d.       Classes of events are ideas. Ideas are used to interpret the world, with the idea (generality) being used to classify the particulars of the world, so, to paraphrase Eastern philosophers, a white horse is not a horse; it is an example of ‘horse’.

3.       Constant conjunctions.

a.       After Hume, it is understood that events that occur regularly together are constant conjunctions and give rise to  causal expectations.

b.       Causal expectation is not cause, and is not reason to assume cause.

4.       Types of constant conjunction.

a.       After W Ross Ashby, constant conjunctions can be classified into those whereby the effect of any perturbation is immediate, and those whereby the effect of any perturbation is an ultimate conjunction known to go via other, immediate conjunctions.

b.       Ashby’s ultimate and immediate effects model the structure of constant conjunctions.

5.       Classes of relation.

a.       Given two types of constant conjunction, then there are two classes of relation between events. First, classes of immediate effects, second, classes of ultimate effects.

b.       It then follows that there can be a relation between these classes of relation.

6.       Definition of cause: follows as a relation between classes of relation between classes of events.

a.       That is, when we ‘see’ an event, say the sun rising, we label it according to previous experiences either personal or social so it is called ‘sunrise’.

b.       We know it (the sun) will travel across the sky; we call that ‘day time’, and will eventually set. This is all at a conceptual level, at one set of ‘relations between classes of events’.

c.       If we now add the understanding of the world and solar system, we get a quite different set of relations, these relations form the underlying mechanisms of the previous set of relations, so we come to see the ‘sunrise/sunset’ classes of relations between events as the ‘ultimate effects’ of the ‘immediate effects described by the mechanism of the solar system, gravity etc’.

d.       Without understanding the underlying mechanisms, simply accepting the uppermost set of classes of relations, then we have no cause, the sun rises and sets driven by the Gods, or some other notion, there is little or no choice but make such prognostications.

7.       Conceptual levels: arise as a consequence of the relation between classes of relation. So events perceived belong to different conceptual levels, and that this is not perceptual, this is intellectual; left solely to perception all events are at the same conceptual level.

8.       Natural perception. Every species has a level of ‘natural perception’ that is a natural level whereby changes in a perceptual field are able to produce changes in the perceptual biological structures in the species.

a.       To note changes in perceptual fields outside this range of natural perception requires the species develop machines for converting changes in a perceptual field that cannot produce changes in the perceptual modalities of the species, into changes that can.

b.       Any species without such machines will have restricted causal insight and understanding of the universe, bounded by the level of natural perception of that species.

9.      After Little the hypothesis is that all constant conjunctions are ultimate effects. This is called the universal mechanistic postulate.

a.       This means that immediate and ultimate effects (or immediate and ultimate constant conjunctions) are only so in relation one to another, with the conceptual level defining which is immediate and which ultimate. There is no absolute level of constant conjunctions, so there is no absolute level of immediate effects; there is no mechanistic base to the universe.

b.      The summary and effect of the universal mechanistic postulate is that there is always a mechanism.

c.       The consequences of always having a mechanism is that such interpretations of modern physics as reflecting the probabilistic nature of the universe is rejected, and quantum electro dynamics is seen as a powerful technology that does not grasp the or reflect the underlying nature of the universe, and does not reflect the mechanisms underlying the events it so accurately  predicts, it merely uses powerful mathematical tools to get the right answers; but that in part the mathematical nature of science is not a reflection of the universe, but a reflection of the very nature of our knowledge of it.

d.       The universal mechanistic postulate also has profound impact on the view and understanding of epistemology, but this brief note is not the place, see the papers and supporting papers for some of these issues to be introduced.

10.   Cause in summary: two elements are needed to accurately say we know the cause, first we need know the mechanism at play whereby one thing becomes another (and that in the instance under study, we need to know there are not factors outside the mechanism able to alter the mechanism), and second we need to know the starting values of the variables able to influence the system under study. Knowing the start point, and knowing the mechanism and all factors able and likely to influence it, then the result is predictable. That’s cause.

11.   Is cause always proximal? Can it occur at a distance? Cause revolves about events, defined by the observer; the fact that two objects that affect each other are not apparently able to interact does not mean they do not so interact. It only means that we do not know nor do we perceive the mechanism whereby the two interact, but under the universal mechanistic postulate, we need look very, very hard, because it is most likely there is a mechanism. So, two events on opposite sides of the universe, that occur as constant conjunctions, and our initial instincts suggests they are related, or evidence suggests so, then we have an interesting scientific problem of uncovering the mechanisms whereby the two interact, for the working assumption is that there is always a mechanism. Do all mechanisms of the universe work only at close range? This is too big an assumption, it can and must be concluded that we simply do not know!

12.   Determinism. The model of knowledge on which the general theory of cause is based presents a deterministic view of the universe. This is counter to much of modern philosophy, but is a deductive consequence of the theory, not an assertion prior to the theory. Freewill, human spirit and consciousness are not affected by this deterministic view, since these social and psychological elements are shaped first and foremost by the ideas we hold, and not by the neurological substrate of those ideas. Given good neural health, then our being is shaped by what we think not by the mechanisms of how we think.

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