[NOTE: In the previous article, "Volition—Cause, Determinism, And Conscious Choice," discussed the relationship between, "cause," meaning, "determined," and volition. This article is about the nature of what is called, "cause," itself and how it has been corrupted. Some of the previous article is repeated here.]|
The only valid meaning of, "cause," in the physical sciences is the assertion, "everything has a cause," means, "nothing happens fortuitously or capriciously, without explanation; nothing happens by magic or miracle; nothing, 'appears out of thin air,' or occurs for any inexplicable ineffable reason, nothing exists ex nihilo."
The concept cause in science is that everything that exists has a specific nature and it is the nature of that which exists which is the explanation of all that is all that happens.
Unfortunately, the concept of cause has come to mean something more than an explanation of what is and what happens and is described as some kind of motivating or initiating force as though a, "cause," is what makes something happen or exist. With the exception of animal and human behavior, nothing, "makes," anything happen or exist. The real cause of all events is the nature of the things that act and are those events.
[NOTE: The origin of this idea of cause being some kind of efficient or motivating force is a hold-over from religion and mystic philosophies, which attribute everything to gods, spirits or mystical forces. It is a kind of animism or anthropomorphism, borrowing the idea from the fact the animals and human beings make things and make things happen.]
The explanation for all physical phenomena discovered by the physical sciences are principles by which the nature and behavior of physical entities are understood. Those principle are sometimes called laws, which is an unfortunate misunderstanding of what scientific principles are. They are called laws, because all physical phenomena conform to those principles, but they do not conform to them because those principles are some kind of constraints that make them conform to them. The principles of science do not make anything happen, they only describe what happens and explain the nature of entities and the relationships between them that are the reason for their behavior.
Scientific principles only describe what things are and what they do, not why they are what the are or do what they do. The question, "why," is an unwarranted question based on an assumption of some mystical view of cause which makes reality some kind of contingent thing. Reality is what it is, and the whole of science is the discovery of the nature of that reality.
The mistaken view of cause has produced some very bad ideas that have plagued both science and philosophy to this day.
What Cause Is Not
The wrong view of cause comes in several flavors. The following are very common.
Cause And Affect—This perversion of the concept of cause comes from Hume, who formulated it as, "the same cause always produces the same effect," supposedly meaning some event, "A," causes event, "B," and every, event, "A," will always cause an event, "B." When Hume described cause that way, his intention was to invalidate the idea of cause itself. He made the valid point that just because one has always observed event, "B," follows event, "A," does not mean event, "B," would always follow event, "A." His argument was that one's belief in cause and effect was simply a prejudice based on what one has seen so far, but the first cause that fails to produce the expected effect disproves cause.
Unfortunately, all future philosophers simply accepted Hume's invalid description of cause (as cause and effect) and regarded Hume's conclusion a great philosophical problem, because it also invalidated another accepted fallacy, that science proceeds by the method of induction which depended on the view that cause and effect could be established by means of observing enough cases to statistically conclude that event A would always result in event B. The problem, however, is neither cause or induction, but Hume's incorrect explanation of what cause is, and the broadly accepted fallacy that science is inductive.
Since the true nature of cause is the explanation of events in terms of the nature of an entity's own actions in response to all other entities as determined by the entity's own nature, there is no cause and effect, because no two real entities are identical and in the entire history of the world there have never been two identical entities in identical relationships to other entities. [Please see the article, "Cause."]
Events Cause Events—Hume's wrong view of cause is sometimes call the, "event," theory of cause, meaning certain events cause other events. It has already been explained that there are never two identical events. In addition to the fact there never are the same events is the fact that events are always and only the behavior of entities, and it is the nature of the entities that determine what any event will be. An object thrown at a window my be said to cause the window to shatter, but if the, object is only a sponge ball, or even if the object is a rock and the window is Lucite, the window will not shatter. It is the nature of the entities involved, not the actions, that is the explanation (cause) of the event.
Cause Is Efficient—The idea that cause is some kind of "creative," or "motive force," or a "power that makes things exist or happen," is a much older idea with roots in ancient Greek philosophy, including Aristotle. This mistaken view of cause was addressed above under "Scientific Principles". As explained there, attributing some motivating or initiating force to, "cause," is a kind mysticism, animism, or anthropomorphism. It is similar to attributing cause to scientific principles.
Cause does not mean what, "makes something happen," it is an explanation of the nature of those things, the action of which, "are what happens."
A Chain Of Causes—The fallacious cause and effect view results in a strange view of reality itself. Both philosophers and scientists who have been influenced by that mistaken view describe reality as a chain of causes and effects, beginning with some initial cause or state (like the "big bang") which determines the entire future of everything in the universe. It is pictured as a kind of cascade of causes in which the effect of every cause is the cause of the next succeeding event, which causes the next event, ad infinitum.
While events do not cause events and this view is mistaken, nevertheless, the behavior of all physical entities (excluding living organisms) are determined by their physical attributes, as described by the principles of the physical sciences. Since the behavior of all entities is their own action in relation to all other entities, that much of physical reality is determined entirely by physical principles.
Cause Explains Why—As the description of what everything is and behaves as it does, the principles of the physical sciences explain how everything behaves, which is the real meaning of cause. The principles of science do not explain why anything is what it is or why it behaves as it does, except in terms of an entity's own nature. Nothing, "outside," an entity causes it to be what it is or do what it does. The search for, "why," presumes some mystical explanation for why things are as they are. It assumes a, "contingent," reality. It is just plain superstition.
Logical Determinism—Sometimes invoked to imply that cause means that everything that ever has or ever will happen (like the "chain of causes," view) must be true, because of the logical fact that what is cannot be anything other than what is. One illustration of this idea is the fact that the past is immutable. Every event of the past is whatever it is and can never change. But, every past event was once a future event which was going to be the event it was, because there could never have been a time when it was going to be anything else. The future is as certain as the past.
If it rained yesterday, it is not possible that it could not have rained yesterday. Two weeks ago, it was going to rain yesterday absolutely. If it is going to rain tomorrow, it is not possible that it is not going to rain tomorrow. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen and nothing other than that is possible.
While this must be true, it has no significance in terms of cause. The certainty of the future does not cause the future, it only recognizes that there is a future and that it must be something, and whatever it will be, it must be because there can only be one future. What that future will be is not caused by that fact, however. What the future will be is determined by what every entity that now exists will do determined by its own nature. Logical determinism is a misnomer. The certainty of the future is not, "determined," by logic, only described by it.
The True Nature Of Cause Explained
The phrase, "cause and effect," is an example of how bad philosophy becomes universally accepted damaging an entire field of enquiry. The philosopher most responsible for inserting this wrong view of cause into philosophy was Hume.
He wrote: "From causes which appear similar we expect similar effects. This is the sum of all our experimental conclusions," Hume wrote, and used the illustration, "We only find, that the one does actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse of one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second."
Of course Hume handily refuted that cause in the sense of, "same cause, same effect," could ever be established and, since the world of philosophy accepted Hume's formulation of cause, without question, both philosophy and science have suffered from the resulting fallacy that no cause can ever be proved.
Philosophers attempt to defend the wrong view of cause with arguments like: "Science looks for cause and effect by attempting to discover the effects of one thing on another, such as, the effect of temperature on the pressure of a gas, or the effect of length on the period of a pendulum." But those kinds of relationship are not, "cause and effect," relationships.
The fact that a gas will have a higher pressure if its temperature is higher is simply a description of the relationship between two properties of a gas, not a description of a "cause." This is a good example because temperature and pressure in gases are mutually determined. An increase in pressure produces an increase in temperature, and vice versa (so long as the volume remains constant). Which is the cause, and which is the effect?
The fact is these are not examples of one thing "causing" another. They are examples of the fact that an entity of a certain kind necessarily acts in a certain way in a given context, and it is the entity's own nature that determines how it will behave in any context.
The temperature and pressure of a gas are attributes of the gas, an entity, and its behavior is determined by its own nature. It is not "caused" by something else. The fact that the attributes of pressure and temperature in a confined gas have a specific relationship is itself an attribute of gas. It does not exist in liquids, for example.
The length of a pendulum is a property of the pendulum. It behaves the way it does (has a specific period) because of its own attribute, length. It is not "caused" by something else. It is the pendulum's own mass, momentum, and length in the gravitational field that determines its period.
Consider the statement that, "the same cause will result in the same effect," used commonly to describe cause.
Back in the days when automobile tires had "tubes" (those rubber bladders that held the air), when a tire went flat, in order to repair the tire, the cause of the flat needed to be determined. The cause could be anything that allowed the air in the tube to escape: a puncture caused by glass, a nail, or any other sharp object in the road that was run over, or the "valve" being broken or defective, or the rubber of the tube itself being defective and broken down under wear. Any of these things might have been the "cause" of the tire going flat.
Cause is not some kind of mystic concept that explains everything, it is a concept that recognizes the nature of reality, that everything that happens is the product of every existent having the nature it has and doing what it must do in terms of its nature. The idea that cause (event A) always produces effect (event B) is meaningless. Since events are only the behavior of entities, and since an entity's behavior is determined by its own response to its entire context, including all its relationships, identical "causes" would require identical entities in identical contexts, which is impossible. In the entire history of the world, there have probably never been two identical, "causes," or two identical, "effects."
It is true that every entity has its unique nature that determines how it will behave in any context but no context is ever identical with any other. Everything that happens is caused, but the cause is all that pertains to each event, which is always a unique combinations of elements caused by unique circumstances.
The principles by which the events of the world can be understood are not, "cause and effect," but the principles that define the nature of existents and their relationships to each other. From the behavior of the chemical elements to the behavior of human beings, the cause of the behavior is determined by the nature of those existents and their context (circumstances), that is, their relationship to all other existents, which will almost certainly never be repeated, ever. The idea of, "same cause same effect," cannot be salvaged.
Cause As Principle
It is not causes that any of the fundamental disciplines (philosophy or the sciences) look for, but principles. Since the correct way to understand cause is "an explanation of why things are as they are or how and why things happen as they do," an explanation that covers an entire field of phenomena, (within specific limits), is real knowledge that can be applied to all cases within the scope of the principle. Most scientific principles could never be expressed as, "cause and effect," primarily because they are too complex.
It would be impossible, for example, to explain a tuned circuit in terms of cause and effect, or even the current in an AC circuit in terms of both resistance and impedance. The simplest law of electronics, E=IR (voltage equals the current times the resistance) defies the concept, "same cause, same effect," simply because there are three variables, and neither current or resistance causes a voltage; they only indicate what it will be if you know their values and already have a current. What is described is a specific absolute relationship, not any kind of cause and effect."
Principles, Not Causes
The following is a philosopher's attempt to describe Kepler's laws in terms of cause and effect:
"First, the sun exerts a force on each planet that causes it to move in an elliptical orbit (with the sun located at a focus); second, the solar force causes each planet to move so that the line from the sun to the planet sweeps out equal areas in equal time; third, the solar force diminishes with distance in a way that causes the cube of the mean distance from the sun divided by the square of the orbital period to be constant for all planets. Clearly, these are causal statements—as they must be in order to qualify as laws."
Each of the statements in this description of Kepler's laws containing the word "causes" is incorrect. For example, the force the sun exerts on a planet does not "cause" it to move in an elliptical orbit. In fact, the sun's force does not "cause" it to move at all. The reason the planets move is their own momentum—they are already in motion and if there is a "cause" for that it would have to be their own entire history. In response to the force the sun exerts on a planet, it accelerates toward the sun and the resulting change in the direction of its own motion results in that motion conforming to an elliptical path. [In physics acceleration is a change in a motion's velocity, either the motion's speed or direction, or both. In the case of a planet's acceleration due to the sun's gravity it is a constant change in direction.]
In attempting to illustrate that Kepler's laws are examples of, "causation," the true basis for scientific laws is missed, which is the metaphysical fact that every entity has a specific nature that determines how it behaves in every context. The behavior of the planets in the context of the suns gravitational field is not "caused" by the sun or the force it exerts, it is determined by the planets own nature (it accelerates toward other masses) and state (it is in motion at a certain speed).
The validity of science does not rest on the notion of cause. The concept of cause, even if it could be made "scientific", is too simple. The validity of science rests on the fact physical existence consists only of physical entities, that every entity has a specific nature that determines its behavior and its relationship to all other entities. The whole objective of science is to discover the nature of all entities and their behavior and relationships. The nature of entities, their behavior and there relationships are absolute, the discovery and identification of those entities, their behavior and their relationships constitute the inviolable principles ("laws") of science.