It is important to understand that when someone refers to the Universe we live in as “causal”, what they mean by “causal” is “cause and effect”. That is, specific causes result in specific outcomes, which can be empirically verified by both observation and experiment. The broad category of “cause and effect” is formally broken down into subcategories of the Laws of Physics, such as the Law of Gravity, the Law of Wave Mechanics, the Law of Thermodynamics, the Law of Energy Conservation, and so on and so forth. These Laws are specifically called “Laws” because they are understood to be..well, causal, and exist utterly independent of man’s observation or thinking. Hence, a “causal” universe. So in this sense then the various cause and effect Laws are said to govern our Universe. Which means they are not inventions of man’s conceptualizing mind, they are “discovered”. They are not descriptive, they are determinative. They have an actualizing power which is realized in the non-random, specific, determined manifestation of object interaction, which includes the development and evolution of human beings. So, again, when someone speaks of a “causal” Universe, they are speaking of the Laws of Physics which create an “objective” reality governed by very real, very actual, very determinative forces that are to be credited with giving everything that exists its specific identity, even man and his mind.
This is important to understand because when you speak to people who hold to the view of an objective reality OUTSIDE of man, it is precisely the idea of a causal Universe to which they are referring (atheists are famous for invoking the “causal” Universe theme…this allows them to claim creation can occur without God…which, it really doesn’t, but then they aren’t the deep thinkers they’d like you to believe they are). Now, they will seldom define this the way that I have here, wherein all things in the Universe exist and move as a direct function not of themselves, but of the Laws of Physics which govern them from beyond (outside). And when you point out the inherent and necessary determinism this perspective implies, they get very creative in how they equivocate their message. Because obviously if all things are truly determined, then nothing can really can exist at all. For all things are a direct consequence–an absolute consequence–of the Laws of Physics. And since nothing can exist of its own accord, there can be no man to observe the Laws of Physics which govern, because “man” is merely, like everything else, a complete function of the Laws themselves. This necessarily dampens the message of individual free will and self-ownership, and creates a contradiction which they cannot rationally overcome. Thus, the cavalcade of perfunctory “rebuttals” wherein they invoke all manner of arguments, but no consistent thinking.
So, when someone like John Immel speaks to you of a “causal” universe, know that what he is really saying is that the universe is determined by Laws of Physics, and yet, somehow, man can exist utterly independent of this determined Universe to obtain an identity of his own (hence the endless appeals to Aristotle and his Law of Identity (another “law”…sigh) as though only a truly bloodthirsty Kantian, Marxist monster would ever dare to question Aristotle), and to observe these laws, to function by them, and by this claim himself a “rational” being.
An “objective reality OUTSIDE of man” is a determined reality, by definition. And this reality then is, also by definition, beyond the reach of man’s powers of observation and understanding, because it directly governs his existence from a place he cannot go. Hence the untenable contradiction John must contend with. It is of little wonder that he resorts to monologues heralding the intricacies and enigmas and ocean-like depths of the philosophical arts, of which, he says, no one really has the time to fully understand. And if they did, so the refrain implies, they’d see that one can’t really call into question the consistency of his ideas without enslaving mankind to the Workers Utopia.
Causal = Cause and Effect. Now, in order to have a “cause” and an “effect” the specific distinction between the two must be known. However, if we use our brains to ponder the definition of such a model of universal interaction, not suspending disbelief and applying some consistency to our thinking, we quickly realize that, since action is cyclical according to Newton’s mechanical laws (e.g. every action has an equal and opposite reaction), all causes are also effects, and all effects thus are also causes, which means that it is categorically impossible to specify between what is a cause and what is an effect without making relative distinctions. And these distinctions require a self-aware observer to serve as the reference point.
And this is a big–and likely the biggest–problem for advocates of a “causal” Universe. They cannot claim to define a specific cause from a specific effect because by their own definition of “objective reality” they make irrelevant man’s observation, because he is a product of an OUTSIDE “Universe”.
“Causes” and “effects” are relative, subjective terms, only knowable in a given context, which man alone can define. But within the broad scope of Universal interaction and Universal existence, beyond man and his mind, “cause and effect” notions of how our “objective” reality works become impossible and irrational. So “cause and effect” then, ceases to be a real force, with any actualizing powers, capable of determining outcomes or relevant universal interaction and instead becomes precisely what people like John Immel have been skewering me for rationally conceding: a purely human concept, meant to organize man’s environment on a cognitive level to his own ends, and is not a “discoverable” force which has some sort of autonomous existence in its own right by which it exhorts absolute determinative force over man and his life. Therefore, it logically follows that Laws of Physics then likewise must be conceptual, not actual, given that they are wholly predicated upon the belief in the power of “cause and effect”.
Now, riddle me this. How does one who specifically denies that concepts and conceptual paradigms have any actual power to effect the material universe and therefore are not to be credited with the functioning of man’s brain and thinking and will, and thus cannot effect his ability to be aware of himSELF and thus his infinite right to claim himself alone as that which gives value and meaning and relevancy to his environment; which therefore makes rational the claim that the individual is the sole owner and purveyor of himself and that his senses exist as the vehicle by which his self-actualization can be pursued and validated by his own body and by others…yes, please explain how someone like that can be rationally labeled a “conceptualist/nominalist” leading to the full-destruction of human cognition, culminating in the bloody atrocities of “peak” Soviet Russia?
Because that’s exactly what Immel thinks. He thinks you either accept the rank determinative power of the Laws of Physics and concede a reality OUTSIDE of yourself and kneel before the corpulence of the mighty Causal Universe, or you are the philosophical corollary of one Joseph V. Stalin.
All causes must also be effects when we apply consistent thinking to the concept of “cause and effect”. For the cause begets the effect, which then becomes its own cause which begets another effect and so on and so forth. In order to make sense of cause and effect, then, one must define them relatively, that is conceptually…that is, within a specific context qualified/quantified by a self-aware observer, as I mentioned earlier in this article.
For example: You crack the egg and the yolk escapes. Cracking the egg is the cause, the yolk running out is the effect. Because unless you specify the cause and the effect distinctly in this relative context, you are left with a scenario of a series of infinite causes and, on the other hand (because what’s the difference, anyway) a series of infinite effects. This, to anyone even slightly awake, renders the entire cause and effect equation utterly moot. The the cause is the egg cracks, causing the yolk to escape, causing the egg to cook on the pan, causing the pan to burn, causing the pan to need soaking, causing the water to be run in the sink, causing the sink to overflow, causing the house to flood, causing a prohibitively expensive repair bill, causing the couple to fight, causing a divorce, causing them to marry other people, causing other children to be born, causing more eggs to crack, causing more yolks to run, causing the egg to cook on the pan, causing the pan to burn…and so on. Or, simply replace the word “causing” with “the effect is”. The effect is the egg cracks, the effect is running yolk, the effect is the egg cooking on the pan, the effect is the pan burning, etcetera. The point is that there isn’t any difference between cause and effect in this scenario. Both terms lose their meaning entirely because no relative relationship has been defined by an observer who is able to specify a context whereby cause and effect can be seen to have any efficacious value.
When concepts such as “cause” and “effect” are not contextualized by a self-aware agent, like a human being, they become their own absolutes, in a sense. Unattached to a specific material context, they become infinite. What is “black” absent something, some material objected defined by a self-aware agent? Well, black is black…is black is black and on and on. What is a “cause” absent a specific object or action identified by a self-aware agent as the cause? The cause its the cause is the cause and…you get the idea. In the example of the cracked egg, unless you specify a particular component of the endless chain of events when attempting to apply “cause and effect”, ALL events become a direct function of absolute cause, which can then beget only other causes; or ALL events become a direct function of absolute effect, which can then beget only other effects. But of course if you are going to apply “cause and effect” to reality, then both cause and effect must be represented in their meaningful, reciprocal relationship. For how can you define something as a cause if there is no observed effect? And how can you define the effect if there is no observed cause? Therefore a specific, contextual circumstance must be made by an agent capable of making the relative (which ultimately means “conceptual”) distinction.
And this is, interestingly enough, the whole problem with the theory of an “un-caused first cause”; whether that first cause is God, or gods, or the Big Bang, or the Laws of Physics. An un-caused first cause–where “cause” is not considered merely a conceptual description but a fundamental existential actualizing force inherent to the agent or entity– is an absolute cause, which, being absolute, can only beget extensions of itself. Only causes can proceed from an absolute cause. It doesn’t create any effects, it merely begets extensions of itself…which allows for no discernible difference between the cause and any effect, because there can be no effects from an absolute, infinite cause. So, what this really means is that if there is indeed an un-caused first cause, nothing else beside this “cause” can logically be said to exist.
A universe which is “causal” then, means either there is an un-caused first cause, which precludes the rational existence of anything else but the cause itself; or there is no such first cause but reality is instead an infinite sea of causes and effects, which makes it impossible to define one from the other. And both of these ideas are fundamentally deterministic. In the first instance, “man” as a distinct and autonomous agent cannot actually exist, and therefore anything we may observe ourselves or others doing (or thinking, or believing) is not really us or them doing it, but the Cause which absolutely defines us–and therefore controls us. And the second instance is just like it. If man is simply a product of an endless sea of causes and effects, but man cannot actually know which is which, then he is by his very nature unable to rationally organize his existence and environment on any level, which precludes him from any ability to define himself, nor to claim that he can in fact know anything at all. Man is utterly at the mercy of the cause and effect “reality OUTSIDE” himself…where “self” cannot even be defined in the first place. In both cases, man is nothing…obliterated by “objective” reality.
This is the fundamental conclusion of determinism, and only ever determinism. I submit that even nihilism is fundamentally deterministic. Whatever we do or think, or whatever anything else does, is meaningless, because everything winds up the same, which is exactly how it began. As nothing. The functional nothingness of existence determines the conclusive nothingness of observed universal behavior.
Now, with all of that in mind, consider this comment from John Immel of Spiritualtyranny.com. Note that the comments in brackets are mine.
“My point is that the crux of the argument is tied to the Problem of Universals within Argo’s nominalist/conceptualist formulation [which doesn’t even remotely describe my ideas, but it helps John’s argument for him to think so]. Without first addressing the crucial issue within the field of Philosophy [I have pledged no allegiance to such a field, because doing so almost certainly prohibits new and better ideas] it is impossible to understand why a causal universe does not render man a helpless lump in a sea of cosmic “Laws”.”
I will admit that, in a sense, John is right. Man, strictly speaking, is not a “helpless” lump. But this is because John’s idea of a causal Universe renders man’s existence impossible; any definition of himself superfluous. Man, because he is wholly determined by the “objective reality OUTSIDE himself”, is nothing at all. His mind and thoughts an illusion. His body merely a drop in an infinite blackness of governing cause and effect Laws of Nature/Physics. And this is why John can, with a straight face, write that last sentence. Since there isn’t actually any such thing as “man”, then truly ,”a causal universe does not render [him] a helpless lump in a sea of cosmic “Laws””. For there isn’t even a lump to speak of.
A Universe wherein cause and effect runs amok beyond any conceptual framework created by man is a universe where the Laws of Nature determine all things. Which is precisely why scientists such as Hawking, Einstein, Sagan, and Lederman all conceded that these Laws govern, not describe; that they are discovered, not invented. But when I argue that man needs a conceptual framework to define and value his environment, this is hardly me arguing that only concepts exist (the actual existence of concepts I have denied literally from day one of this blog) in the vein of conceptualism/nominalism of which John accuses me. On the contrary, it is the purveyors of a causal Universe who give actualizing, determinative power to man’s concepts, like the Laws of Physics. It is John’s philosophy, not mine, that makes gods out of human cognitive concepts and subordinates material existence, including man and his body, to an utterly conceptual one.
Either man is he who gives value and truth and purpose to the infinite amount of relative material distinctions he observes in his environment–which is a natural product of the SELF/NOT SELF (or SELF/OTHER) dichotomy–via a conceptual paradigm he alone creates by his mind, or he cannot be a SELF by definition. If man’s SELF has all of its value bestowed upon it by an absolutely causal Universe, then there is no dichotomy possible. And thus, there is no man.
2 thoughts on “The Unholy Determinism of a Causal Universe”
I’m not sure I know what all you meant by that, but just reading that it hit me that you can’t believe in evolution without determinism. Because obviously no random process can bring forth life; it would have to all be determined, each step minutely layed out, before it even began. That’s the only way it could work. So when anyone comes out in favor of evolution, they are proclaiming themselves determinists.
That’s hogwash. There is an objective reality in that the chair I’m sitting on really exists whether I will admit its existence or whether I’ll philosophize that maybe its only a form that exists in a Platonic world of ideas. Is admitting the actual existence of this chair somehow embracing a causal universe? No, of course not. So you have a major problem of terminology. Whatever you are railing against, its not “objective reality.” Its official system, official science, the official interpretation of objective reality, but it isn’t the actual existence of objective reality you really have a problem with. Argo, you pretend to being a philosopher; a good philosopher gets his terms right. All philosophy, done right, is, is parsing terms and categorizing. That’s why philosophy is never done right because people want to build abstract worlds and pretend those are the world we live in, rather than just define terms and categorize.
Thanks for the comment. I’m in the middle of an essay which I have written in response. It should post tomorrow.