Re: [xmca] railways, explosions and principles of causality

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Thu Jul 20 2006 - 00:45:39 PDT

  At 09:55 AM 7/19/2006 +1000, Andy Blunden wrote:
>Let me take a couple of examples to try to demonstrate why I am less
>than enthusiastic about the direction in which you are taking this
>idea of causality.
>Suppose a young black man is shot down in a drive-by shooting in an
>urban US district, and there is an enquiry to determine the cause. A
>causal analysis could come up with the conclusion that Henry Bloggs
>did and prosecute said Henry, and deny car licences to young black
>men to prevent further occurrences of drive-by shootings. An
>alternative analysis could come up with the conclusion that the
>streets are dangerous and in future youngsters should stay off the
>streets. A conclusion that I am sure many residents of these
>districts have come to. The result is of course to make the streets
>more dangerous, by emptying them of friendly witnesses and friends.
>Suppose one year the planned economy of Poland does not produce any
>needles, because someone forgot to issue the request for needles to
>the state needle factory (true story), one could identify how the
>error happened and introduce a new layer of bureaucracy to check
>that all the orders have been issued.

Hi Andy,

Gano's method of causal analysis would characterize these solutions
you mention as products of rule-based thinking. Gano advocates
event-based thinking. He also emphasizes developing a much richer
sequence of causes than just "immediate" causes. I think you are
trying to point out that these solutions are typical of reactionary
thinking and you fear that causal analysis might be used for such
purposes. I certainly cannot guarantee that won't. But I don't
think a serious causal analysis would come up with this
stuff. Issuing drivers licenses does not cause drive-by shootings,
nor do young people walking on the streets, and the lack of
bureaucratic controls in Poland did not cause bureaucratic
mismanagement. Just for illustration, one could technically argue
that keeping all possible victims of drive-by shootings off the
streets would prevent drive-by shootings. The existence of people to
shoot at is a cause, a causal condition, of drive-by shootings, so
removing this cause could be a possible "solution." But it is of
course an absurd rule-based solution. Unfortunately, your examples
do not really reflect serious causal analyses. We could perhaps
discuss a real causal analysis to see what you object to.

Andy continues:
>So, one of the conclusions that any degree of deep thought about the
>problem of causality is the point that Hegel was getting to: you
>have to go beyond the immediate cause of the problem to get a notion
>of the whole thing, which allows you to understand who the problem
>*and the defensive measures against it* arise from the nature of the
>thing, it's notion.

These are interesting ideas, Andy. How do you see them as opposed to
causal analysis - analyzing the chains of causes that lead up to a
given event or effect? A "root cause" analysis looks much deeper
than just the immediate cause, so there is no dispute there. So far,
I see no reason why Hegelian dialectics (especially when stood right
side up) and Gano's version of causal analysis cannot mutually
reinforce one another. What reason might you see for them being incompatible?

Not that I put an equal sign between the master philosopher Hegel and
the self-described amateur student of philosophy Dean Gano - or
between dialectics and causal analysis. Not even close. What I am
looking for in causal analysis methods are tools to enhance
materialist and dialectical approaches to social analysis.

Andy said:
>Now, one of the criticisms of Hegel which is relevant here is the
>illusion inherent in the Polish bureaucracy story, which was set up
>as an alternative to the anarchy of capitalism: even in a perfect
>system, shit happens.

Sorry, I don't understand what you have just said here, Andy. What
illusion is inherent in that story, what was set up as an
alternative, and what perfect system are you referring to?

Andy said:
>The brush I have been having recently with "causal analysis" is with
>the neuroscientists who claim that consciousness is an emergent
>system-level property of the brain, and that is, that consciousness
>is *caused* by the brain, and call upon complexity theory and the
>notion of emergence in support of the idea. The impossibly complex
>pattern of neuron firing which produces a simple thought in the mind
>of the person, looks on the face of it a classic case of complexity
>and emergence. But it is not.

I agree that human consciousness is not "caused" by brains. Working
brains are necessary for consciousness to happen, of course, so it
would figure in as one of the "causal conditions" of human conscious
in Gano's causal analysis method. But there are many more causal
conditions besides brains that create human consciousness, such as
social relations, culture, and history. Reducing human consciousness
to one single causal condition, to the exclusion of others, strikes
me as mechanical, linear, and reductionist. Furthermore, the
argument that a higher level of complexity, human consciousness, is a
"system-level property" of a lower level of complexity, a human
brain, strikes me as a classic case of getting things backwards.

Andy said:
>What do you think Steve?

You spoke in an earlier post (7/16) about bringing together two
aspects: "(a) the understanding of the "real possibility" (sufficient
cause? causal condition?) and (b) the pragmatic solution which
enables intervention." You said that you think "causal analysis"
"has to have these two components."

I see this description of yours about bringing together these two
components as at least potentially compatible with my observations
about Gano's causal analysis methodology. The essential method Dean
Gano explains is this: First, formulate a clear idea of the problem
to solve (effect to eliminate). Second, create a thorough
understanding of the causal relations leading up to this
problem. This may correspond to the first component you describe.
Third, Gano says to evaluate which cause or causes to eliminate. This
seems to correspond to your second component, the pragmatic solution.

- Steve

>At 08:03 PM 18/07/2006 +0000, Steve wrote:
>>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!
>> termine
>> 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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>Andy Blunden, for Victorian Peace Network, phone +61 3 9380 9435
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