In the last Post I introduced what I called the ‘Classic Theory of Causality’ which 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.

           Actually, the four assumptions listed, necessary though they are, do not suffice to distinguish the post-Renaissance Western theory of causality (CTC)from earlier beliefs and theories. Further restrictions are required to eradicate the remaining vestiges of magical pre-scientific thinking. The most important of these principles seem to be :
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

 (1.) No Miracle Principle

By ‘miracle’ I mean an event brought about by a supernatural agency, by someone or something considered to be outside or beyond the physical universe.
Practically all belief systems prior to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries included some appeal to supernatural beings, although advanced monotheistic systems had reduced these agencies to a single all-powerful one. The ‘new philosophy’ of Descartes and Galileo still required God as a ‘Prime Mover’ and there was some debate as to whether His intervention in the day to day working of the universe was needed. Leibnitz strenuously denied this, arguing that the contrary opinion was ‘blasphemous’ since it implied that God had been unable to make a perfectly functioning universe in the first place. Newton, for his part, found himself obliged to give God a small role in keeping the celestial machinery in working order, for example by stopping stars getting too close together. But by the early nineteenth century, mathematicians had so successfully improved on Newton’s schema that Laplace, when berated by Napoleon for writing a long book on the universe without mentioning its Creator, famously replied, “I had no need of that hypothesis”.
The most important feature of what we know as the ‘Enlightenment’ was the exclusion of the supernatural from the physical world : all physical events were explicable according to mechanical laws (and in principle all mental events as well). This attitude had certain immediate social benefits, leading for example to the prohibition of trials for witchcraft in France and Russia ─ since sorcery was an ‘imaginary crime’ ─ and to a certain degree of religious tolerance. It did, however, imply total determinism : all events were caused by previous events and in ways that could be predicted by way of Newton’s Laws, at least in theory. There was thus no place for free will and  there were no ‘chance events’.

 (2.) The Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity.  

This Principle is sometimes called the Law of Transmission by Contact. It is the celebrated prohibition of ‘action-at-a-distance’ that is held to mark the line of demarcation between magic and science. In magical belief systems the possibility of action at a distance is implicitly accepted : I can perform a rite here which will, say, cause the death of an animal or person several miles away. And I can perform a rite now which will cause it to rain tomorrow. According to classical scientific thinking, the only way I can produce an effect some way off is by some sort of chain reaction.
This Principle was assumed by Newton though he was embarrassed by the undoubted fact that his Law of Universal Attraction seemed to violate it, since the gravitational impulse was propagated ‘instantaneously’ throughout the entire universe. This incidentally was the main reason why continental scientists, while accepting Newton’s terrestrial mechanics, rejected his gravitational theory as being much too far-fetched.
Einstein in his Special Theory of Relativity also assumed the Principle and made it rather more precise by stating that no message, or causal impulse, could be transmitted at a speed faster than that of light. Since the speed of light in a vacuum is known, and believed to be fixed for all time, this put a serious restriction on the effects that any action of mine, or anyone else, could have : whole chunks of the universe were condemned to follow quite different destinies with no possibility of interaction between them simply because they were too far away from each other.
Einstein was such a firm believer in the principle that he remained to his dying day deeply unhappy about Quantum Mechanics  because QM seemed to involve a sort of ‘telepathic’ connection between distant particles — the term was used by Einstein himself  (Note 1).
Despite Quantum Mechanics, most of us still assume the complete validity of the principle. If I want to get from A to B, I have to traverse ‘the space’ in between : if it really were possible to ‘leap-frog’ in this way being seen miles away minutes before a crime would not constitute an alibi. Contemporary physics has found it necessary to deduce (or invent) ‘virtual particles’ that carry force between neutrons and to propose that there are ‘gravitons’ that carry gravity : all this essentially because of the Principle of Spatio-Temporal Continuity.

(3.)  The Principle of Energy  

The Principle may be stated thus :

All effective action on or in the world requires an energy source.

           This is a (deliberately) vaguer and more general version of the 1st Law of Thermo-dynamics which states that the total amount of energy within a closed system remains constant.
We are familiar with the feeling of ‘being drained’ when we have concluded an exhausting task : it is as if something has been taken from us. What is this something? Not seemingly anything we can touch or see.
Newton did not deal in ‘energy’ : the term only entered the vocabulary of physics in the nineteenth century and even then with some hesitation (Note 2). Strictly speaking, ‘energy’ is ‘Potential Work’, and Work is ‘the first integral of Force with respect to Distance’. But few people, even professional scientists, envisage energy in this way. The 19th century scientific and technological concept of energy fitted in well with a much more primitive notion, that of an immaterial ‘power’ that  is all around us and can be harnessed by man, what the Polynesians called mana, the North American Indians wakanda and the ancient Chinese ch’i.
Why “can’t you get owt for nowt?” Essentially, because of the Principle of Energy : if you want results, you must expend energy, either yours or someone else’s. Even money only brings about changes in the world  because it enables one to command machines or persons to do your bidding, and both persons and machines wear out.
Why are scientists sceptical about Uri Geller’s alleged ability to bend spoons by touching them? Because of the Principle of Energy. Although the human body does contain electro-magnetic energy, the source is too feeble to bring about such effects directly. Most so-called occult phenomena involve a violation of the Principle of Energy which is why the present society, rightly or wrongly, dismisses them out of hand — a well-known physicist of the time damned Professor Taylor for even investigating Uri Geller.

(4)  The Principle of Localization

This Principle does not, as far as I know, appear explicitly in the writings of any thinker, ancient or modern : it is nonetheless extremely important. Put crudely, it is the claim that everything must be somewhere. As such, this is a very restrictive requirement indeed — too restrictive perhaps. Where are all these gods, spirits, demons that obsessed and terrified ancient man?  Where are the “thrones, principalities and powers” of which Saint Paul speaks?  In the past they could be safely relegated to unexplored parts of the Earth, or to the sky. But we, having been to many of these places and taken photographs of them, know that these beings are not to be found there and, if astronomers are to be believed, there is not much place for them on distant galaxies either since the same set of natural laws are applicable everywhere in the universe. So, according to the Third Principle, these alleged beings must either be ‘nowhere’, or ‘in people’s heads’.
The Principle of Localization, or a natural extension of it, also stipulates that an entity cannot be in more than one place at a time, i.e. the possibility of multi-localization is explicitly denied. This makes all the ‘voyages’ of seers, shamans and other visionaries ‘imaginary voyages’, not real ones. It is basically because of the Principle of Localization that scientists and rationalists do not take to the idea of a ‘Group Mind’ or ‘species mind’ — for where exactly are these collective entities?  To be sure, ‘entities’ like ‘the nation’ or ‘the government’ are not precisely localized either, but they are, physically speaking, in the last resort made up of human beings who are localizable.
Quantum Mechanics, of course, does not verify the Third Principle since, prior to an ‘act of measurement’, an elementary particle does not (according to the orthodox interpretation of the theory) have an exact position, it is ‘all over the place’. But this is one of the main reasons why Quantum Mechanics is so worrisome.

(5.) The Mind/Body Principle  

The Fourth Principle may be stated thus : 

          The mind (inasmuch as it exists at all) is confined within the bounds of the body, and can only bring about changes in the world via the body, or an extension of the body.

The Fourth Principle is really nothing but a special case of the First combined with the Third — for the mind, if it exists, must be somewhere.
For many physicists and psychologists mind is just a handy word : only the brain exists. Dr. Susan Blackmore, for example, writes : I want to emphasize that comnsciousness cannot do anything. The subjectivity, the ‘what it’s like to be me now’ is not a force, or a causal agent that can make things happen” (The Meme Machine p. 238).

Dr. Blackmore does not believe in the ‘self’ or a controlling mind but even people who are prepared to accept that there are such things are usually not prepared to accept that the mind can be separated at will from the body, can ‘have a life of its own’, so to speak.  When a burglar ties up a man’s hands and feet, and gags him or her, the burglar feels pretty confident that the victim will be unable to send for help. Why does he believe this? Because of the Fourth Principle.
A certain Zen exercise tells you to “Stop that ship on the distant ocean”. Science considers such a feat to be impossible. Why? Because of the Fifth Principle.
Not all persons and societies subscribe to the Fourth Principle — indeed I am not sure that I subscribe to it myself. The young child imagines that it can affect the world around it simply by an act of will and most early societies were firm believers in the power of Mind over Matter. “Hopi attitudes,” writes Whorf, “stress the power of desire and thought. To the Hopi one’s desires and thoughts influence not only his immediate actions but the whole of nature as well” (Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality).
The radical dualism which we inherit from the Greeks (rather than the Jews) goes right back to shamanism which has been described as mankind’s earliest religion (Note 3). In trance the shaman’s body remains on the floor of the hut in full view, but his ‘spirit’ travels far away. Contemporary people who claim to have had OBEs (Out-of-the-Body-Experiences) — and there are plenty of them — clearly do not accept the Mind/Body Principle. Such people claim, for example, to have seen themselves (or rather their bodies) undergoing surgery, and have described what went on. Official science takes a dim view of such claims — why? Because of the Fifth Principle.

 (6.)  Occam’s Razor or the Principle of Parsimony 

One version of the principle is  Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity though, according to Bertrand Russell, Occam did not say this but did say something rather similar which, translated, goes It is pointless to do with many what can be done with less.  In other words, keep it brief when it comes to assumptions.
This principle is completely different from all the others : not only it can’t be proved or disproved, but we would still use it even if we knew it to be wrong. When Occam was formulating this very important principle, most people in Europe believed in the reality of spirits, angels, succubi and all sorts of non-corporeal entities. The existence of these ‘entities’ could hardly be disproved, and indeed they have crept back again in a disguised form as ‘aliens’ and inhabitants of the unconscious, but enough was enough and there was, understandably, a pressing need to sweep the whole lot of them away and start again. However, the theory that appeals to less entities or assumptions is not necessarily the right one : Quantum Mechanics and Relativity are vastly more complex than Newtonian Mechanics but they are also more accurate.
Suffice it to say that the Principle of Parsimony or Occam’s Razor is something we can’t do without, true or not.


It is remarkable that all these laws are essentially negative in character. They can be summed up as

CTC 1     No Miracles and No Chance Events
CTC 2     No Leapfrogging with Space and Time
CTC 3     No Action without an Energy Source
CTC 4     No Entity without a place
CTC 5     No Physical Change caused by Mind alone
CTC 6     No Unnecessary Entities

 These Six Principles are hardly ‘self-evident’ and, in the last resort, their validity depends on their usefulness. Since they have been  the intellectual background to the greatest technological change in history ─ or, at least since invention of agriculture ─ there must be something in them. But there is no ‘reason’ to believe that they are the be all and end all, and plenty of reasons to believe that they are not.  I am outlining them here as a preamble to my own tentative views within the framework of Ultimate Event Theory and to see how my own theory of causality differs, which it does. The chief difference is that I envisage causality not as a matter of logic but as a force, perhaps the most fundamental force of all since without it physical reality would be entirely chaotic while it manifestly is not.

What about Free Will ?

Our society believes, broadly speaking, that adult, sane human beings are responsible for their actions and, in consequence, can be justifiably applauded and/or rewarded for certain acts, likewise justifiably reproved and punished for certain others.  However, it is becoming increasingly ‘scientifically correct’ to disbelieve in free will completely though, curiously, this seems not to have the slightest effect on scientists’ and rationalists’ actual behaviour which is more or less the same as everyone else’s — sometimes worse. Most scientists keep their scientific and private lives completely separate ─ a very convenient arrangement, also a pusillanimous one.  Dr. Blackmore, however, discussing this very point writes “I cannot divorce my science from the way I live my life.  If my understanding of human nature is that there is no conscious self inside, then I must live this way” (The Meme Machine  p. 242) . The ancient Greek philosophers took their philosophy very seriously indeed. Diogenes believed in the simple life and so slept in a tub (actually a large amphora). It is said that one sceptical Greek philosopher was drowning in a quagmire and appealed to another wandering by to help him, but the latter took no notice. The first philosopher survived and allegedly complimented the other on being consistent in his rational selfishness.              SH  17/10/12


Note 1  One can escape from the conclusion [that the quantum theory is incomplete] only by assuming thatb either the measurement of S(1) ‘telepathically’ chamges the real situation of S(2) or by denying independently real situations as such to things that  which are spatially separated from each other. Both alternatives appear to me enirtely unacceptable” (Einstein, Autobigraphical Notes

Note 2  See Jennifer Coopersmith’s remarkably interesting and scholarly work, Energy, the Subtle Concept (OUP).

Note 3  See the fifth chapter of E.R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational