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Friday, July 4, 2014

Over on Another Blog

The usual suspects are at work where the Statistician to the Stars is manfully working his way through Thomas' Contra gentiles, and TOF notices a peculiarity previously glimpsed on the blog of P.Z.Meyer: viz., so soon as You-Know-Who is glimpsed at the end of a syllogism based on causation, they will deny causation and declare randomness rules. But let randomness appear to make room for free will, and their universe becomes strictly deterministic with mechanical causes strictly propagating the past into the future. Often, the same person will make both claims, though usually on different threads. There is probably no solution to this game of intellectual Whack-a-Mole, but TOF was especially charmed by the notion that there is no cause for radioactive decay, which is said to be due to magical chthonic effects obtained by invoking "chthulu" or "quantum mechanics" or something.

One respondent even claimed that hurricanes were just as causeless as radioactive decay, despite the fact that meteorologists understand quite well the causes of hurricanes. That was when enlightenment descended upon TOF like little tongues of flame.

These people are confusing "caused" with "predictable". 

Because we cannot predict the time and place that a hurricane will form, hurricanes are "uncaused."
Because we cannot predict the time and place that an atom will decay, radioactive decay is "uncaused."
Because we cannot predict when a bird will strike a jet engine, the consequent engine failure is "uncaused"?  Say what?

But then, since Newtonian mechanics cannot predict which apple will fall from which tree at which time, let alone whose noggin it will bop (God playing Whack-a-Mole?), we would have to conclude that the motion of falling bodies is uncaused. Yet this was the very inspiration for the deterministic universe metaphor!

Perhaps we should let them continue until they have completely demolished the 19th century mythos, then pick up the pieces and rebuild a sane metaphysics.

Caused ≠ Determined ≠ Predictable

OTOH, once we have gotten beyond the cause=predictable myth and realize that apples fall because of gravity (in turn caused by the presence of mass, in turn caused by the Higgs boson, etc.) we can also grasp that radioactive decay is caused by the weak force, in turn caused by the W and Z gauge bosons. In particular, alpha decay is due to the repulsive electrical forces among the protons in the nucleus; beta decay is due to the absorption of a stray neutron; and so forth. That we cannot predict (and per Heisenberg et al, really cannot predict) when these things will happen does not stop them from being causes. The Insistors of When are trying to squeeze quantum effects into the Procrustean bed of classical mechanics.

14 comments:

  1. In honor of their scientism, wouldn't these debates be better referred to as Whack-a-Mol?

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    1. This comment wins the internet.

      - Dan F.

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  3. I assume their mistake comes from Laplace's Demon? "If you knew all causes, you could predict all effects"? And then comes in the favorite error of modern science (or philosophy of science, or maybe scientism-influenced epistemology): assuming that our knowledge or observation of a thing is the thing. "We cannot know all causes, and therefore cannot predict events" and "events are not caused because we cannot predict them" seem like two very different propositions to me.

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  4. On a different topic but illustrative of the thought process, after his conversion to Catholicism, Orestes Brownson once wrote about trying to talk with his Protestant brethren:

    "Convict [your opponent] from tradition, and he appeals to the Bible; convict him from the Bible, and he appeals to reason; convict him from rea­son, and he appeals to private sentiment; convict him from private sentiment, and he appeals to skepticism, or flies back to reason, to Scripture, or tradition, and alternately from one to the other, never scrupling to affirm, one moment, what he denied the moment before, nor blushing to be found maintaining, that, of contraries, both may be true. He is indifferent as to what he asserts or denies, if able for the moment to obtain an apparent covert from his pursuers."

    The truth of a position is never really discussed because no method to approach it is seen as binding. What's going on here is that logic takes a back seat to the all-encompassing theory, which theory is understood by it most ardent proponents as being not a theory at all, but rather simple common sense (displaying no understanding of what a theory is and what sense, common or otherwise, is). Although they may never admit this, the truth of the theory is more fundamental than any logic one might use to attack it. Therefore, it is not at all dishonest to keep switching the basis of the argument - the argument is only important insofar as it supports the theory, the truth of which is known via Insight, or Correct Consciousness, or Unfolding of the Spirit - the Theory is *Progress* dammit, and to oppose it is sufficient proof of unreasonableness.

    My mistake has long been assuming that it mattered to the proponents of the Current Wisdom to be logical and make sense. That they would be ashamed if they didn't. Nope. Just as Hegel used the word 'Logic' to mean his new theory of Ontology, materialists use 'reasonable' to mean 'agrees with us'.

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  5. The really weird part of the "caused==determined" theory is the implication that if you do something for a reason, you are not free. In other words, actions by people who have an real reason for acting, e.g., private-sector employment, are not truly free but the actions of performance artists who live on NEA grants to come up with pointless art are free.

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  6. Please YOS, this is not a fair description of most of your sparing partners at Briggs place.

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  7. Strange, that it should come down to something as simple as clear thinking and careful definitions.

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  8. OFloinn, which post at Briggs in particular is this in response to?

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    1. There is a series he is doing "Against Modern Thought" in which he is working his way through Contra gentiles..

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    2. Yes, I found it; sterling work, old boy. It's also nice to see that Briggs has gone through the same experience as I once he (and I) took Aquinas seriously.

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  9. Your comment about birds and jet engines reminded me of a project I carried out when I worked for U. of Dayton Research Institute. We had a contract from the FAA to analyze their worldwide data on ingestion of birds into jet engines. I had to calculate probability of ingestion as a function of time of day and season of the year. I also had to calculate the probability of jet engine failure as a function of bird weight. I found it to be a very interesting project, with a lot of practical application.

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  10. Yea, because whenever I want to find the latest Scientific expertise and info on Philosophy, specifically of causation, I head straight to a BLOG by a Biologist. Even better was "One respondent even claimed that hurricanes were just as causeless as radioactive decay", because everyone commenting on Science blogs has a PhD in the Philosophy of Science or some such equivalent education.

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