Search This Blog

Causalism

Though I have been writing about "causality" for years, I continued to label myself an atheist.  I really thought the label fit, but that was before I attended to a few atheism events and talks and found that atheists are not, as I had understood, interested in rational thought.  The atheists I have met are simply and aggressively apposed to religion.  They have an axe to grind, are pathologically obsessed with, focused upon, and have a general need to work bad juju against – religion.  The single minded obsessive combativeness exhibited by the atheists that I have met, seems, well, in a word – religious.

Of course I will take responsibility for my mistake, my assumption, it is right there in the word:  "atheist", a-theist, anti-theist, against theism.  And though I am not a believer, my disinterest in belief does not define my self or my thoughts or more specifically, the way I choose to think things through.  Nobody who likes the color red describes this preference as anti-green.

The word "causality" describes a world view in which every system exists as a hierarchy of cause and effect.  Even though dictionaries don't yet list the word – a "causalist" is a person who "believes" that all structure and action is the result of physical causality.  That describes my way of thinking perfectly.    

I am a causalist!

There, I said it.  It is now a word.  That is what makes the english language so dynamic and alive.  If you need a word.  Go out and build one.  In this case, anyone who understands the word causal will immediately understand the word causalist.  'Wish I could say the same of my spell checker.

I believe that the universe is what it is and acts like it acts solely as a result of physical properties and the way these properties are effected by and effect each-other.  No back doors.  No end-arounds.  No special cases.  No miracles.  No exceptions.  No preferential treatment.  Simple.  Expectable.  Demonstrable.  Regular.  I believe that thoughts are built of atoms, not the other way around.  That atoms and their properties effect thought but that thoughts can't effect the basic fundamental properties of atoms.

Causality is a description of a system as a hierarchy of the things that influence it.  Causality strongly implies an asymmetry between cause and effect.  A causal system is a system in which some parts and attributes have more influence over the shape and behavior of that system than do others (which are more effect).

A causalist assumes that all systems exist as the result of a history and that this history defines a linearity of construction – first this happened, then this, and finally this.  A causalist assumes that this history of a system, exposes a hierarchy of the energies that were required to built it.  The most energetic processes shaped the earliest subsystems, and the most recent additions were laid down in much less energetic environments.  This makes for stable structures – strongly associated foundations upon which more delicate subsystems are layered.

And, low and behold, when we pick systems apart, we always find this hierarchical strata of causally deposited layers.  Always!  No exceptions have ever been found.

The other key aspect to the causalist's cosmology is the fact that earlier systems are more similar and systems added later are more diverse.  This means that everything shares and is built upon the same past. So no matter if you have gills or feathers, hands or tentacles, eyes or echo-location – you will all be built of cells and these cells, muscle or neuron, blood cell or phagocyte will all be made of atoms and these atoms helium or hydrogen, led or plutonium will always be made of protons, neutrons and electrons, etc. etc.

A world or universe built up from ever more shared and similar parts is a universe that can be known.  It is a stable universe that has expectable patterns that exist within the boundaries of limits defined by their own causally stacked history.  Everything shares the same history.  Everything is built of the same history.  Though the present may look diverse and confusing, further inquiry will always reveal patterns and similarities at base, shared by everything.  Exceptions and difference is always an aspect of the surface or most recent manifestations of evolution.  The base gets more and more similar the deeper or further back you look.

This regularity is exactly why spiritualists and the religious have always been apposed to science and the causal view of reality.  It doesn't allow exceptions.  You can't win the race cause you prayed longer or to the right god.  You can only win the race if you have the physicality and the emotional drive to run harder than everyone else.  There are no exceptions.  There are no special cases.  There is no favoritism. There is no OZ pulling levers.  Nobody and no thing to assuage towards your interests.

We know that adding heat to a gas causes it to expand.  We know that compressing a gas causes it to get hotter.  We know the exact ratio between heat and pressure or volume.  With this ratio we can predict the exact changes that will result when we add energy or change the volume of a given amount of gas.  It always works the way the math says it should.  But of course the same can not be said for the spiritual arts.  In fact.  There has never been an event that has been shown to have been effected by prayer or thinking (no matter how concentrated, repeated, or "conscious").  Never once has the temperature of a gas or anything else been effected by anything spiritual or religious.  This is not just true of gasses and heat.  It is true of everything we can measure.  We know the entire electromagnetic spectrum.  We understand and have defined the parameters that show why this spectrum is bounded on both the cold and the energetic end.  We know how gravity is effected by energy, time and distance.  We know how quanta effect other quanta.  And in no system, caused by no dynamics, have we ever encountered any behavior that can not be explained by simple causality of the things effecting those systems.

It is easy to see why causality would disturb the anxious.  There is no way to play a causal system.  No way to gain advantage.  No free lunch.  No favoritism.  No exceptions.  No para-normal.  No meta-physics.  No magic.  No luck.  Just the awesome beauty and incomprehensible complexity that can't help but happen in a universe this big and this full of energy and stuff with this much time summing into an almost infinite number interactions and the constructs can survive.  In a causal universe, you get fit by working out – not by chanting mantras.  You live longer by taking care of your body and your mind, not by praying for longevity.  You gain advantage in sports, business, romance, academia, and culture, by understanding the causal influences effecting these systems, not by sleeping under a pyramid or praying to a 10 armed blue goddess or a sandal wearing guy nailed to a couple of wood beams.  You gain knowledge through measurement and building theories that abstract the greatest domain of measurements – not by listening reverently to some guy in a robe who slickly explains away your loneliness and fear of death with a 24 voice choir and 60 foot pipe organ as backup.

It may in fact be true that the human brain has evolved into a configuration that demands religious and spiritual thoughts and that these thoughts can result in a better sense of well-being and that the resulting sense of inner peace gives rise to physical benefits, but this itself is a causal (if Byzantine) system.  But any causal assessment of the human penchant for religious and spiritual thought would certainly give it a low score for effectiveness and a high score for self-delusion.  Thoughts that make you feel better aren't necessarily the thoughts that increase your knowledge of yourself or the universe.  This rift between reality and what our minds would like reality to be is the single most dangerous side effect of evolving a great big layer of grey matter over the top of our lizard brain within.  It is important to remember that the lizard brain, an emotion-to-action processing center, is still very much in charge of everything we do.  This is non-negotiable.  It is true because of physical wiring, not philosophy.  Adding to a sober assessment of our scary neural architecture is the fact that the inner brain, the old brain, the brain in charge, isn't sophisticated enough to understand any of the wonderfully sophisticated products (reason, logic, abstract mapping, systems modeling) our more recently acquired layers are able to compute.  Be you Einstein or Leonardo, Shakespeare or Confucius, Newton or Feynman, your inner brain is still as dumb as a lizard, and it, unfortunately, is both blind to your brilliance, and directing the actions you take.

A causalist isn't as depressed by this seemingly hopeless understanding as one might expect.   A causalist just accepts reality and looks for solutions that work with and are informed by it.  If humans have great big thinking machines that are hard to hear above the ruckus and clatter of emotions, the challenge is to build cultural solutions that protect and automate higher order knowledge from the vagrancies of low level emotions.  The playing field shifts with this shift in perspectives.  Instead of looking for solutions within the arena of emotional thought (meditation, mood music, a harmonic convergence, global conciseness, etc.) the cuasalist, looks for solutions outside of the lizard brain, looks for solutions that accept the lizard brain but work to lessen its control over policy and society.  A causalist looks to the infrastructure.  A causalist has noticed that people act more constructive when their environment takes care of the simple needs of the lizard brain.  A causalist has noticed that clean running water at every faucet, enough food, reasonable shelter, and reliable stability make people with the same lizard brain end up acting more like their grey matter ideas and less like a lizard. No amount of prayer or philosophy or yoga will yield the same productivity improvements and cultural growth as a reliable and supportive infrastructure.

Take the time to look at the statistics that compare a culture's confidence in its infrastructure and its per labor hour productivity or its crime rate.  Then try to find a better predictor of a culture's ability to build towards greater and greater progress of knowledge and opportunity.  Confidence doesn't build an infrastructure, infrastructure builds confidence.  Those of us confident enough to see this hierarchy for what it is must work constantly and vigorously against the grain.  We must build the infrastructure that will produce in tomorrow's masses the confidence we are lucky enough to feel today.

It is way way way cheaper to run clean water and nutritious food into every home than it is to deal with the chaos that ALWAYS results when people must live with the fear of thirst and hunger.  Going to church for an hour a week isn't ever going to have the same effect on productivity and stability.  Even the religious would surely rather pray for more interesting and complex goals than a bowl of rice and clear water.

Accepting the weird irrationality of the human thinking and emotional system doesn't mean that you have to be irrational about your acceptance of it or how you choose to go about building towards a better future.

Randall Lee Reetz (a causalist!)

2 comments:

Max Meister said...

Have you read any works of Ulanowicz? I think that your "causalist" approach fits well with concepts in relational biology and process ecology...

Nice blog!

Randall Lee Reetz said...

Max, I have not (or can't remember if I have) read Ulanowicz. My initial reaction is that he is too rhetorical for my intellectual taste. Though I must admit that his positions seem to parallel my own, at least in so far as emotions and politics are concerned. I am constantly worried by the all too human capacity and tendency towards emotional blindness. Some thoughts and some categories of thinking are far easier for we humans than are others. We must, as a result, identify these blind spots and these grand attractors and swear vigilance in the fight to react more rationally in those areas of thinking for which the mind wants instead the opposite. My own emotions pull me towards foundational scientific research and to push away from market motivations. These attitudes are pure in the long term and wide vantage but they don't serve me well in the more pedestrian aspects of thinking that promote healthy community building. Should the whole world think like I do, society would grind to a halt and we would starve to death in the cold (intellectual flags held high!). I never know how to think about academic success. Does a professor learn to work within the bounds dictated by the interests of his students and co-investigators? Or does a person become a professor because they are already of the type or kind that conforms to the intellectual market around them? Are they great leaders or success-seeking marketeers? I am I not a professor because I am too honest, or because I am intellectually inferior?

Gadget

This content is not yet available over encrypted connections.