"physical objects have no causal powers" Say what?!?

Oh lord got hit with a new philosophical revelation: “physical objects have no causal powers”. I thought the dude was pulling my leg, then do a little googling and there seems be a rich history with lots of incomprehensible literature going on and on about it. The lengths to which we strive to confuse the world is truly amazing.

Are there any philosophers who can explain what these minds are going on about?

Hume (1739/1987) argued that causality is not present in our experience and that the conception of causality results from inductive inferences based on several observable cues such as covariation. Covariation is obviously a fallible indicator of causal relationships. For example, the number of drownings and sales of ice cream presumably covary but do not cause each other.

A dispositional ontology, admitting a category of power or capacity, is thought by some to offer a vital insight into the nature of causation. Proponents believe that other ontologies lack the metaphysical resources to capture this insight. At its most ambitious, a causal powers ontology purports to offer a solution to, or dissolution of, the problem of causation. The argument is that the traditional problem of causation is generated by a faulty Humean ontology in which the world is described as a sum of ‘loose and separate’ distinct existences. Once the main Humean premise is accepted, of there being no necessary connections between distinct existences, then the notion of causation becomes immediately problematic.

For me, it’s an example of the profound difference between Physical Reality and the reality of our imaginative Mindscapes. In the real world, material stuff has cascading cause > effect properties that can not be avoided. But, in the land of our Mindscape, seems that anything is possible. Oh yeah, some tell me the material stuff I can fling through a window, isn’t really physical stuff if, I’m not aware of it, or something like that…


Can any one bring some light to this madness? What are they going on about???

then the notion of causation becomes immediately problematic.
Seems to me that could easily and honestly be restated as:
The notion of causation becomes immediately problematic with the rules of the mind game we have contrived for ourselves.

Whenever I hear the name Hume, I always keep in mind that he did not solve the problems he presented. He gave us skepticism, which is a great gift, but he set up some rules, like questioning everything then immediately realized the problems when you do that. Unfortunately I’m not good enough with this stuff to say when a particular quote is early Hume, full of problems, or something later that might carry some weight. If you really want constructions of reality, you need to move on to Camus and Wittgenstein and no one understands those guys, it’s all language or all absurd or something. Karl Popper is best absorbed in small bites and feels like modern thinking to me.

For causation, I think it’s good to start with Mandelbrot. Mandelbrot took us out of the long era of thinking that we could break down the world into causal properties and suggested that maybe we can’t. Maybe there are formulas, but even those formulas allow the introduction of tiny random changes, errors if you want to think of them that way, that we can predict and can’t detect. They yield a pattern, but there is infinite variety in the pattern. So evolution gives us many creatures with four limbs and two eyes, but a wide variety of them.

And keep in mind I’m an amateur, so be sure to check my data.

Thanks for a touch of perspective.

It’s crazy stuff, for sure, and so often it seems ego takes over and these writers write to impress themselves.

Word twisters and brain twisters formed within those Mindscapes, which are free of all physical constraints.


(Back to Hoffman’s pile, who started me off on this tangent, seems to me he looks at evolution from a Madison Avenue Ad-man’s mindset, where as I look at evolution from a deep time perspective, starting at the bottom and working up. Or to put it more poetically he’s looking at life and evolution from the wrong end of the microscope.)



Frontiers in Psychology., 17 June 2014 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00577

Objects of consciousness

Donald D. Hoffman and Chetan Prakash

(14) “It is a scientific hypothesis that makes testable predictions. For instance, it predicts that (1) physical objects have no causal powers and (2) physical objects have no dynamical physical properties when they are not observed. These predictions are in fact compatible with quantum theory, and are part of the standard interpretation of quantum theory.”

Well that and a bit of hocus-pocus. With tons of self-certain ego to give it some weight.

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I find the “testable” part most interesting. Seems Hoffman thinks running a mathematical model is science - I’m not ready to agree. Math is a required tool for science - a hammer is a required tool for nailing together a house. But just like that math can be misused into something that has nothing to do with science, so too that hammer can be taken to a bar to smash someone’s head, which has nothing to do with construction.

From my no scientific point of view, correlation and causality are 2 different things, but the existence of the first does not always invalidate the second one.

When I type on my keyboard, letters appear on my computer screen, that’s causality.

I would say that correlation is perceived and causality explained.





Thanks, that was an easy quick clarification.

In statistics, the phrase "correlation does not imply causation" refers to the inability to legitimately deduce a cause-and-effect relationship between two variables solely on the basis of an observed association or correlation between them.[1][2]
I'm not sure what the fancy latin term is, but it appears what we have is a case of the devil being in the omission.

Hoffman’s version:

For instance, it predicts that (1) physical objects have no causal powers (period)
Second website, all I can say is, very cute. :-)
Hume ... causality is not present in our experience
Say this in another way: we do not experience cause. Well, we generally accept that we do experience effect. Said in another way: effectuality is in our experience.
Hume ... all human knowledge derives solely from experience.
And then we go back to knowledge being what we can remember of what we experienced. Best thought of as what we actually experienced without any explanation of the experience. Cause is explanation. Best to be careful using the term "is".

“Physical objects” are what we call fermions. We experience them as having exclusive occupancy of a particular volume of what we call “space”. We accept that they displace other physical objects (and are displaced by other physical objects) when the specific volume occupied changes. A change in specific occupied volume is what we identify as motion. I suggest displacement is the only known and understood means of change we call “cause”. Experience results only from memory of change. Thus “time” is an artifact of memory.

Thus “time” is an artifact of memory.
Perfectly logical. Absolutely irrational.

I wouldn’t fret. I got my undergrad degree in Philosophy, and then did a year of grad school. That’s when it really hit me - it’s just a bunch of smart people doing their darnedest to express personal opinions in ways that disguise that fact. Not doing it to be deceptive of course, just doing it unwittingly (myself included, at the time, when I wrote papers, etc.). That doesn’t mean nothing of value came out of it - getting into the habit of thinking “ordinary” things through as best we can, etc. is definitely valuable and in short supply. Detecting logical fallacies is important. But the big stuff, well it’s just smartly expressed subjective opinion. But wow, it was fun to read when you’re stoned!

That’s when it really hit me – it’s just a bunch of smart people doing their darnedest to express personal opinions in ways that disguise that fact. -- Cuthbertj
You broke the rule. You're not supposed to say that out loud. Now you can't be a philosopher. Interesting times we live in. When I studied religion, I would see things from the early Catholic Church fathers saying the Bible is allegorical. A couple hundred years later they invented sainthood, and guess who didn't get anointed? Kings did it too, saying horrible things about their subjects in private, then telling them how brave they are as they rode off to die for him. They had the advantage of the 2% literacy rate at the time.

Scientific methods and scholarly review has taken care of some of this, but disciplines have created their own languages, and they do things like claim that you have to read and understand Wittgenstein or you aren’t allowed to speak on any philosophical topic. It’s weird because it is the argument of the conspiracy theorists, that there is a “they” and they are all lying. Their logic is sound on that, except for the “all” part, that’s never logical. There are actual facts, and they usually can be explained to someone outside of the discipline in non-technical terms. That is, if understanding is what you want.

You broke the rule.

You’re not supposed to say that out loud. Now you can’t be a philosopher.


@Cuttbethj, I nominate you for an Occam prize. :slight_smile:

Thanks - Now if I could only get my tuition money back! :slight_smile:

Can we say that there are two types of causality.

a) active causality, from dynamical action, such as kinetic force from motion.

b) passive causality, from inherent potentials, such as gravity, magnetism, etc.

Why does that sound like a trick question? :wink:

I’m not academically sharp enough to offer an answer, except that on the face of it seems self-evident enough.

Now we can confidently march into the weeds,

[quote=“citizenschallengev4, post:14, topic:7712”]

I’m not academically sharp enough to offer an answer, except that on the face of it seems self-evident enough.

Nor am I, but I within the first 3 minutes of Carroll’d lecture I had to stop and ask this question in regards to Darroll’s declaration the the universe began in a “low entropy” state.

My question: Does a BB inflationary epoch count as a low entropy state? Seems to me that starting from a singularity the inflationary epoch is an extraordinary high entropy event . Does anyone have a explanation why that should be considered a low entropy event? Is the current expanding universe a low entropy process?

Now if only we could get Dr. Carrol to comment over here.

I know it’s over my pay grade so will take a pass. :wink:

Although if you try googling: starting from a singularity the inflationary epoch is an extraordinary high entropy event - Google Search
All sorts of interesting things pop up.

The first one What Came First: Inflation Or The Big Bang?

Starts With A Bang

by Ethan Siegel - Oct 22, 2019,

Is an interesting read, but Maddy is scratching at my leg again, and other chores are calling. But I think you might enjoy the read.