Unreal Nature

February 21, 2015

An Infinity of Neglected Factors

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… A consequence of causalism is the need of making a choice among an uncaused First Cause or infinite regress. The former is a theological, the latter a philosophical, fiction.

Continuing through Causality and Modern Science: Third Revised Edition by Mario Bunge (1959; 1979):

… The hypothesis of isolation, or, conversely, of a noninterfering background, is … a methodological requirement of the sciences dealing with the material world; hence, the fiction of the isolated “causal chain” will work to the extent to which such an isolation takes place. And this is often the case in definite respects during limited intervals of time. But actually an infinity of neglected factors — Galileo’s cause accidentarie or cagioni secondarie — are constantly impinging upon the main stream — the chosen “causal line” — producing in it small modifications that may accumulate, thus eventually provoking, in the long run, an essential modification. As Bernal put it, such “chance variations or side reactions are always taking place.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] “These never completely cancel each other out, and there results an accumulation which sooner or later provides a trend in a different direction from that of the original system.” (Elementary statistical theory usually treats only the simplest case, namely, that in which chance deviations cancel out, so that no significant change in the general trend of the process is produced, the process ending up in an equilibrium state. The mass of small canceling influences coming from the rest of the universe is of this type; thus, the gravitational disturbances impinging on the earth are randomly distributed and do not produce lasting effects on the earth’s orbit, which is stable. Such collections of small influences have been regarded as an “irrational remainder”; actually they are not irrational but unknown in detail: although the individual elements are not controllable, the whole mass of the deviations is statistically tractable.)

[ … ]

… Only simple causation (to which multiple conjunctive causation can be reduced) complies with the usual formulations of the causal principle, all of which entail the uniqueness of the causal bond. Multiple disjunctive causation is often a more adequate picture of change, but owing to its ambiguity it is not strictly causal; moreover, when the complex of determinants is complex enough, and when they are all about equally important, multiple causation goes over into statistical determination.

Simple causation involves an artificial isolation or singling out of both factors and trends of evolution; it may reflect the central streamline but not the whole process. Isolation is a simplifying hypothesis rather than a fact. It is indispensable and even approximately valid in many cases; nevertheless, it is never rigorously true.

A consequence of causalism is the need of making a choice among an uncaused First Cause or infinite regress. The former is a theological, the latter a philosophical, fiction. Infinite causal regress has no cognitive value, since the knowledge of the present is thereby made to hang from the whole infinite ignored past. There is regression, but it is neither linear nor, in particular, causal.

To be continued.

My most recent post from Bunge’s book is here.

-Julie

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