Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Philosophers against causality

The famous British philosopher Bertrand Russell said in a 1913 paper (with full article here):
All philosophers, of every school, imagine that causation is one of the fundamental axioms or postulates of science, yet, oddly enough, in advanced sciences such as gravitational astronomy, the word “cause” never appears… To me, it seems that…the reason why physics has ceased to look for causes is that, in fact, there are no such things. The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.
I would have thought that this would be disregarded as being uninformed, but philosopher John D. Norton wrote in 2003 that "Russell got it right".

1913 was the year that Grossmann published the field equations for general relativity. It followed Poincare's 1905 theory, and that was directly inspired by causality. It answer the question of how the Sun causes the Earth to stay in Orbit, without Newton's action-at-a-distance.

Norton is a big Einstein idolizer. He must surely know how important causality was to relativity, even if Einstein did not understand it.

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