Re: [xmca] Kevin's paper for discussion: causality

From: Emily Duvall (
Date: Tue Jul 04 2006 - 08:24:42 PDT

Dear Ana, Steve and All,

Regarding DST, micro-macro theories, causality and Hume… Did I bite off
enough to chew on here? I should admit, too, that I am unfamiliar with
Kevin's paper... so I may be out of line here.

My particular difficulty with DST is with symbolic representations. As I
understand it (which isn’t to say that I actually understand it) DST
argues that “cognition is an emergent phenomenon, grounded in lower,
simpler, and non-symbolic processes” and that in “lay[ing] claim to the
idea of representations...[the] neo-representational claims differ from
the classic symbolic stance… and all that is meant by representations in
the connectionist and dynamical systems account is that the theorist can
see correspondences between internal patterns and regularities in the
world… they are emergent patterns within the processes of the model that
yield category decisions …at their core dynamical systems and
connectionist accounts are alike in that they are emergentist accounts
and not representational symbol systems”.

[This is from my meager reading on the topic and specifically Smith &
Samuelson, 2002, Different is good: Connectionism and dynamic systems
theory are complementary emergentist approaches to development]

Is this what you are suggesting, Ana, that DST offers us a way to
understand the complexity of mental representations from a distance, so
to speak? As one way of looking at mental representations, it offers
much… certainly compatible with Wittgenstein and a more dispersed
understanding of language development, for example. How do you see
symbolic representation in terms of DST? Or inner observation?

Interestingly, though, what DST offers in terms of the development of
categories seems to me to begin to answer Hume…

My thinking around micro and macro…let me use the example of string
theory. String theory has the potential to unite other theories in
physics, right? It considers the combination of particles and forces
that result in strings at the micro level. As we back away (so to speak)
or zoom out, what remains in our focus are more macro level theories
that explain certain phenomena well. What becomes important for the
macro theories are the objects of study and the unit of analysis. What
string theory offers is a unifying concept… a way to understand the
properties of fundamental particles and forces. Chaos theory and
theories like DST help to argue against the reductionist positions that
string theory can lead to.

In terms of processes and causality (not in opposition)…I am suggesting
that causal theories suit more mechanistic understandings of the world
and, in terms of human consciousness I believe that by reducing the
complexity of living processes we can apply causal understanding.
Something along the lines of statistically significant ‘effects’ (macro)
verses descriptions of more complex, nonlinear and dialogic processes
(micro). I think Humean habits of thought press us to run the risk of
attempting to describe more dialogic processes with causal frameworks.
Hence I've separated process and causality, though I don't see them as
mutually exclusive but more representative of different ways of
understanding phenomena.

Humean habits of thought: I take up Hume’s account of definition whereby
we reduce in order to derive… this is particularly true of cause and
effect which Hume identifies as foundational – we see this in terms of
the way understandings of associations seem to be the natural way the
mind seeks to find connections through empirical observation. The mind,
more by custom or habit, seeks out these constant conjunctions.

~ Emily

Steve Gabosch wrote:

> That doesn't ring right to me, Emily. Counterposing causality to
> processes as existing on two different levels ... ? And on two
> different levels of scale ... ? I don't find myself resonating with
> that. Actually, I don't quite grasp this concept. I would rather say
> something like, at all levels, large and small, processes are
> particular sequences of causality. On your punchline, it intrigues me
> the way you identify as a Humean habit this concept of viewing
> causality on a macro level and processes on a micro level. Would you
> elaborate?
> - Steve
> At 06:25 PM 7/3/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>> Steve, you ask how processes can be viewed in terms of the broader
>> picture of causality... that suggests, to me, that you view causality
>> on the macro level with processes on a micro level...??
>> Humean habits are hard to break.
>> ~ Emily
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