Unreal Nature

March 14, 2015

An Irrational Remainder

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… just because causalism is insufficient to explain novelty, it affords a criterion for disclosing the emergence of newness, namely, the failure of causal laws.

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

… Since the strict doctrine of causality rendered radical novelty impossible, the emergence of newness had to be either denied or assigned to that which, by definition, was absolutely autonomous, free, spontaneous, namely, spirit, with or without a capital. (Some contemporary occultists, like Ouspensky, hold that the sole possible source of novelty is psychical free will, the foundation of magic; orthodox holism, too, regards emergence as a sort of magical mystery beyond the scope of science.) As to progress — which by definition involves the emergence of higher novelty out of previously existing levels of being — it was of course unaccountable in mechanical terms, since mechanism is essentially reductionistic; for mechanism, ‘higher’ can only mean more complex, never qualitatively richer.

… strict causalism may account for novelty in number and in quantity alone; by declaring that actuals are either the mere manifestation or the quanatitative development of possibles, causalism definitely excludes qualitative novelty. We are thus faced with the strange fact that the doctrine of causality, which is supposed to account for change, ends up by denying radical change, that is, that variety of change involving the emergence of new qualities. This paradox led Meyerson — who granted the possibility of novelty but saw no other form of determinism than its causal variety — to the conclusion that science leaves always an irrational remainder.

… the causal principle can be helpful in the detection of the very novelty causalism denies. In fact, whenever the principle “Same causes same effects” does not seem to be fulfilled, we tend to assume that the cause has not been the same in all cases, that is, that something new crept in unnoticed. As Bernard said, “given a natural phenomenon, whatever it may be, an experimenter should never admit that there is a variation in the expression of that phenomenon, without at the same time new conditions appearing in its manifestation.” That is, just because causalism is insufficient to explain novelty, it affords a criterion for disclosing the emergence of newness, namely, the failure of causal laws. The same holds for every conservation law; whenever such a law seems to fail we are led to assume either that the concrete object in question is not as isolated as it was supposed to be or that something new has emerged. This is the type of inference we perform when we find something missing at home, or when we assume the emission of a neutrino; in either case a new entity (burglar, neutrino) is assumed to exist, which restores conservation of something (property, energy).

But if the doctrine of causality is too narrow to account for every sort of change, on the other hand the causal principle is consistent with radical change, and causation itself seems to take part in the emergence of every novelty. Ideal schemes of change may be purely causal, purely random, purely self-determined, and so on; real changes, on the other hand, are always a mixture or, better, a combination of several types of becoming; their description should consequently include various categories of determination — if only because real changes happen to many-sided objects that bear a number of connections with other objects. Causal bonds may not constitute the main connections in all cases, they may even be irrelevant to a given transformation, but it seems safe to assume that they somehow have a share in actual change.

In short, causation participates in the production of novelty although it does not exhaust it; and, although causalism is a conservative doctrine, the principle of causation is consistent with the emergence of newness. This is why the causal principle has a place in science, though not to the exclusion of other principles of determination.

To be continued.

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

(Happy Pi day!)




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