Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Russell denies the law of causality

Explanations of quantum mechanics can get very confusing on the subject of causality. It is odd that people get tripped up on such a simple concept. Apparently there is a long history of smart people saying stupid things about causality.

Bertrand Russell wrote in a 1913 essay on causality:
In the following paper I wish, first, to maintain that the word "cause" is so inextricably bound up with misleading associations as to make its complete extrusion from the philosophical vocabulary desirable; secondly, to inquire what principle, if any, is employed in science in place of the supposed "law of causality" which philosophers imagine to be employed; thirdly, to exhibit certain confusions, especially in regard to teleology and determinism, which appear to me to be connected with erroneous notions as to causality.

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 occurs. Dr. James Ward, in his Naturalism and Agnosticism, makes this a ground of complaint against physics: the business of those who wish to ascertain the ultimate truth about the world, he apparently thinks, should be the discovery of causes, yet physics never even seeks them. To me it seems that philosophy ought not to assume such legislative functions, and 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. ...

We may now sum up our discussion of causality. We found first that the law of causality, as usually stated by philosophers, is false, and is not employed in science. We then considered the nature of scientific laws, and found, instead of stating that one event A is always followed by another event B, they stated functional relations between certain events at certain times,
This is all nonsense. Of course gravitational astronomy speaks of causes, as does all other advanced sciences. It is hard to see how something could be scientific without recognizing causes.

I am trying to understand how people could be so confused about time, causality, determinism, and free will.

Russell appears to believe that determinism is some empirical fact, but it cannot be. Charlotte Werndl shows:
The central question of this paper is: are deterministic and indeterministic descriptions observationally equivalent in the sense that they give the same predictions? I tackle this question for measure-theoretic deterministic systems and stochastic processes, both of which are ubiquitous in science. I first show that for many measure-theoretic deterministic systems there is a stochastic process which is observationally equivalent to the deterministic system. Conversely, I show that for all stochastic processes there is a measure-theoretic deterministic system which is observationally equivalent to the stochastic process.
So some formulation of quantum mechanics may be deterministic or not, but that tells us nothing about whether the real world is.

I don't know why Russell was so opposed to causality, except maybe it is related to his atheism. Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Chris Mooney argues that belief in "teleological thinking" or causality is a major deterrent to people accepting evolution over God.

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