Hesperus is Bosphorus

A group blog by philosophers in and from Turkey

On causes of regularities

with 21 comments

According to a standard construal, Hume proposed the following analysis of causation:

Event C caused event E iff (1) C was temporally prior to E, (2) C and E were contiguous in space and in time, and (3) events of type C are always followed by events of type E.

This is the prototype of the regularity or constant-conjunction theories of causation. Causation is linked to regularity of occurrence of events similar to C with events similar to E.

In every corner of the universe scratched matches light (when there is presence of oxygen and absence of water sprinklers around, etc.). Let me now ask a childish question: Why is this uniformity? How come scratched matches behave the same way everywhere? Do matches have telepathic communication, saying to each other, “Let’s light whenever we are scratched”? What “coordinates” or “oversees” them, so that they can display similar or repeated patterns of behavior all over the universe?

This is the same question as the question of what ensures the sameness of a law of nature in the entire universe. If one wants to say that something’s being a “law of nature” just means that it applies uniformly all over the universe, OK, then I am asking, “What sustains those laws to be effective everywhere?”. Two electrons repel each other, and an electron and a positron attract each other everywhere in the universe (or so we believe). In virtue of what is the uniformity of the behavior of the electrons and positrons and other things guaranteed? In other words, what causes regularities to hold everywhere? What is the causal infrastructure underlying regularities in nature?

I am not sure, as I am not a Hume scholar, but I don’t think Hume ever asked that question. He used the fact that regularities exist in the world in analyzing the concept of causation, but, as far as I am aware, he didn’t raise the question of what causes regularities themselves. (I am talking about the most fundamental regularities of course, in the sense of ‘fundamental’ where Newtonian laws are more fundamental than Kepler’s laws, for example.) Moreover, given Hume’s analysis of causation above, it is hard to imagine how he (and perhaps Humeans in general) could answer that question without falling into circularity or infinite regress.

One answer to our question may be to point out that electrons everywhere in the universe have the same properties, and claim that sameness of properties causes sameness of patterns of behavior, i.e. regularities. But, first, why should sameness of properties result in sameness or regularity of behavior? Secondly, our attributions of sameness of properties may actually be in virtue of sameness of behavior on the part of the entities. If the notion of sameness of properties is reducible to the notion of sameness of behavior, then the answer proposed at the beginning of this paragraph, namely “Sameness of properties is what accounts for regularities of behavior” becomes tantamount to, “Sameness of behavior is what accounts for sameness of behavior,” which is an uninformative answer. If, on the other hand, properties are not reducible to behaviors, then the question, “How does sameness of properties account for regularities?” is still with us.

Of course, an easy—and perhaps lazy—answer to those questions would be, “It’s a brute fact that there are regularities and laws in the world, and no causes or causal explanations of that fact can be given.” But, first, we can find in the history of science illustrations of the fact that what we take to be a brute fact today may turn out to be explainable later. It may have been regarded as a brute fact in the past that light just propagates, and a brute fact that it propagates at the speed it does. But Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory of light can explain why light travels, and it can also explain why it travels with the speed c, the speed of light. Second, if we are asserting that no causes can or need to be found of regularities in nature, then we seem willing to admit that there are uncaused natural phenomena in the world, viz. regularities. And to say that, we didn’t even need any quantum mechanics.

An interesting answer to our question was suggested by one of my grad students, Pakize Arıkan who took my class on causation in Spring 2007. According to Pakize, my question presupposes that uniformity is something that requires explanation, whereas non-uniformity or chaos is the normal state of the world, and hence requires no explanation. Why should uniformity require explanation? Well, I don’t know, but it seems to me that even if I lived in a totally chaotic universe where there were no regularities and laws of nature, I think I would find some way, in the midst of that chaos, of asking what causes all this chaos and orderlessness…

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Written by Erdinç Sayan

March 5, 2012 at 1:04 am

Posted in Metaphysics

21 Responses

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  1. Hi Erdinc,

    There seems to be two threads in your post: I take the first one to be your pursuit of the “cause of causes;” i.e., what causes all regularities to hold everywhere, and what is the underlying causal infrastructure underlying the perceived regularities in nature. The second traces a meta-philosophical question about your very motivation to ask these questions, evident when you suggest that even if the chaos was a given, and that anomaly, lawlessness, and irregularities were the norm, you would find a way to ask the same question, this time, wondering what the cause of chaos is. I won’t attempt to answer the question you raise in the first thread, but will speculate about the second thread, by expanding on the cognitive processes that may be underlying your cause-seeking questions in philosophy –natural laws and chaos alike.

    What kind of cognitive processes may be involved in raising these cause-seeking questions? Some cognitive psychologists argue that humans have an automatic “psychological immune system” that prevents them from negative emotions associated with disorderliness, irregularity, and chaos. Our minds try to process or transform the information we receive from the environment in a way that will lead to minimal psychological harm. We thus develop short-sighted reasoning strategies, rationalize, make up stories, self-deceive, and so on, to reduce cognitive dissonance, and to conceive and represent things more orderly than they actually are. There is a significant number of empirical research around affective forecasting that substantiates these claims. It turns out that, us limited humans, prefer certainty to uncertainty, order to chaos, regularity to anomaly and so on. Thus, good news is that you may not be alone in asking these order-imposing, cause-seeking questions, in the form of “what is the causal infrastructure underlying regularities/chaos in nature?” Even better news, such cognitive processes and biases may be at the very foundation of the idea that there are laws of nature or regularities at the first place. Perhaps this was what Hume was also trying to get at, with the constant-conjunction theory of causation. After all he is referred to as the founder of cognitive science.

    Suggesting that our psychological immune system may be underscoring the kinds of questions you raise highlights their import and significance by also encouraging us to think about the roots of philosophical reasoning. I am under the influence of the article, “How do Scientists Think? Capturing the Dynamics of Conceptual Change in Science” I recently read, by Nancy Nersessian (1992), who traces the structure of conceptual change in science to ordinary human cognitive processes involved in representation and reasoning. She develops what she calls a “cognitive-historical” analysis to study conceptual change in science, by bringing together the tools of historians of science and those of cognitive scientists. From the former, her analysis takes the historical examination of the problem solving practices of the scientists and their creation of new scientific representations of phenomena. She enriches this method with the investigations of cognitive scientists of ordinary human representational and problem solving practices. The underlying presupposition of her method is that “the problem-solving strategies that scientists have invented and the representational practices they have developed over the course of the history of science are very sophisticated and refined outgrowths of ordinary reasoning and representational processes. Thus the method combines case studies of actual scientific practices with the analytical tools and theories of the cognitive sciences to create a new comprehensive theory of how conceptual structures are constructed and changed in science.” Your post made me think of whether and how we can apply this method to understanding philosophical reasoning. Why do we ask cause-seeking questions?

    Perhaps, to use Hume’s story of the concept of causality, the first person who abstracted causality from her observation of temporal priority of event C to event E, their contiguity in space and time, and the orderliness of C events followed by E events was (unconsciously) using her human psychological immune system to put order into chaos.

    On a somewhat different note, we can always introduce an interventionist God to answer both of the questions you raise :)

    Serife Tekin

    March 5, 2012 at 4:16 am

    • Hi Serife hanim,

      Thank you for the very informative comment.

      There seems to be two threads in your post: I take the first one to be your pursuit of the “cause of causes;” i.e., what causes all regularities to hold everywhere, and what is the underlying causal infrastructure underlying the perceived regularities in nature.

      I wouldn’t say I am pursuing the question of what is/are “the cause of causes” (another commentator thought so too), although I agree with the second part of your statement: I am pursuing the question of “what causes all regularities to hold everywhere, and what is the underlying causal infrastructure underlying the … regularities in nature.” Here’s what I have in mind. Think of a moving billiard ball, whose impact on another billiard ball which is at rest initially, causes the latter to move. I am not asking “What caused the first ball to cause the motion of the second ball?”. An answer to this question might be, “I caused it, by setting the first ball in motion,” and that wouldn’t be a terribly interesting answer. I am not sure if I am asking “What is the cause of all causes?” either. (This sounds a little like “the mother (!) of all causes.”)

      I am instead asking “What is the cause or causal explanation of regularities/uniformities in nature?”. On the pool table here, when this billiard ball hits this second one, the second one moves. On another pool table on the moon a similar thing happens, and on another pool table in another galaxy a similar thing happens. Isn’t that very interesting? Can’t we meaningfully ask why this phenomenon of regularity holds in the universe? If there is a cause of that natural phenomenon, fine—what is it? But if we assert that there is no cause of it, or even if there is one, we can’t find it, then we are admitting that some natural phenomena have no causes, or even if they do have causes, we are incapable of finding them.

      If you like, you can think of my question as the question of why the same causes produce the same effects, rather than what causes causation (not that the latter wouldn’t be an interesting question also). As for the quantum world, there are regularities there too, but probabilities are attached to those regularities. We are not living in a totally chaotic world after all.

      The second traces a meta-philosophical question about your very motivation to ask these questions, evident when you suggest that even if the chaos was a given, and that anomaly, lawlessness, and irregularities were the norm, you would find a way to ask the same question, this time, wondering what the cause of chaos is.

      Yes. I think we find it natural to ask the causes of chaos (disorder, confusion), as much as the causes of orderliness (uniformity, regularity). That’s where your explanations referring to the findings of psychologists and cognitive scientists may come in, though the questions I am raising seem to me metaphysical/conceptual ones rather than empirical. But, just between you and me, I have faith in that in the future many if not all questions of philosophy will be either solved by empirical sciences (especially brain sciences), or will be simply rendered obselete and/or uninteresting by them. I am talking about at least partial naturalization of philosophy. Cognitive, brain and evolutionary sciences have already come a long way in accomplishing this in the fields of ethics and aesthetics I believe.

      Your post made me think of whether and how we can apply this method to understanding philosophical reasoning.

      As I said above, with the advance of the relevant sciences, we will have a better handle on understanding the cognitive roots of philosophical reasoning, and that is apt to change a lot in philosophy as we know it.

      On a somewhat different note, we can always introduce an interventionist God to answer both of the questions you raise

      Yes, the notion of God could come very handy there! But seriously, let’s leave God alone, if we can, on the questions I am asking.

      Erdinç Sayan

      March 6, 2012 at 3:51 am

      • Merhaba Erdinc Hocam,

        Thank you for your clarifications; I see that I was off-track in the first part of my comment. With the pool example, now I have a better handle on your question. I have another clarificatory question. You say:

        “I am instead asking “What is the cause or causal explanation of regularities/uniformities in nature?”. On the pool table here, when this billiard ball hits this second one, the second one moves. On another pool table on the moon a similar thing happens, and on another pool table in another galaxy a similar thing happens. Isn’t that very interesting? Can’t we meaningfully ask why this phenomenon of regularity holds in the universe? If there is a cause of that natural phenomenon, fine–what is it? But if we assert that there is no cause of it, or even if there is one, we can’t find it, then we are admitting that some natural phenomena have no causes, or even if they do have causes, we are incapable of finding them.”

        I am a bit unclear about this. Do you take regularity to be a natural phenomenon, when you ask “If there is a cause of that natural phenomenon”? Does “that” refer to regularity?

        Isn’t “regularity” in the eye of the beholder, i.e., isn’t it a relational property? I am not sure therefore if “some natural phenomena have no causes” necessarily follows from the claim that we cannot know the cause of regularity.

        “But, just between you and me, I have faith in that in the future many if not all questions of philosophy will be either solved by empirical sciences (especially brain sciences), or will be simply rendered obselete and/or uninteresting. I am talking about at least partial naturalization of philosophy. Cognitive, brain and evolutionary sciences have already come a long way in accomplishing this in the fields of ethics and aesthetics I believe.”

        I share your view about “partial” naturalization of philosophy (with an emphasis on the partial!) I might also add that I would like to see partial philosophization –to invent a word– of the brain and behavioural sciences, as I believe that philosophy has a crucial role to play to advance these sciences, not only by means of conceptual clarification but also by way of encouraging them to engage in meta-reflection on their research programs and interpretation of their findings.

        Serife Tekin

        March 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

        • Merhaba again Serife hanim,

          Do you take regularity to be a natural phenomenon, when you ask “If there is a cause of that natural phenomenon”? Does “that” refer to regularity?

          Absolutely.

          Isn’t “regularity” in the eye of the beholder, i.e., isn’t it a relational property? I am not sure therefore if “some natural phenomena have no causes” necessarily follows from the claim that we cannot know the cause of regularity.

          You mean X may be a regularity relative to Y, but it may not be a regularity relative to Z? I guess there may exist such “relative regularities” in nature, although I can’t think of an example off the top of my head. But surely there are regularities we regard as natural phenomena, e.g. the sun rising from the east every day, and natural laws such as “All gases expand when heated.” We don’t take those as regularities relative to persons, cultures, historical periods or whatever. We tend to be realists about such regularities. My pool example also points to a regularity that most of us would tend to be realists about. Surely we explain some of those regularities in terms of higher-level regularities, as in the case of the sun rise example and the expanding gas example. But what about the “higest-level” regularities? Shouldn’t we be intrigued about the possible explanans or causes of those most fundamental regularities? I think the causes of such regularities will be among the most fascinating secrets of the universe.

          Erdinç Sayan

          March 8, 2012 at 11:34 pm

  2. Hello,

    I suspect that Hume wouldn’t be able to have the same concern you seem to have. For Hume, all the matches that you have seen light when struck have just led you to form a habit about what will happen whenever a match has struck, but you have no justification for saying a match struck in the future, or in another location, will light. This is the case with order generally in Hume.

    Asking about the cause of cause for Hume would be a question of how it is that we can first form a habit. Kant’s category of cause could be an example of such a solution that doesn’t reject, but builds on Hume’s project. The category of cause says that for everything that happens, we understand something that was before in a sequence. A sequence is not the sort of thing we can ‘learn’ to experience, but is rather presupposed as a form of experience; only because things occur in a sequence for us a priori can we suggest regularities in a sequence.

    Your particular question about the cause of causes seems to be one about an underlying natural law, where Hume and Kant are looking at more of an underlying metaphysical law (metaphysics here understood as “study of the principles which first make up human understanding”). Does this seem accurate?

    Erik Christianson

    March 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    • Thanks Erik.

      In my reply to Serife Tekin above, I hope to have clarified further what it is that I have in mind. Please see that reply also regarding whether or not my question is about “cause of causes.”

      Your comment brings to my mind the following question. If we had a solution to the induction problem, would we have an answer to my quesion, “What causes regularities?”? Perhaps. But I think my problem about the causes of regularities is not the same problem as the problem of induction. It seems to me we can still inquire into the causal explanation of regularities in nature, even if we don’t have a solution to the induction problem.

      Would we have an answer to my question if we were to discover causal necessities in the world? Very probably. But I am not sure if there has to be causal necessities in the world in order for us to hope to find out the causal infrastructure of regularities.

      You raise the interesting issue of Kant’s possible reply to my questions. Presumably Kant wouldn’t think my questions are much of a problem: regularity is something our mind imposes on our experience, and that is it (more or less). But I would like to think of my puzzle independently of Kant. After all, not all of us are Kantians.

      Erdinç Sayan

      March 6, 2012 at 4:48 am

      • Hi,

        Thanks for your reply, I have some things that I can clarify for you. I didn’t mean to suggest Hume or Kant as contributing to the solution of your problem, but rather that starting from Hume it is difficult to achieve the sort of question you are asking about higher order regularities without simply coming up upon the problem of induction.

        It would be through induction that we would claim that there is a rule; it would be a different case of induction when we are discussing that rules repeat. This is where I decided to mention Kant, not because you need to be a Kantian, but because you are approaching a question that is either similar to Kant or you are asking about an additional natural law (in which case I think it is a job for scientists). In this case I thought a comparison to another thinker would be of help, and since Kant has an obvious relation to Hume in these matters I went in that direction.

        The question I formulate through yours is this: does a single rule (that striking a match will cause it to light) imply (analytically) regularity of the sort you are interested in? That is, when we analyze ‘rule’ to understand what we already think in it, do we find this higher order regularity already included? It appears that it does, in which case understanding the regularities in this way would be to analyze what a rule means and to clarify that concept. This is similar to the Kantian approach I mentioned above, as well as the direction I would propose in continuing the questioning.

        As regards order and chaos: it seems to me that chaos is just another way to be regulated – being disorderly is not irregular, it is just regularly not falling under a rule. Real chaos seems that it demands that it is completely incomprehensible, not just ‘messy’ or unpredictable (which is itself a prediction).

        Erik Christianson

        March 6, 2012 at 10:25 pm

        • … starting from Hume it is difficult to achieve the sort of question you are asking about higher order regularities without simply coming up upon the problem of induction.

          It would be through induction that we would claim that there is a rule; it would be a different case of induction when we are discussing that rules repeat. … you are approaching a question that is either similar to Kant or you are asking about an additional natural law (in which case I think it is a job for scientists).

          I think my question is clear enough. We know that there are such things as regularities in nature, which we have obviously learned by induction. OK, why are there regularities in the world, rather than nonregularities? It sounds a bit like “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. I think mine is an intriguing question in its own right. It may be possible for the sciences to answer my question in the future, i.e. they may be able to find the causes of regularities. Those causes don’t have to be the same for every regularity. But the notion of the cause(s) of regularity(ies) would seem problematic for a regularity theorist, because she would have to analyze those causes in terms of other regularities.

          As regards order and chaos: it seems to me that chaos is just another way to be regulated – being disorderly is not irregular, it is just regularly not falling under a rule. Real chaos seems that it demands that it is completely incomprehensible, not just ‘messy’ or unpredictable (which is itself a prediction).

          I take it that ‘chaos’ or ‘disorderliness’ in English is the opposite of ‘regularity’ or ‘orderliness.’ But you are right, even chaos obeys a rule—it is the continued lack of orderliness. You say ‘real chaos’ is more than messiness; it is completely incomprehensible. But wouldn’t real chaos as you define it also obey a rule—the rule of (continued) incomprehensibility?

          Erdinç Sayan

          March 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm

  3. Erdinç Bey,

    Even if it has own problems, I think Shoemaker’s causal theory of properties (CTP) may provide insightful approach to the issue. Actually you mentioned something close to it as a candidate for solution but then, if I understand both your analysis and Shoemaker’s account correctly, rejected it due to a wrong diagnosis.

    “Secondly, our attributions of sameness of properties may actually be in virtue of sameness of behavior on the part of the entities. If the notion of sameness of properties is reducible to the notion of sameness of behavior, then the answer proposed at the beginning of this paragraph, namely “Sameness of properties is what accounts for regularities of behavior” becomes tantamount to, “Sameness of behavior is what accounts for sameness of behavior,” which is an uninformative answer.”

    I think when we define a property with its causal roles, namely, with its behaviors or effects (according to CTP), we just not posit that a property and its behavior exist separately. What we do is to accept a property as identical to produce some behaviors or effects. For example, if one of the identity conditions of having a definite electrical charge is to move under force of the electromagnetic field, then we can say that our object has a definite electrical charge. Namely, the property of having electrical charge and its behavior is not two distinct thing or process. Actually, what CTP makes its point to distinguish itself from Humean supervenience is just this move – to identify behaviors with properties. Thus, we have no intrinsic properties distinct from its behaviors.

    We can say that two electrons repel each other, because a part of the definition of being an electron is to repel another one. Since we fixed the definition to behaviors, we simply can’t find an electron which doesn’t repel another one: it would be something different (proelectron?). Thus, sameness of behavior is not what ‘accounts for’ a property but rather, the sameness of behavior is what ‘defines’ / ‘identifies’ / ‘individuates’ a property, in CTP-like accounts.

    But of course, as we know it, properties commonly come together and constitute objects. An object having a mass usually has also a volume, color or charge. I think much of controversy comes from here. Objects, as property clusters makes us deceive about causation issues. If you ask that what’s our guarantee to find two different property coexist in every spot in universe, of course this would be a different question referring to natural kinds problem.

    Anyway, I do not want to seem as a proponent of CTP account. I just wanted to make my point about your evaluation on one of the candidate solutions.

    P.S. It doesn’t matter whether if we take electron and electro-magnetic case from a scientific realist view or read them as Ramsey sentences.

    Olcay

    March 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    • Thanks for your comments Olcay bey.

      I said:
      One answer to our question may be to point out that electrons everywhere in the universe have the same properties, and sameness of properties causes sameness of patterns of behavior, i.e. regularities.
      Let me expand on this first. We would like to explain regularities like electrons’ attracting positrons everywhere in the universe. It may be suggested that the reason is that electrons have the same properties everywhere in the universe. According to this suggestion,
      (i) All electrons in the universe have properties X, Y, and Z.
      (i) is supposed to explain the similarity of all electrons’ behavior in every corner of the universe (vis-à-vis attracting positrons, for instance). In other words, co-occurrence of X, Y, Z causes the regularities in the behavior electrons. In still other words, on this suggestion,
      (ii) All electrons’ having the same properties X, Y, and Z accounts for the regularities in, i.e. sameness of, the behavior of electrons.

      Then I raise problems with the above possible suggestion:
      … first, why should sameness of properties result in sameness or regularity of behavior?
      I hope my point here is clear enough. And then
      Secondly, our attributions of sameness of properties may actually be in virtue of sameness of behavior on the part of the entities. If the notion of sameness of properties is reducible to the notion of sameness of behavior, …
      That is to say, suppose it were the case that for an electron,
      having property X = exhibiting behavior Bx
      having property Y = exhibiting behavior By
      having property Z = exhibiting behavior Bz.
      This is exactly what, as you say, CTP is doing: reducing properties to behaviors. Now, given the above reduction of properties X, Y, and Z to the respective behaviors, (ii) becomes:
      (iii) All electrons’ exhibiting the same behaviors (viz. Bx, By, and Bz) accounts for the regularities in, i.e. sameness of, the behavior of electrons.
      This is what I mean when I say
      … “Sameness of properties is what accounts for regularities of behavior” becomes tantamount to, “Sameness of behavior is what accounts for sameness of behavior,” which is an uninformative answer.
      For (iii) is uninformative.

      {{If you ask … what’s our guarantee to find two different property coexist in every spot in universe, …}}
      I don’t believe I ask that question. Frankly, it would be a crazy question to ask (“finding two different properties coexising in every spot in the universe”??).

      Erdinç Sayan

      March 9, 2012 at 3:53 am

  4. Erdinç Bey, thanks for your detailed and kindly reply…

    I think I couldn’t make my point.

    You are interested in explaining regularities of behaviors of entities like electrons everywhere in the universe. You think CTP-like accounts are circular or at least not informative when we apply it to our problem. Since we define “having the same property” with “having the same behaviors” as CTP does, you think that it becomes trivial to explain regularities (or “having the same behaviors”) with “having the same property”. Because this time we have to say that “having the same behaviors” is the cause of (or explains) “having the same behaviors”.

    But I think CTP doesn’t not trivialize the answer but rather makes your question unimportant and, in a sense, trivial. The point is to make a distinction between causation (or explanation) with definition (or identification). Let me explain this.

    When we ask what explains the regularities like electrons’ attracting positrons everywhere in the universe, I think, in a sense we already accept there would be a possible world which electrons don’t attract positrons. To put it differently, this means it’s at least conceivable that there can be an electron don’t attract positron, thus, there have to be a reason for an electron to behave in the same way in everywhere in our universe. But when one accepts CTP account, properties are already identified with their roles and so, it becomes trivial to ask what accounts for a property to behave in the same way in everywhere. This is why I said “…sameness of behavior is not what ‘accounts for’ a property but rather, the sameness of behavior is what ‘defines’ / ‘identifies’ / ‘individuates’ a property…” There’s no causality relation between a property and its behavior because the former is identified with latter.

    From this point of view, your way of putting CTP’s premise as; “All electrons in the universe have properties X, Y, and Z is supposed to explain the similarity of all electrons’ behavior in every corner of the universe” becomes misleading. Because the term “explain” here has not the same meaning with the regular meaning of causation, like in the sentence “moving of the billiard ball is explained by the hitting of the other”, but rather a definition or meaning-fixation like “To be gold is explained by its atom number”. Similarly, the term “result” in your question “…why should sameness of properties result in sameness or regularity of behavior?” may be not so meaningful for a CTP proponent.

    So, can’t we find an electron which behaves differently in another place in the universe? For a CTP theorist (who is also a causal essentialist), the answer would be exactly no, I think…

    This is also why I asked you whether if you want to ask what is our guarantee to find two different property coexist always together (I made a silly mistake with the expression of “in every spot in universe” in my previous comment, sorry for it). Because, to ask whether a fundamental property always behaves same in everywhere is one thing, but it’s another to ask whether fundamental property clusters is fixed (say, electron’s X, Y and Z always coexist) in everywhere. I think what you are interested is the latter, not first. But if so, then it becomes another problem concerning natural kinds / essential properties arguments – not causality for a CTP theorist. An electron-like object which only differs, let’s say, in having mass is not an electron. If we find an electron-like object which doesn’t attract positrons, one may not count it as a genuine electron.

    Thus, regularities like electrons’ attracting positrons everywhere in the universe are not a thing need for an explanation but a bare fact as a starting point for CTP theorists and causal essentialists.

    Olcay

    March 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    • You are interested in explaining regularities of behaviors of entities like electrons everywhere in the universe. You think CTP-like accounts are circular or at least not informative when we apply it to our problem.

      Actually that’s not how I put the problem and not where CTP enters the scene. Let me run one more time what the problem I am posing is. As everyone knows, there are regularities (laws) in the world. One could just take the existence of them for granted, or say that their existence is a brute fact—meaning we can’t/don’t have to explain why there are such things as regularities in the universe. But I think we should be more inquisitive about the question, “Why are there regularities in the world, rather than nonregularities?”. As I said in my second reply to Serife Tekin earlier, the causes of such regularities are probably among the most fascinating secrets of the universe. Meanwhile, I express pessimism about the prospects of the regularity theories of causation to give us causal accounts of the existence of regularities.

      In the paragraph that starts with “One answer to our question may be to point out that…”, here’s what is going on:

      – One (meaning anyone, not necessarily a CTP fan) might propose to give the following answer to my question:
      (A1) The regularity or sameness of the behavior of, say an electron, everywhere in the universe can be explained by the fact that electrons possess the same (relevant) properties everywhere in the universe.
      An alternative way to formulate this kind of an answer to my question is:
      (A2) Sameness of properties causes sameness of behavior, i.e. regularities.

      – An immediate challenge to this proposal is: Exactly how would the sameness of the (relevant) properties of electrons all over the universe explain/give causes of the regularity of the behaviors of electrons? I feel, of course, this challenge would be very hard to meet.

      – A second problem is this. If, as may be the case (and according to the CTP it is the case), the concept of property is definable as/reducible to the concept of behavior, then (A1) and (A2) turn (after simplification) into the following:
      (A1’) The sameness of behavior can be explained by the sameness of behavior
      (A2’) The sameness of the behavior causes the sameness of behavior,
      which are versions the claim (iii) in my previous reply to you. (A1’) and (A2’) are of course trivial and uninformative.

      Hence, anyone who wants to reply to my question by saying both of the following two things:
      (a) Sameness of properties can (causally) explain sameness of behavior (regularities), and
      (b) Properties are identifiable with behaviors
      is actually giving an uninformative answer to my question, “Why are there regularities in nature?”.

      – If the view that properties are reducible to behaviors is in fact not tenable, then the question, “How does sameness of properties account for regularities?” is still with us.

      This—in more than a nutshell—is a rehash of what I argued in the said paragraph.

      Now, what about CTP? Since it identifies, rather than explains or gives causes of, properties in terms of behaviors, CTP would simply reject both (A1) and (A2). Thus it wouldn’t be open to the charge of giving an uninformative answer to my question. I never said that a CTP-like account would be faulty of circularity or uninformativity, because I never said (or implied) CTP-like accounts have to subscribe to (A1) or (A2). I hope the thread of my argument in that paragraph is more than clear now.

      Then of course we can ask: How would CTP explain why there are regularities in the world rather than nonregularities? Would it have any interesting answer to that question?

      Erdinç Sayan

      March 10, 2012 at 3:02 pm

  5. In my opinion this is the deepest question of philosophy: Why are there regularities in the universe? This question is closely connected with another question: Why do we live in a universe governed by such simple laws? Why do particles follow shortest paths, why is energy minimized by complex systems? In fact, these are the questions that led me to philosophy. Let me share some possible answers which I have seen in the literature, during my search for the answers to these questions:

    1. Theistic explanation: Of course the first possible explanation is to say that a logically necessary being (given some successful ontological argument about a being whose existence is logically necessary) designed the universe that way. Richard Swinburne, Robin Collins and John Foster have tried to explain regularities in this way.
    2. Platonistic explanation: According to this view laws express relations between universals. Defenders of this view claim that their hypothesis about the relations among the universals eliminates the problem of regularity, because it explains a multitude of correlated occurrences, such as electrons always repelling each other, in terms of a single fact, i.e. a certain relation among universals. Defenders of this view are David Armstrong, Fred Dretske, Michael Tooley.
    3. Multiverse explanation: One can claim, either following David Lewis or the many-world interpretation of QM, that there are infinitely many possible universes. Life will emerge only in those universes where there are regularities and simple laws. Given this, we as living beings should not be surprised about the fact that we live in universe full with regularities. Otherwise we would not be here to wonder. I do not know whether David Lewis used his theory to also explain the regularities, but physicist Max Tegmark definitely defends this view.
    4. Kantian explanation: There are no regularities out there; the human mind creates the phenomenal world out of its own categories of understanding.
    5. Many-Big-Bangs explanation: The universe is oscillating, opening and closing from an infinitely long time. Every time it expands from a singularity different possible universe emerge. Occasionally it will emerge with a simple set of laws, which will make life possible. Obviously, we should not be surprised that we live in a universe with regularities, because life emerges only in such universes.
    6. Logical probability: Everything else being equal, simpler hypotheses are more likely to be true than complex hypotheses. Given this we should expect laws governing universe be simple, thus regular.In other words, simpler universes have higher intrinsic probabilities of being actual. This seems to follow from some writings of Richard Swinburne.
    7. Laws are social constructions: No need to discuss :)…

    I hope you found at least one of these alternatives worth considering. By the way, I can provide the references of the above mentioned authors in case you need them.

    Enis Doko

    April 4, 2012 at 2:56 am

    • Thank you for your comment and for appreciating the depth of the problem.

      Thanks also for your list of possible answers. I’d appreciate references for each one of those possible answers (even for the last one ;) ).

      I am not sure if any of the answers in the list, except the God-does-it one, seriously addresses my question, though. Here’s another formulation of my question: What keeps the universe lawful? What sustains its state of lawfulness? The theistic alternative easily answers this by saying “It is God who makes sure not only that the regularities are the same everywhere in the universe, but that they are the same across time.” For instance, I can ask the Kantian: Why do minds’ categories operate uniformly? What ensures mind’s operation to be the same way, not only for every mind, but everywhere and for all times for any given mind? I can ask a multiverse theorist or a many-big-bangs theorist the following. OK, suppose our universe happens to be a law-governed universe. But what is the causal explanation or mechanism of what keeps it law- or regularity-governed? I can make similar demands of the other purported answers to my question.

      The fact that there are regularities rather than nonregularities may well remain one of the impervious mysteries of the world.

      Erdinç Sayan

      April 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm

      • Sorry for my late reply. Let me write the references which I remember. I have glimpsed all of them, but I have not read them all from cover to cover. I have all the papers, so I can share them with you if you cannot find them.

        Theistic explanation:
        - Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd ed, pp.161-163. Richard Swinburne presents the regularities as an inductive argument for the existence of God.
        - John Foster, The Divine Lawmaker: Lectures on Induction, Laws of Nature, and the Existence of God. A small book in which Foster tries to give theistic solution to the induction and the regularity problems.
        - Robin Collins (2009). “God and the Laws of Nature,” Philo: A Journal of Philosophy 12(2):142-171. Very nice paper. Collins tries to give theistic explanation to regularities. He provides interesting critiques of the altarnative explanations.

        Platonistic explanation:
        -David Amstrong has an extensive defence of this view in his following books: What is a Law of Nature?; A Theory of Universals, A World of States of Affair. Also his article: “What Makes Induction Rational?”, Dialogue, 30: 503–511.
        - Fred Dretske, “Laws of Nature,” Philosophy of Science, 44
        - Michael Tooley, Causation: A Realist Approach; “The Nature of Laws”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 7: 667–698
        - Evan Fales, Causation and Universals. The most sophisticated defence of the view in my opinion.

        Multiverse explanation:
        -Max Tegmark, “Parallel universes” ( http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0302131)
        -Martin Rees, “Other Universes: Scientific perspective,” god and design the teleological argument and modern science, edited by neil manson
        -I have read that David Lewis in On the Plurality of Worlds discusses the multiverse explanation of regularity.

        Kantian explanation:
        -I do not know any particular defender of this view.

        Many Big Bangs explanation:
        -This is my favorite possible explanation. I have not seen any defender probably because it lacks empirical support. Still, I would prefer it to the multiverse account.

        Logical Probability explanation:
        -This is nicely discussed in the article by Robin Collins mentioned above. Although this principle is not used for the universe by Swinburne, you can read his defence of the claim that simplicity has higher intrinsic probability in his books Epistemic Justification and the first chapters of Existence of God.

        Although I am not a big fan of the multiverse hypothesis, I think it can handle your question. Given that there are infinitely many universes, in some of them not only will laws be simple, but they will continue to be so for many years. Life can emerge and be sustained only in such universes, and ours is one such universe. Thus given the fact that there is life on the earth for many generations, we should not be surprised by the simplicity of the laws, and their being so for many years.

        I hope you can find something useful in these references.

        Enis Doko

        April 23, 2012 at 12:33 am

        • Thanks a heap for the references Enis hoca.

          Some or most of these accounts seem to be explanations of why our universe is lawful, and they may be interesting explanations in their own right. But what I am looking for is how this universe can keep being lawful. In other words, given that our universe must be a lawful one for this or that reason, what is the infrastructure or mechanism by which the laws apply across time and space? Analogy: Given that I am alive (analogous to: given that there is life in our universe), I must have fed myself so far (analogous to: ours had to be a lawful universe). But how and with what mechanism did I feed myself (analogous to: how and with what mechanism does our our universe manage to be lawful)?

          If you think there is an answer to my how question in any of the references you gave, I would be particularly interested in those.

          Thanks very much again.

          Erdinç Sayan

          April 23, 2012 at 3:18 am

        • I am sorry for my late reply—I was too busy. I think Amstrong and Dretske also discussed the “how” issue. In fact, they claim that laws of nature are necessary, hence the universe does not need any cause to keep it lawful. (They in fact use this problem as a motivation for their position, if I am not mistaken.) I do not know whether the defenders of multiverse address your challenge, but I think the multiverse hypothesis may be used as a possible reply to your challenge. Theism may be another reply. I think Foster and Collins touch upon your challenge but they do not discuss it in detail. But, since Aquinas, theists have claimed that God is not only the creator but also the sustainer of the universe. He even provides an argument in his “five ways” that the universe must have a sustainer. If one can develop a successful ontological argument (like Plantinga’s modal argument), then one can claim that God exists necessarily, making sure that your challenge cannot move one level up, and cannot be applied to God.

          Enis Doko

          May 5, 2012 at 2:25 am

        • Thanks very much Enis hoca.

          If you find the time, I’d like to hear how you think the multiverse hypothesis can handle the question of what it is that sustains the lawfulness of the world across space and time, i.e. what mechanism that hypothesis can offer us to explain it. (When I ask for a “mechanism,” I don’t necessarily mean “mechanistic,” of course.)

          Erdinç Sayan

          May 11, 2012 at 2:01 am

  6. Dear Erdinç Hoca and Enis Hoca,

    I would like to mention about another explanation regarding laws of nature. Lately laws of nature are being accounted for with the Metaphysics of Powers (namely causal/powerful powers). For instance, Alexander Bird in his book called Nature’s Metaphysics: Laws and Properties (2007) addresses this issue.

    Bird adopts a view, which he calls Dispositional Monism, a version of Dispositional Essentialism, and defends it against both Categorical Monism, according to which all fundamental physical properties are essentially categorical and the Mixed View, according to which there are both categorical and dispositional fundamental properties. He argues that fundamental natural properties are ‘potencies’ (another term for powerful properties) and they have a dispositional essence in the sense that things that possess such a property are necessarily disposed to shape in certain ways. Laws of nature are what derive from the dispositional essences of these fundamental natural properties. And they are necessary.

    The literature on the relationship between powerful properties and laws in nature is worth pondering in depth. Perhaps it helps us gain a new insight into the initial question raised in this post.

    Eser

    May 16, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    • Thanks for the comment Eser. I did find Bird’s book but had a chance only to take a cursory look at some sections that looked relevant. My first—and possibly unreliable—impression is that his dispositional essentialism doesn’t seem to address my challenge. In my post I asked what causes regularities or laws, and what ensures their being the same across time and space. Since one might take the view that dispositions or potencies “derive” from laws, if one could explain what sustains laws, one might explain what sustains dispositions. But Bird takes the other route around: he wants to derive laws from dispositions and he supposes the latter to be necessary. Then I can ask him what sustains dispositions. Why/how come certain objects (say, electrons) possess the same or similar dispositions across space and time? Just calling them necessary does not make them hold at different places and different times in the universe “any more than one can have mighty biceps just by being called ‘Armstrong’”—to borrow David Lewis’ famous quip. We can even ask what gives permanence or endurance to a given object’s dispositional properties for the duration of time the object remains the same object.

      By the way, a note: The question what keeps, for example, a modus ponens valid or 2+2=4 true across space and time is not a similarly challenging question to my mind. I am ready to grant that the validity of laws of logic and mathematics is just timeless and locationless.

      Erdinç Sayan

      May 21, 2012 at 3:17 am

      • Dear Erdinç Hocam,

        To the question ‘What sustains dispositions?’, a dispositionalist (or rather a pandispositionalist) might give an answer in the following way: Dispositions or powers are the most basic ontological category – that is, there is no lower category than dispositions or powers in the world. And, s/he conceptualizes that all properties are dispositional or rather dispositions/powers and takes ‘properties are powers’ as primitive. So, s/he might say that it is just the way the world is.

        So, if properties qua dispositions/powers are primitive, then it might explain why electrons possess the same dispositions across the whole space and time. An electron could no longer be an electron if it would have different dispositions at different places and times.

        About the question ‘What gives permanence or endurance to object’s dispositions/powers?’ … can we say their primitive nature? the appropriate surrounding infrastructure (that enables dispositions/powers to manifest themselves)? Perhaps some dispositions/powers (have) disappear(ed)(?) in time and likewise some new dispositions/powers come (came) into being (weakly emerge(d)?). I do not know.

        The crucial point to which dispositionalists want to attract our attention is that the dynamism in the world is essentially provided by powers. And perhaps there are no laws in nature in the metaphysical sense (see Stephen Mumford “Laws in Nature” 2004). (Bird and Mumford differ from each other in terms of their views about laws of nature.) The world they portray for us is foundationally a different one from the world Humeans portray, though. To be more specific, all properties are categorical, inert, passive in a Humean world. In my opinion, a Humean might not provide an answer to the question ‘What is the causal infrastructure underlying the regularities in nature?’, because Humean metaphysics is not well equipped with the required infrastructure to provide an answer. However, a metaphysician of power might be (more) successful at providing an answer since his/her metaphysic is richer, and hence can say more.

        Furthermore, in the first post, you have asked why there is uniformity in nature. We think that the nature is uniform or seems to be uniform. Yet nature may not be ‘that uniform’ indeed. Perhaps there are only a few regularities in nature. Even perhaps there are none! If we follow pandispositionalism and accept that all properties are powers, then the case would be just that some powers when they meet under appropriate circumstances manifest themselves if not prevented by other powers in the surroundings. And we call the successful manifestations regularities if they exhibit an orderly pattern. Yet this does not necessarily indicate to us that nature is uniform to the fullest extent. (What do you think?)

        To those who adopt powers in their ontology, I think we can raise a further question: Why are there these powers in the world and why are there these specific ones but not other ones? Is there a law of nature behind this? Then, things can get even more complicated.

        Eser

        June 23, 2012 at 8:18 pm


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