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

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Thu Jul 20 2006 - 01:43:51 PDT

As I remarked in an earlier post, the kind of detailed stepwise analysis
spoken of is interesting and not to be dismissed. Good ideas like "Murphy's
Law" come out of this kind of thinking, and let's face it, causal analysis
of one kind or another is pretty fundamental to our civilisation. But ...
At 12:45 AM 20/07/2006 -0700, you wrote:
.... We could perhaps discuss a real causal analysis to see what you
object to.

Of course the cases I mention were real, but I accept that they are
certainly not exemplars of rationality.

>>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 how 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?

Gano may have interesting insights, I don't know. Hegel is arguing that
"causal analysis" is one, finite stage in what he sees as the development
of the Idea. So he is trying to transcend, to sublate, causal analysis,
which after all has a very long history. As I see it, there are two
important stages beyond causality: (1) reciprocity, i.e., understanding how
the cause is also an effect, and ultimately an effect of its effect, and
therefore (2) both cause and effect and the effect which is taken as remedy
are aspect of one and the same concept. Think of Vygotsky's analysis of
speech and thinking (not problems of course, but "causal analysis" of sorts
can see thought as either the cause or the effect of speech, and as
reciprocally causing each other, but LSV went beyond that didn't he?).
>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
>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?

I just mean that "planned economy" was conceived as a kind of utopia which
would not have social problems because planning would eliminate the causes
of social problems.
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

The problem with that is that this is the kind of motherhood statement that
everyone can agree with whilst knowing nothing. "What is the (essential)
cause of consciousness?" is a fair condition. Just listing all possible
relevant conditions is a cop-out.
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.

No. A necessary condition, but Hegel insists (and I think he's right) that
you have to capture the *notion* of the thing. The string of causes and the
chain of causes and effects is no substitute. Hegel is very good on this.

>Third, Gano says to evaluate which cause or causes to eliminate. This
>seems to correspond to your second component, the pragmatic solution.

Maybe. I think I share the pragmatic, practical side of his approach, and
it is superior in that sense to the metaphysical / observer-standpoint type
of analysis, in that respect.

Does all that help, Steve?

>- 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
>>> > >
>>>xmca mailing list
>>Andy Blunden, for Victorian Peace Network, phone +61 3 9380 9435
>>Global Justice Tours:
>>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

Andy Blunden, for Victorian Peace Network, phone +61 3 9380 9435
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