Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cause and Effect

For most of scientific history we have attempted to break any system down into its component elements; then, understanding those, build the system back up from our understanding in order to predict its behavior.  This reductionist approach began to be challenged by Chaos supporters who declared the reductionist approach to have a crucial flaw.  A truly chaotic system, which so many real one are would require a theoretical (and not just practical) impossibly detailed amount of information and processing power.  Even if it were theoretically possible to predict behavior (which it wouldn't be) the computation required would be equivalent to actual computation.  In other words, the model could never exceed the speed of actual reality unless it contained more computational elements than every element involved in the system (in one cubic foot of air that would be about 10^24 elements).

Perhaps more interesting is the challenge Bohr issued to science, that due to uncertainty in quantum reality, cause and effect were no longer directly correlated (specifically, that a wave function collapsing would be given a choice as to its properties, and that choice would not depend upon any actual conditions, but would be truly random).  Einstein wasn't happy for the obvious reason that cause and effect are the foundation of science, without it nothing could be determined as correlation between realities are lost.  It would also destroy, to some extend, true agency.  As choice loses validity if its consequences are unpredictable.  Of course with quantum physics we lose effects as we transition to the classical world at some unknowable boundary between the quantum and the macro.

Yet determinism has even more obvious conflicts with agency, and ones that are more frequently explored.  If all actions in the physical world are truly predictable then agency is lost and our lives are determined by history: they were written before our birth.  Unfortunately the discussion usually ends with the beginning axioms.  Either agency is a given and thus determinacy is jettisoned or determinism is just the way of things and agency is ruled out.  I find it very difficult to chart a path between determinism, which eliminates agency, and true unpredictability (not just colloquial chaos) which destroys the consequences of agency, and thus agency itself.

Perhaps the latter issue may be dismissed by reliance on God.  If we trust Elder Maxwell's words that God sees, rather than foresees that means that a source of future knowledge is available at some level.  Even subconsciously the point is that decisions can than be made in a frame of reference that includes consequence.  This allows choices to be contemplated without determinism and yet still given meaning.

What this requires is a disconnection of any one moment from the one preceding, or following.  History is not our mother, no matter what Nixon may say, instead we are born anew each instant, keeping with us only ourselves.  Cause and effect is removed, as each action springs not from the physics of the situation but from within the actor.  We must be our own motive force, not relying on the world to impel our action, nor casting the blame outwards, even to other prime actors.  Each action is independent, separated from every other, and each soul is its only source of cause.

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