Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More clarification of causal closure

The causal closure principle is a doctrine designed largely to explain what a materialistic world-view must be committed to at minimum. In my analysis of what a philosophical materialist, and, I would say also, a philosophical naturalist must believe, there are three doctrines which comprise is:

1) A purpose-free physical level.
2) The causal closure of the physical level.
and
3) The supervenience of everything that cannot be captured in the language of physics upon that which can be captured in the language of basic physics.

(It gets a little more complicated when you want to bring in timeless entities like numbers, for example, or even sets. However, such entities, if they exist, are irrelevant to how events are produced in the world).

Now causal closure is consistent with epiphenomenalist forms of dualism, according to which there are mental substances that do not cause any effects in the physical world.

Yes, the AFR is an attack on the causal closure principle, in fact one of the classic defenses of it, chapter 3 of William Hasker's The Emergent Self, is entitled "Why the Physical Isn't Closed."

Why should we believe the causal closure principle? Well, for the reasons that are offered for being a philosophical naturalist of some kind. If the physical world is all there is, then nothing else exists.

So yes, my argument from reason is an attack on the causal closure principle. But I was simply trying to explicate what a contemporary naturalist believes.

There are some people who call themselves philosophical naturalists who deny the causal closure principle, though I think that position leads to incoherence.

11 comments:

stunney said...

One question I have is whether science itself might undermine the causal closure principle. Consider the following.

A while back I read a book entitled The Great Beyond: Higher Dimensions, Parallel Universes, and The Extraordinary Search for a Theory of Everything, by Paul Halpern. On page 282, he quotes leading physicist Gary Gibbons talking about recently developed theories in string physics, known as Randall-Sundrum models of the universe:

"A single brane with an anti-deSitter background has potential difficulties with singularities. Information can come from outside the universe." [emphasis added].

Halpern continues:

"Gibbons is concerned that a Randall-Sundrum universe could subvert the law of cause and effect. Events could occur at any time with origins beyond the space we see. Virtually anything could pop out. A shark could suddenly materialize in one's swimming pool because of some strange interplay between the bulk and the brane. Our sense that we might someday understand the world in its entirety would become increasingly precarious." (Page 283, emphasis added)

Earlier, Halpern had described the R-S proposal as having "rocked the physics community like a new Beatles record. Overnight, scores of theorists began to dance to the new beat".

I had first heard about Randall-Sundrum models of the cosmos a few months previous to reading Halpern's book. But these quotes from the book made me think, this is maybe how God (=infinite energy) interacts with the universe! Information perhaps enters our universe from another dimension, and can have a physical manifestation, but whose source or orgin we can't detect because it's in a higher dimension to which this universe is stuck on like a membrane.

In these types of models, only closed strings, and in particular gravitons–the carrier particles for gravitational energy–can escape into the higher dimension, and their escaping, or 'leaking' out of the universe is hypothesized as the explanation for why gravitational forces are so hugely weaker than the other three forces of nature. We see this when, for instance, a little bit of electrical static on a comb can be used to pick up pieces of paper, thus defeating the entire gravitational pull of the Earth.

Gravitational energy, in short, can come into and out of our observable universe in the R-S models. But since Energy and Mass are equivalent (by E=mc^2), this has remarkable implications for what is physically possible. In particular, something that happens in our universe could have a source outside of our universe. The possibilities are endless. So I'm excited to see that Randall and Sundrum now show this is scientifically possible. It may explain what God's methodology is for interacting with the observable universe, for example.

Sundrum says:

"There are two ways the extra dimensions could conceal themselves from view," says Sundrum. "One is if they are rolled up far smaller than an atom. The other is if the Universe is confined to a kind of lower-dimensional island within higher-dimensional space."

Maybe God exists in an infinite-dimensional space. If so, the causal closure principle is probably false, at least as it stands in the typical usage of philosophical naturalists.

Liz said...

Stunney, causal closure is meant to apply to the entire system. If physical objects from outside our universe interact with objects in our own, a physicist would then consider the outside objects (and their universe) part of the system.

If such events do happen, we might finally begin to meaningfully approach questions for which a self-contained universe can't possibly provide an answer ("what caused the big bang?"), but its a little presumptuous to begin filling those gaps with gods.

stunney said...

liz said...

Stunney, causal closure is meant to apply to the entire system.

I think you're missing the point, liz.

What constitutes an 'entire system' is indeterminate if there exists an indeterminately large number or an infinity of interacting or interconnected 'systems'. If so, then the causal closure principle is moot, since no one system is determinately self-contained-----nothing determinate specifies the 'entire system'.

And contemporary scientific theories about multiverses, hyperspaces, black holes, quantum vacua, etc already suggest that the notion of a purely self-contained determinate causal system is old hat.

19th century materialist old hat.

Ilíon said...

Stunney: "And contemporary scientific theories about multiverses, hyperspaces, black holes, quantum vacua, etc already suggest that the notion of a purely self-contained determinate causal system is old hat.

19th century materialist old hat.
"

I would say: 'ad hoc' (I do rather like the juxtaposition-in-sound between "old hat" and "ad hoc").

As with so much of materialistic metaphysics masquerading as 'science,' this "closure principle" seems to be a principle only when it’s convenient. And when the dictates of convenience require, well then, “multiverse theory” is the controlling “principle.”

stunney said...

From wikipedia:



...The models were proposed in 1999 by Lisa Randall and Raman Sundrum because they were dissatisfied with the universal extra dimensional models then in vogue.

...There are two popular models. The first, called RS1, has a finite size for the extra dimension with two branes, one at each end. The second, RS2, is similar to the first, but one brane has been placed infinitely far away, so that there is only one brane left in the model.


And we have:

Nature 404, 28-29 (2 March 2000)

Jerome Gauntlett

It is common sense that at everyday scales we live in a world with three large spatial dimensions. Lisa Randall and Raman Sundrum have recently made the bold suggestion in Physical Review Letters that an extra dimension of infinite extent may supplement the three spatial dimensions we observe...

As an old friend of mine used to say: make of it what you will...

As for myself, I think such ideas coming from science itself tend to render the concept of causal closure passé, if not incoherent.

Ilíon said...

Stunney "... As for myself, I think such ideas coming from science itself tend to render the concept of causal closure passé, if not incoherent."

1) There is actually no such thing as "science" as is used here (and as is such a common usage). This usage reflects a reification of an abstraction, and a collective abstraction, at that.

There are many separate sciences (systems of knowledge about specific aspects of nature).

There are scientists making statements, one expects within their competence.


2) 'Science' isn't even about truth in the first place. So, logically one really can't use "science" to determine whether any statement is false, much less incoherent.


3) 'Incoherence' is not merely a matter of Statement A being at odds with Statement B. Rather, 'incoherence' is a matter of simultaneously affirming some set of contradictory statements.

For instance, if contradictory statements are generated by some theory or logical system following its axioms and rules, then the theory or system in incoherent. For instance, if a theory or logical system contains even one axiom (or rule) which is contradictory to any other, then the theory or system is incoherent (and it will inescapably generate incoherencies).

Liz said...

What constitutes an 'entire system' is indeterminate if there exists an indeterminately large number or an infinity of interacting or interconnected 'systems'. If so, then the causal closure principle is moot, since no one system is determinately self-contained-----nothing determinate specifies the 'entire system'.
Indeterminate by whom? This seems to me a bit like arguing classical mechanics is moot because nothing exists in a frictionless Euclidean space. Pre-emptively declaring a statement false because an unverified theory suggests the picture might be more complicated is more than a little disingenuous. Sure, there are interesting and troubling questions being raised by string theory and its rival theories, but jumping on answers before the extra dimensions are even confirmed is incredibly premature and not how evidence-based discussions should proceed.

But these quotes from the book made me think, this is maybe how God (=infinite energy) interacts with the universe!
Isn't one of those key theistic arguments that everything had a beginning and thus a first cause just as predicted by religion X? I wonder... if physical reality is shown to be unfolding infinitely, will people actually reject religions that suppose a beginning and convert to those that don't? (And I use "beginning" loosely to mean a starting point in any dimension.)

As with so much of materialistic metaphysics masquerading as 'science'
Is it though? I've only ever heard it come up in metaphysical discussions. It's mostly used in attempts to refute dualism, and when was the last time you heard a dualist hypothesis that could be refuted with the available physical evidence alone? So of course it's metaphysical: its an argument against another unscientific metaphysical position.

stunney said...

liz wrote:

Indeterminate by whom?

Er, by definition of the phrase 'indeterminately large number' and the application of the concept of infinity to a causal order. Note that it is quite possible that the universe is infinite in space and time. Indeed so thought Newton about space and, er, Einstein thought it about the universe, believing it had an infinite temporal past, up until Fr Lemaitre put him right with his Big Bang theory.

Also, if spacetime is infinite, it's not clear that causal closure has a determinate meaning. For one thing, the laws of nature may vary from one region to another or change drastically from one time to another, in which case regions of spacetime may become causally connected or become causally de-coupled, perhaps even randomly-----which again renders the causal closure principle moot. Against what can an infinite world be closed off?

Pre-emptively declaring a statement false because an unverified theory suggests the picture might be more complicated is more than a little disingenuous.

It's a good job, then, that I didn't declare a statement false, but said instead:

One question I have is whether science itself might undermine the causal closure principle.

See the word 'might'? See the word 'question'?

Sure, there are interesting and troubling questions being raised by string theory and its rival theories, but jumping on answers before the extra dimensions are even confirmed is incredibly premature and not how evidence-based discussions should proceed.

It appears you've jumped onto a statement I never actually, you know, like, made.

As for evidence-based discussions, the best evidence indicates that I made this statement:

One question I have is whether science itself might undermine the causal closure principle

and not the statement you're imagining I made.

Isn't one of those key theistic arguments that everything had a beginning and thus a first cause just as predicted by religion X? I wonder... if physical reality is shown to be unfolding infinitely, will people actually reject religions that suppose a beginning and convert to those that don't? (And I use "beginning" loosely to mean a starting point in any dimension.)

You're misinformed and confused.

Christian theology has for centuries countenanced the possibility that the universe is infinite. For instance, Nicholas of Cusa (died 1464) denied that the universe is finite, and Aquinas earlier taught that the universe having an infinite past was consistent with philosophical theism.

Second, in classical theism, a First Cause is outside of, is not part of, and transcends the order of natural cause-and-effect. Instead, the First Cause is the cause of there being any such order of natural cause-and-effect at all. However, the First Cause sustains all of that order in being at all times and all places. And this is true even if the natural causal order is infinite.

My own view is that there are deep connections between energy, information, and consciousness. I believe that the energy-information-consciousness things that are us will, upon our deaths, be 'resurrected' in another realm governed by 'laws of physics' that are quite different from those operating in this universe, and that we will know ourselves in that other realm and know others, since our conscious selves will be flooded, as it were, by an eternal inpouring of the infinite field of self-aware information-energy-consciousness that we call God.

A spectacular prophetic revelation of this took place with death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Ilíon said...

Stunney "Note that it is quite possible that the universe is infinite in space and time."

'Conceivable' is not the same as 'possible.'

It has long been known that it is not logically possible (which is to say, that it is impossible) for "the universe" to be infinite in any aspect.

One Brow said...

It has long been known that it is not logically possible (which is to say, that it is impossible) for "the universe" to be infinite in any aspect.
I think you are missing a pre-condition there. The idea of an infinite universe is not self-contradictory.

L said...

Stunney, you're right, of course, I put words in your mouth. When I hear string theory or quantum mechanics mentioned outside of an academic setting, I'm so accustomed to it being used to "prove" someone's pet supernatural theory that I completely spaced when it was being put forward in a more open and questioning manner.