[FRIAM] Downward causation

Nick Thompson nickthompson at earthlink.net
Wed Nov 22 01:07:25 EST 2017

Hi, Eric, 


Thank you, Eric.   OF COURSE, that is what I should have said.  Thank you for saying it so excellently.  Peirce did in fact see causal attribution as a form of abduction.  I  would hope I would have thought to say it myself, if I wasn’t so distracted by the “counter-factual” thang.  But that way of speaking makes me CRAAAAAY-ZEEE.  How can something defined in terms of something that didn’t happen


Before you wrote, I was about to get on my “mystery” high horse.  A mystery, you remember, is a confusion arrived at when a bit of language is applied to a situation where it doesn’t really work.  Causal attributions are often falsely singular, in the sense that , we often speak as if  the motion of a billiard ball was caused by the motion of the cue ball, say.  But what we really have to back those attributions up is a pattern of relations between impacts of cue balls and motions of object balls.  When we step up to the next level of organization, the confusion disappears, doesn’t it?  Events of Type A are said to cause events of type B when experiments with proper controls show that an increase in the occurrence of type B events is dependent upon the previous occurrence of Type A events.  But to say that any particular Type A event causes a Type B event is an abuse of language, a mystery.  


Is there any way to put those two things together:  the abduction thing and the misattribution thing?  




Nicholas S. Thompson

Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Biology

Clark University

 <http://home.earthlink.net/~nickthompson/naturaldesigns/> http://home.earthlink.net/~nickthompson/naturaldesigns/


From: Friam [mailto:friam-bounces at redfish.com] On Behalf Of Eric Charles
Sent: Tuesday, November 21, 2017 6:43 PM
To: The Friday Morning Applied Complexity Coffee Group <friam at redfish.com>
Subject: Re: [FRIAM] Downward Hicausation


What great timing! One of the best philosophy comics on the web right now is "Existential Comics." This very week they took a swipe at "causation." Here is an adventure of Sherlock Hume: http://existentialcomics.com/comic/212

I suspect that the best I can do to contribute beyond that is to try fall back on my role of scolding Nick. 

Nick should be asserting that "causation" is a metaphor. The billiard ball are the understood scenario. Billiard balls sitting on a still table, unmolested don't move. But if you knock one ball into another ball, the other ball move so. When I say something like "The approaching lion caused the gazelle to move", I am invoking the metaphor that the lion-gazelle relationship is like that of the billiard balls. Had the lion not been doing what it was doing, the gazelle would not have moved away. It isn't simply a "counterfactual." It is an assertion (an abduction) regarding broad patterns of gazelle behavior that can be readily observed under many other situations.** Some of those, I have presumably already seen. Those constitute the "basic implication" of the metaphor. Others I have not observed, and those constitute potential investigatory events - not ethereal thought experiments. As in true of any metaphor, there are also aspects of the billiard-ball scenario I do not intend to map perfectly onto the lion-gazelle scenario (e.g., the lion and gazelle are not spheres). 

So that is where Hume and those like him go wrong. They want to beat the billiard balls scenario itself to death. But that's not how metaphors work. There is something understood about the billiard balls, and it is that-understood-thing that is being generalized to another scenario. Any attempt to explain the billiard balls will involve evoking different metaphors, which would entail different assertions (abductions). There is no foundation (Peirce tells us, amongst others), Descartes was on a fool's errand: In the land of inference, it is turtles all the way down. 


** The breadth of the patterns being referenced is, I believe, where Frank's point about probability slips in. One could certainly simplify the complexity of the assertion by making lumping similar scenarios together and speaking about the probability of a certain gazelle behavior within the cluster of similar situations. 


Eric P. Charles, Ph.D.
Supervisory Survey Statistician

U.S. Marine Corps


On Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 5:08 PM, gⅼеɳ ☣ <gepropella at gmail.com <mailto:gepropella at gmail.com> > wrote:

Also Known As: Beware equating experience with existence.

On 11/21/2017 02:00 PM, Frank Wimberly wrote:
> Beware the tendency to think that if you can't immediately measure something then it doesn't exist.

☣ gⅼеɳ

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