[xmca] railways, explosions and principles of causality

From: sgabosch@comcast.net
Date: Tue Jul 18 2006 - 13:03:54 PDT

I think Ana's comments on causal analysis touch on an extremely important point in this causality discussion - that causality in any human activity is more complex ("branches out" more) than, say, the causes of chemical explosions, or chemical reactions in general. Ana points out that it gets more difficult to determine social than physical causes. This leads to a line of questioning on my mind.

First, permit me some reflections on causality and complexity. We can usefully start with comparing a chemical explosion to a railway system, which seems to be emerging from our conversation. Human affairs of course include chemistry at every level - from the biochemistry of life, to handling substances, all of course chemicals, every second. But human affairs - such as building railway systems, running chemical factories, or even dropping bombs - cannot be reduced to chemical reactions. Human activity includes chemistry, but is also much more. In my view, in the ontological discussion of causality in nature, this point applies to causality. Just as nature exists on many levels of complexity - sub-atomic, cosmological, geological, chemical, biological, zoological, ecological, and its crowning level of complexity, the human sociological and psychological - so too does causality exist on multiple levels of complexity. Each of these domains requires its own studies to de!
 its necessary characteristics and regularities, understand the kinds of accidental and chance events they generate, and explore the kinds of causes and effects inherent to them. At the same time, all these domains strongly interact and intertransform and belong to a common reality.

So here are some questions I am pondering, spurred on by Ana, Andy, Emily, Mike and others. On the human side, as reality becomes more complex, do we lose the ability to determine causes? Why would that be so? What could change that? On the ontological side, as we move up a so-called hierarchy of complexity, what happens to causality? Combining the two lines of questioning, and following an implication of my monist view of nature, can universal principles of causality be developed that apply across all domains of reality and levels of complexity, from the chemical to the psychological? How could this be done? Who has laid the groundwork for such an endeavor?

- Steve

> On Jul 16, 2006, at 4:24 PM, Ana Marjanovic-Shane wrote:
> > This is a very interesting way to find causes -- I did not know
> > that it had a formal name, too.


> > I think that the railroad example is a little different kind of
> > "cause" than the mostly physical causes you quoted in your example.
> > I mean -- the reason for railroad gouge being 4 feet 8 1/2" -- is
> > not the same as a cause of an explosion. This particular RR gouge
> > was not an inevitable effect when that width was set for the first
> > time (whenever it might have happened) in the same sense as when
> > you have all the conditions for an explosion to take place. At any
> > point of time, this gauge might have been changed and it wasn't
> > because it was: costly, impractical, not considered, a coincidence,
> > etc. It still might change in the future... So in a way -- it is
> > "caused" by the Roman (or earlier) chariots/wagon makers and
> > corresponding road fitting, but in a way -- there are many more
> > branches of causes than in physical causality that it becomes
> > difficult to call it a "cause". It was certainly "enabled" by all
> > the different decisions along the historical path, and these
> > decisions were made in many ways we don't know from the shorthand
> > example.

> > If we compare this with the "cause" for the QWERTY keyboard -- both
> > were products of a certain kind of thinking and reasoning to solve
> > a particular practical issue at hand. But they were not the ONLY
> > possibilities at that time. So if Apollo reasoning defined
> > branching going backwards in time, I think that this kind of
> > "causality" has branches in both directions in time...
> > Maybe I am wrong... > > Ana
> >
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