Monday, January 15, 2018

Causality Doesn't Exist — In The Way We Typically Think It Does: A Further Explanation

I've written several blog posts on my site about how causality doesn't exist (see here and here) but now I want to explain in a bit more detail what I mean by this and also clarify some misunderstandings on what my view is.

Most importantly, my view technically is not that causality doesn't exist, it's that causality doesn't exist in the way we typically think it does. That is, my view of causality is completely different from the general every day notion of causality most people have. The naive assumption one often gets when hearing my view is that I'm saying cause and effect relationships don't exist at all, such that if you threw a brick at glass window it wouldn't shatter, or if you jumped in front of a speeding train you wouldn't get smashed to death by it. That's not what my view says at all.

On my view of causality, if you threw a brick at a glass window it would shatter, if you jumped in front of a speeding train you'd be smashed to death by it. The difference between my view of causality vs the typical view is that on my view causes do not bring their effects into existence in the sense of true ontological becoming.

In other words, on my view it is not the case that cause A exists, and effect B does not exist, and then cause A brings effect B into existence. Rather, cause A exists and so does effect B, but in a different part of spacetime. For example, imagine that a blue car skids off the road and smashes into a red stop sign, severing it and dragging it along with the car. If someone asked, "What caused the stop sign to be knocked down?" it's perfectly reasonable to say the cause was the car smashing into it. But the existence of the severed stop sign was there already, in the future direction of spacetime. That is, the effect technically exists along with the cause and is not brought into existence by it. To get a representation of this visually, take a look at the spacetime diagram below.

We have the blue car depicted by its blue worldtube. It is moving relative to the rest frame of t, which is also the rest frame of the red stop sign, depicted by the red worldtube. At time t = 2, the blue car smashes into the red stop sign, severing it from its foundation and dragging it along with the blue car. The cause (A) is the blue car smashing into the stop sign at moment t = 2 and the effect (B) is the stop sign being severed and dragged. Both the cause A and effect B physically exist in spacetime. The effect B doesn't come into existence when the car smashes into it. It already has ontological status in spacetime. This view on time is known as eternalism. It says that the past, present, and future all exist in a 4 dimensional spacetime manifold, or block universe.

This requires a completely different understanding of causality from how most of us typically think causality works, and it is the meaning behind Sean Carroll's description of causality in his paper on why almost all cosmologists are atheists, "Of course scientists do talk about “causality”, but this is a description of the relationship between patterns and boundary conditions; it is a derived concept, not a fundamental one."

There are patterns of physical regularity in spacetime and those patterns are what we call the laws of physics. Different laws describe different kinds of patterns in spacetime. The cause of A to effect B in the above spacetime diagram is a description of the relationship between the patterns of the blue and red worldtubes. It's why I defined causality in my blog post Causality Is A Useful Word But It Doesn't Really Exist, as "the relationships of intersecting worldtubes as they precede or intertwine with one another in spacetime". When worldtubes intersect or exchange information between them, they can be said to have a causal relationship between one another. That is how we derive the concept of causality. When they don't intersect or exchange information between them, they are merely correlated.

This understanding of causality means of course that A doesn't cause B to come into existence, anymore than we'd say the number 4 causes the number 5 to come into existence on a number line. Given this, metaphysical ideas that rely on A causing B to come into existence are false, like Aristotelian causality, and any form of presentism-dependent causality, like the kind that is used to make the Kalam Cosmological argument. Hence, all the first cause arguments for god presuppose a view on causality that is false and that I need not accept. The person denying my view on causality would bear the burden of having to show presentism is true.

The argument for why the world is a 4 dimensional spacetime block where all moments of time exist is made by special relativity. I've defended that conclusion here.

Naive people who don't understand special relativity and the other science and philosophy that demonstrates the common person's understanding of causality is wrong will balk at the notion that any intelligent person could ever entertain the idea that there doesn't exist cause and effect. The reality, as always, is way more complicated than that: They simply do not understand the position being argued. And this is exactly why I deal with so many people telling me that I should go jump in front of a speeding train if I don't believe cause and effect exist. Hopefully, this post can clarify most of those misconceptions.

Finally, this understanding of causality is highly esoteric, even among scientists and philosophers. As such, not much has been written about it. Personally, I would love to make this idea mainstream. In fact, my dream one day is to make a documentary about eternalism, covering all the bases and pertinent aspects, such as what it means for causality, and correcting all the misconceptions about it. I'm planning on beginning the script for that soon.

Note that this post is not intended to make the case for why causality exists this way, which is due to physical theories like special relativity. It is only to explain what my position is and what it is not.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...