“It seems to me that there is nothing for it but to take as fundamental the relation of one event causing another” (Keith Devlin, Logic and Information).

Eventrics is the general study of events and their interactions while Ultimate Event Theory is, if you like, the nuclear physics of Eventrics. In these Posts I shall hop about more or less at random from the macro to the micro domains while concentrating nonetheless on the latter. Eventually, when enough material has accumulated, I may siphon off certain portions of the theory but at this stage it is more instructive for the reader to see the theory taking shape piecemeal, which is how event-clusters and event-chains themselves form, rather than attempt to systematize.  In any cased, te person reading this who will take the theory further than I can hope to, will not only need to have a clear understanding of the behaviour of events at their most elemental level but, above all, will need to become adept in navigating (or rather surfing) the enormous event currents of the present society if he or she is to give the theory the audience it deserves.
The macro-events we are concerned with on a day to day basis are huge event-clusters, as large as galaxies in comparison to their constituent ultimate events, and the collective behaviour of events may well differ from the behaviour of individual ultimate events as much as the behaviour of human crowds or gases seem to differ from that of their constituent molecules in object-based physics (Note 1). Certainly, large-scale bulk event-chains, what we call ‘historical movements’, seem to have their own momentum and evolve in their own manner, sweeping people along as if the latter were tornpieces of paper. Those persons who obtain positions of power are those who, by luck or good judgment, align themselves with forces they do not control but can up to a point use to their advantage (Note 2). An analysis by way of events rather than by way of persons or by way of electrons and molecules may well prove to be more appropriate in the macro domain and is indeed already followed by various writers.
Events, some of them at any rate, do not occur at random : they form themselves into recognizable event-chains and so require something to stop them falling apart. This something we call ‘causality’.  So-called primitive man, if anything, believed more firmly in causality than people today do : rather than meekly accept that certain events came about ‘by chance’, primitive societies considered there must always be some agency at work, malign or benevolent, natural or supernatural. Causality is not so much a law — for a law requires a lawgiver — as a force, perhaps the most basic and essential kind of force imaginable since without some form of causality everything would be a bewildering confusion where any event could follow any other event and there would be no persistent patterns of any kind whatsoever anywhere.  Though I am prepared to dispense with quite a number of things I am not prepared to dispense with causality, or its equivalent. In Ultimate Event Theory it appears under the name of ‘dominance’. As one of the half dozen basic concepts of the theory, it cannot really be described in terms of anything more elementary and I define it as “a coercive influence which certain event clusters and event-chains have over others”.  This is not much of a definition but will do for the moment. Before saying more about ‘dominance’ and how it differs, if at all, from causality, it may be as well to examine the ‘classic’ theory of causality as it appears in Western science up to the twentieth century and in rationalistic thinking generally.
Causality — what is causality?  The basis of all theories of causality is the notion, more precisely intuition, that certain pairs of events are connected up in a  necessary fashion whilst others (the majority) are not. It doesn’t “just happen to be the case” that someone falls over if I give him a sudden hard push : if  he did fall, we would say that I caused him to stumble. On the other hand, if I am shaking his hand and he happens to trip over a stone at this precise moment, I didn’t cause him to fall over — though it might look as if I did to an observer  some distance away.
According to Piaget, the newborn child lives in a ‘world’ without space and time, without permanent objects and without causality. The universe “consists of shifting and insubstantial tableaux which appear and are then totally reabsorbed” (Piaget). However, the notion of causality arises very early on, perhaps even as early as a few months if we are to believe certain modern researchers (Note 1).  Certainly, the baby very soon realises that by making certain movements or noises it can attract the attention of its mother successfully, though whether this quite constitutes an ‘understanding’ of causality is debatable. . Event A, such as gurgling or screaming, becomes regularly associated in the baby’s mind with a quite dissimilar Event B, the physical proximity of its mother or another grown-up. The scream ’causes’ the prompt arrival of a grown-up, never mind how or why.
The notion that certain occurrences can just arise ‘out of the blue’ without antecedents is repugnant to most adult human beings and any sort of an explanation, however fanciful,  is felt to be better than none at all. Belief in causality, whether well-founded or not, certainly seems to be a psychological necessity. The main motive for populating the universe in times past with so many unseen entities was to provide causal agents for observed phenomena. By the time we reach the 18th century, largely because of the astonishing success of Newtonian mechanics, most of these supernatural agencies became redundant, at any rate in the eyes of educated people. The “thrones, principalities and powers” against whom Saint Paul warns us had disappeared into thin air by the mid eighteenth century, leaving only an omniscient Creator God who had done such a good job in fashioning the universe that it could run on its own steam without the need of further intervention. The philosophers of the Enlightenment rejected ‘miraculous’ explanations of physical events : in theory at any rate mechanical explanations sufficed. Newton himself was puzzled that he was unable to provide a mechanical explanation of gravity and, later on, electrical phenomena caused problems : but most physicists prior to the last quarter of the nineteenth century assumed with Helmholtz  that “all physical problems can be reduced to mechanical problems” and that Calculus and Newton’s Laws were the key to the universe.
Through all this, belief in causality continued unimpaired. In principle there were no chance events, and the French astronomer Laplace went so far as to say that, if a Supermind knew in full detail the current state of the universe, it would be able to predict everything that was going to happen in the future. This view is no longer de rigueur, of course, mainly because of the discoveries of Quantum Theory which has uncertainty built right into it. But, for the moment, I propose to leave such complications aside in order to concentrate on what might be called the ‘Classic Theory of Causality’ — ‘classic’ in the sense that it was the theory upheld, or more often assumed, by the great majority of scientists and rational thinkers between the 16th and 20th centuries.

This Classic Theory would seem to be based on the four following assumptions:
1.    There exists a necessary connection between certain pairs of events, and by extension, longer sequences;
2.    The status of the two events in a causal pair is not equivalent, one of the two is, as it were, active and the other, as it were, passive or acted upon;
3.    The ‘causal force’ always operates forwards in time, it is transmitted from the earlier event to the later;
4.    All physical occurrences, and perhaps mental occurrences as well, are brought about by the prior occurrence of one or more previous events.

       These assumptions are so ‘commonsensical’ that almost everyone took them for granted for a long time, witness popular phrases such as “Every event has a cause” , “Nothing can arise from nothing” and so on. But then the 18th century British philosopher Hume threw a spanner into the works. He pointed out that these assumptions, and others like them, were, when all was said and done, simply assumptions — they could not be proved to be the case, and were not ‘self-evident’. We do not, Hume pointed out, ever see or hear this mysterious causal link : indeed it is notoriously difficult, even for trained observers, to distinguish between events which are (allegedly) causally related and those that are not — if this were not the case, the natural sciences would have developed much more rapidly than they actually did.
Nor do these assumptions appear to be ‘necessary truths’, though this is undoubtedly how Leibnitz and Kant and other rationalist thinkers viewed them. As Hume says, the fact that event A has up to now always and in all circumstances been followed by event B, does not mean that this will automatically be the case in the future. (Indeed, though Hume could not know this, the assumption is false if Quantum Mechanics is to be believed since in QM identical circumstances do not necessarily produce identical results.)
In brief, belief in causality is, so Hume argues, an act of faith. This was a very serious charge since most scientists regarded themselves as having left behind such modes of thought. The nineteenth century, as it happened, took very little notice of Hume’s devastating critique : science needed a cast iron belief in causality and Claude Bernard even went so far as to define science as determinism. And since science was clearly working, most educated people were happy to go along with its implicit assumptions — perhaps making an exception for mankind itself to whom God had given the capacity for free choice which the rest of Nature did not possess.
Actually, the four assumptions listed, necessary though they are, do not suffice to distinguish the post-Renaissance Western theory of causality from earlier beliefs and theories. Further restrictions were required to eradicate the remaining vestiges of magical pre-scientific thinking. The most important of these principles are :
1.     The No Miracle Principle
2.    The Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity;
3
.    The Principle of Energy;
4
.    The Principle of Localization;
5
.    The Mind/Body Principle
6
.    The Principle of Parsimony

The first three principles are ‘scientific’ in the sense that they have had enormous importance in the progress of scientific thinking. The first gets rid of all deus ex machina and thus stimulates a search for ‘natural principles’; the second  prohibits ‘action at a distance’ (though ironically gravity and certain aspects of quantum mechanics require it); the third, roughly that “all change requires an energy source” is very much an issue today in this era of depleted stocks of fossil fuels ; the fourth, that “everything must be somewhere” is, or seems to be, commonsensical; the fifth, roughly that the “mind cannot by itself bring about changes in the outside world” is a corner-stone of materialist philosophy, while the last,  that “Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity” is more a matter of method and necessity than anything else. These principles will be discussed in detail in the following Post.   S.H.

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Note 1 The researchers Ann Leslie and Stephanie Keeble [“Do Six-Month-Old Infants Perceive Causality?” Cognition 25, 1987 pp. 265-288] claim that, when babies are shown ‘acausal’ sequences of events mixed up with similar causal sequences they [the babies] show unmistakeable symptoms of surprise such as more rapid heart beat.

Note 2  This is indeed what may have prevailed ‘in the beginning’ but the world we find ourselves in today is very different from the Greek kaos from which everything come and the main difference is that certain sequences of physical events have kept on repeating themselves with minor variations for millions of years. Such patterns have indeed become so firmly established that they are viewed as ‘laws of Nature’ though they are perhaps more fittingly described as ‘schemas’ or ‘event-moulds’ into which physical events have fallen.

 

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