What is the status of ontological causality?

[ 14/1/21 Foundations of Logic – facebook group – Walter Kant asked “Ontological existence of causality:
What is the status of ontological causality?

  1. causality exists ontologically
  2. causality does not exist ontologically
  3. ?”]

Ontology at its most abstract seems to me to be about the nature of systems which can sustain complex existence.

I phrase it that way because we seem to be complex entities, and we are interested in the nature of the systems that give us being.

Complexity demands some degree of causality.

In the absence of all causality, all events are random, and there is no systemic basis for the consistency demanded by complex structure.

Accepting that, most seem to have fallen into the trap of assuming that causality must be “hard”. That does not actually seem to align with the evidence sets we have available, which seem to support a quantum mechanical set of equations, which require influence without hard determinism. In QM the random is bounded by probability functions. When one is dealing with vast sets of instances then those probability functions become so well populated that in many contexts they very closely approximate classical hard causality.

So for complexity to exist there is a fundamental logical requirement for some sort of causality to exist, and that causality need not be the classical necessary prior cause sort of causality, but can (and in fact does seem to be) a much softer form of causality of chaos constrained within probability functions. This sort of causality is entirely unpredictable in any particular event, but becomes reliable only in vast collections.

Fortunately for us, the smallest time unit we can consciously appreciate is some 10^40 of the fundamental time units of our fundamentally chaotic stuff, so what we perceive can, and often does, very closely approximate classical causality – probability functions populated by 10^40 instances tend to have very reliable and constant properties.

Thus there is a logical necessity for some sort of causality to exist in any reality that complex consciousness such as us can exist within to question it.

[followed by]

Hi Walter,

We know that at the normal scale of human perception gravity has the characteristic of classical causality.

We also know that if we look up, we see the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

Are either of those observations final evidence for the fundamental state of reality? I doubt it.

I have not yet come across a good quantum treatment of gravity.

It is one of a vast collection of open questions that I have.

I expect that should I manage to live for the rest of eternity, I will still have an expanding set of open questions (though I may have closed that particular one). Infinities seem to have that unsettling characteristic.

And it does seem clear to me in logic and systems that only in a universe that contains both randomness and lawfulness (ie where the truly random is constrained by probability functions) can we have both complexity and any meaningful level of choice – and getting a basic understanding of how that might work is extremely complex – no avoiding that.

[followed by Walter asked: Does causality exist in thinking?]

Hi Walter

To a degree it must. For any sort of coherence, or meaning to exist, there must be some degree of consistency of pattern over time.

The thing that many refuse to seriously consider is that the consistency need not be 100%.

When one does seriously look at it, any form of novelty, anything seriously new, must arise in a sense from something random.

In database theory it is now understood that for the a fully loaded processor, the most efficient search possible is the fully random search. All forms of indexing take more processor cycles to maintain than they save in execution.

If you have plenty of spare processor capacity, then building indexes can save time when time is short; but if the system is fully loaded, random search is quickest (on average, over time). Evolution tends to deal in “on average, over time” (though sometimes it imposes strict time constraints in some contexts).

So yes, of course, we can and must follow certain “causal” patterns much of the time, the existence of complexity demands that of us; but the existence of infinities and unknowns also demands of us that we explore novelty, for the threats and opportunities that reside there. Exactly how evolution has selected strategies for when and where such explorations are optimal is interesting, and seems to encode a certain amount of random search into the space of search itself – we all have our differences.

And because of the many levels of time constraints, in our evolutionary past, our neural and perceptual/computational/valence systems have many levels of “hacks” that were “near enough and quick enough” to survive in contexts of our ancestry. Human beings are not rational, but we are very good at rationalising. We tend to find pattern even in the random (hence things like human sacrifice to the “gods”). Eliezer Yudkowsky’s “Rationality from AI to Zombies” is a reasonable catalogue of many of the evolutionary hacks within us; and advances in neuroscience are finding ever more (Ginger Campbell’s BrainSciencePodcast.com is a reasonable treatment of many of the advances of the last decade). And of course the AI community is pushing limits (Lex Fridman, Ben Goertzel, and Max Tegmark are also reasonable communicators in that realm, Ray Kurzweil’s Accelerating Intelligence used to be quite good, as did Peter Diamandis, but the signal from both has reduced significantly of recent years). There are thousands of others doing great work.

We absolutely need all the biases, all the patterns, all the causality within us. Evolution seems to have encoded both weak and strong convergence into the multiple levels of functions/predicates/heuristics within our computational systems.

We need both pattern (causality) and randomness to effectively and efficiently be able to deal with both the known and the unknown, the predictable and the chaotic. Both seem to be real, both seem to be necessary.

It is not an “either, or” sort of thing, it is a “both, and” sort of thing.

We need reason and logic because they are some of the best modeling tools available, and we need good models, and we also need to be able to deal effectively with the unknown, and for that we need the random, the acausal.

Evolution seems to have encoded both within us (the evolutionary demands to be able to respond to complex situations rapidly has given us) deep levels of tendencies to over simplify complexity. It can take a lot of work to overcome those drives to simplify, and to be able to gain glimpses of the complexity and chaos that seem to both be necessary aspects of all levels of our reality.

[18 Jan 2021 – separate subthread to same question]

Jeoffrey Wortman
Science is much more than “the scope of opinion about perceived phenomena”, though it is most certainly that.

Science at its best is also about verification, about relationship, about building the most efficient and simple model that explains all observations (and that leads to issues as the set of all observations is now far vaster than any single human mind can maintain – so any particular scientist is necessarily only considering some subset of the total datasets available).

So that necessarily makes science an exploration of probabilities, as any scientist worth the title will specify as one of the first things they say – even if most people do not understand it as such.

One of the major problems that all humans face is that it seems that evolution has strongly selected for brains that simplify as much as possible, and for most that means reducing what is in fact irreducible complexity down to simple binaries – like true/false or right/wrong. And while there is undoubtedly evolutionary advantage in doing that in contexts where rapid decisions are required, it does pose real issues when rapidity is not the major issue and to solve a complex issue one needs to be able to deal with deeply dimensional probability landscapes to begin to grasp the essential nature of the problem space present.

Thus, while your characterization of science may be common, it is far from accurate or useful in the context of the problem space we now find ourselves in – as a high technology culture/civilization.

The human brain seems to be sufficiently complex that should I live for the rest of eternity, it seems very likely to me that there will likely still be interesting things I could discover about how it actually functions (and I have been studying how it works at multiple levels for over 50 years thus far). I have some reasonable general maps of the classes of cooperative complex systems present in most brains at about 15 levels of structure/abstraction, and in some at about 20 levels; and some reasonable general maps of the major classes of communication between those classes and levels of systems. Any model less complex than this is clearly inadequate to the task of giving a general outline of the complexity present that allows for the experience we have as conscious human beings.

And I acknowledge that even this model is low resolution and incomplete. When one actually does the numbers on the complexity present it is vast beyond the possibility of conscious computation; thus all models are necessarily simplistic.

[Followed by]

Jeoffrey Wortman

It seems to me that “the scope of being” is itself.

All understandings are necessarily simplistic models.

The likelihood of any non-trivial opinion about us (or the reality we are embedded in) being “True” in any sort of absolute sense seems to be vanishingly small (if one takes the time to look reasonably closely at a wide selection of the datasets and interpretive schema being applied to them).

The likelihood of some opinions being sufficiently close in some contexts to be useful in surviving is much higher.

Thus it seems that most opinions are more accurately characterised as “useful” rather than “true”. That seems to be a less hubristic and more socially useful formulation.

[18 Jan 21]

We seem to be operating from different definitions of truth and science.

I try and avoid using truth, as it is such a heavily overloaded term that that probability of accurate communication of concepts using it seems very small.

The very idea of truth seems to be a simplistic model of something vastly more complex, and, like all simple models, it can be useful in some contexts.

Science is, for me, characterised by the use of evidence to modify the probabilities I assign to different models in different contexts.

Having used that system of model modification for over 50 years it seems that I am an evolved entity, far more complex than I am capable of knowing in detail, and that the tools of science offer the best possible chance of continued existence in which I have reasonable degrees of security and freedom.

Science is telling me that my experience of being can never be of reality itself, but only ever of a model of reality constructed by multiple levels of subconscious processes that were subject to a vast array of evolutionary constraints that make it highly unlikely that my experience of reality is a particularly accurate model of reality, but it was good enough for my ancestors to survive in the contexts of their time but is likely to require increasing levels of supplementation in the rapidly evolving contexts of our technological society.

Thus for me, science as I define it, seems perfectly adequate to explain all aspects of experience, including the weirdest of the “spiritual”. And no explanation is ever the thing itself, and it is all that symbols such as this are capable of conveying.

[Followed by 19 Jan 21]

Jeoffrey Wortman
I have tried many different modes of both experience and interpretation.

The tools of science seem to me to offer the most powerful and useful interpretations of experience and contexts of being.

I yield my agency to nothing and I have put a great deal of effort into understanding the nature of such agency as I seem to have.

[Followed by]

Jeoffrey Wortman
Of the options I have explored which include christian, theosophy, rationalist, humanist, buddhism, many schools of philosophy, several martial arts, it is the broad class of the scientific method that seems clearly to be most powerful and make the greatest difference.

And there is undeniable power in many different forms. In a sense they work in practice, but it is the tools of science that deliver to me the most powerful interpretation of those experiences.

I do not deny the experience of anyone.

I often question their interpretation of the experience, and it’s relatedness to other experience.

And by the end of my undergraduate studies in biochemistry none of my lecturers agreed with my interpretations of implications.

So I am not saying that any particular scientist has necessarily got a more useful interpretation in any particular context.

Utility is often very context specific.

Buddhism has some very powerful tools and techniques as one example.

[Followed by]

Saying Buddhism deals with the scope of experience not the scope of explanations doesn’t quite sit with my understanding of Buddhism.

Yes – certainly, one must have a scope of experiences before one can begin to find useful relationships in the dataset of experiences. That much is a given.

It seems to me that science has the best set of tools to come to some understanding of the nature of the forces present in reality, and their degree of fathomability or otherwise.

It seems to me that the scientific method is a potentially eternally applicable methodology the delivers successive refinement on the models available.

It seems very probable that it was evolution and the contexts of our ancestors that have delivered most of the biases that produce the experiences that we use to begin our journey into the exploration of the nature of our existence. And that is a deeply complex subject.

The thing to get about experience is that it seems beyond reasonable doubt to be all maps in several very real senses.
Experience always has reality as itself, but in terms of representing anything else (such as objective reality) it is map. Most fail to distinguish that step, which leads to many sets of pathologies.

[Followed by 20 Jan 21]

Why are you making the claim that it science is not sufficient?

If you have evidence for such a claim, then the claim would seem to fall within the purview of science.

There are certainly many states of being that may not be explained to anyone who has not already experienced them, or something very like them. Yet such experience is a form of evidence, and may be examined as such (once one has in fact had such experiences).

In the realm of experience, one must in fact have experience to apply the tools of science, and when one does that, the explanatory frameworks that seem to deliver best fit are often vastly divergent from those prevalent in culture and history.

So in this sense, I have no idea what you mean when you say that science is not sufficient. I do not see how anyone could have any evidence for such an assertion (because the presence of evidence would put it in the purview of science).

[Followed by 21 Jan – “You are the one making all the claims about being without evidence, why the burden of proof is on me?
Who can expereince to being what is to be? That can only be recollected, not be lectured on.”]

We can all have experiences.

What we then tend to is to add meaning to those experiences, and not be particularly aware that we did that.

Someone can have the experience of being very small against something very large, and call that the “infinite”.

I have made no claims about being without evidence.

All have evidence.

What are you talking about?

[Followed by 29 Jan 21 “if we “add” meaning, where we add it from?
Science can be necessary for refinement, that doest mean it is also sufficient.”]

If one has a sufficient grasp of the complexity of the systems that seem very probably to have been primarily responsible for the evolution of us, then it becomes clear where meaning comes from, why we tend to add it, and it does mean that science is sufficient to explain the experience of being; but – it is hugely complex, highly dimensional, and involves multiple levels of abstraction and recursion of complex adaptive systems.

For me, now, having spent over 50 years in that enquiry, it is entirely sufficient, and it is also sufficient to explain why it seems insufficient to someone who is not similarly familiar with the recursive concepts of evolution, and the ability of some contexts to promote the evolution of new levels of cooperation which allows for the emergence of new levels of complexity and freedom (but also demands new levels of responsibility if they are to survive).

If you are genuinely interested in the enquiry, then the evidence sets of science are generally available to any who wishes to put in the time and energy to become familiar with them, and to develop an intuitive understanding of the explanatory tools available. And many of those tools are now deeply mathematically and logically complex; no escaping that.

And in broad terms, it is about the recursive emergence of new levels of valence and complexity in systems (and at every level that is predicated on a new level of cooperation), until those systems are of sufficient complexity that they can have a predictive model of reality and symbolically model their own perceptual model of themselves in reality (and it can get recursively more complex and abstract internally).

The historical development of cultures in such a recursive evolutionary context (in the context of our complex biological bodies and brains) seems very probably to have delivered our ability to have the experience and discussions that we do. The evidence sets for that are vast, and they do take a great deal of time and effort to become somewhat familiar with (decades).

[Followed by 29/Jan/21 – “Evidentialism is the past”]

When I write about science, I write about the use of methods to use evidence to evaluate between competing explanatory hypotheses.

As one recursively uses those tools to develop ever more complex tools to allow ever deeper understanding of the evident complexity within ourselves and the universe we inhabit, then it really does get very complex, and very few people have either the interest or time to develop a broad appreciation of the themes present.

It is not science that is causing unprecedented changes to the systems, it is people who are using overly simplistic understanding and taking very short term views of what is to their advantage, and that is mostly powered by the use of markets and money to measure value, and that is a deeply complex subject.

Any tool is morally neutral, it is what we do with them that matters.

Most of the current suite of economic and political institutions and tools are no longer up to the task of creating survivable incentives to action.

That is not a failure of science, it is a failure to actually use the tools of science to evaluate existing systems.

The science is very clear, for any who care to seriously look, that each new level of complexity requires a cooperative base if it is to survive. And that requires ecosystems of cheat detection and mitigation systems, as raw cooperation is always vulnerable to exploitation.

So if anyone really does value life and liberty, then they must – of logical necessity, accept the fundamental need for global cooperation between diverse sets and levels of independent agents. Nothing less than that is survivable. For me, the science of that is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt. Liberty without such responsibility is necessarily self terminating. And it is a deeply complex subject.

Without evidence, existential level conflict is guaranteed – as righteous dogma knows no limits, and respects no boundaries.

[30 Jan 21]

Morality is one of the complex things that science can and does explain, once one takes it to a sufficient level of complexity and abstraction.

I am speaking about REALIS science for me.

I have no idea how you justify your claim of IRREALIS.

I can understand that it may be IRREALIS for you, as you do not appear to be able to interpret the words I write as I intend them to be interpreted (but that is not unusual or unexpected, I am so far from the mean of “normal” that communication of things I find interesting is rare).

I get that many people do not care to look, nor to devote the time required to develop conceptual sets that are uncommon in their peer group.
Does that mean that such things are unreal?
It just means that some people are (from various combinations of choice and circumstance and culture and biology and logic and strategy) unable to conceive of that aspect of what is in front of them.
Does that in any objective sense make such things “unreal”?
Does evolution offer an explanation as to why such conditions of unawareness might exist?
It provides probability functions of utility over strategic domain-spaces.
It explains how all people necessarily live in our own personal “Virtual Reality” versions of whatever objective reality actually is; and that (for the most part, on average over time) most of those VR worlds are close enough in the context of their ancestral lineage to be survivable – issues arise when contexts change significantly (but cannot be perceived as such), or when positive feedbacks are introduced into systems.

The fact that cooperation requires sets of cheat detection and mitigation strategies to survive long term is not a defeat of the argument.
The fact that new levels of complexity demand such cooperation does not need to be appreciated to be real – it just needs to exist – and the evidence is very clear that it does (if one is prepared to do the work to be able to develop the tools to look).
It is simply an explanation of the evolutionary contexts required for the emergence of new levels of complexity. It is an abstract and recursively applicable concept, that is logically potentially indefinitely recursively applicable, but one that seems to be limited to about 20 levels of application in some rare instances on this planet at this time, but the median in most adult humans seems to be around 15 levels (mostly subconscious).

So the REALIS I exist in is one where most people are both unable and unwilling to “see” what to me is clearly present; because to even consider the possibility of such a thing would violate some level of “Truth” that is so foundational to their current world view that they can’t even begin to consciously understand why their minds produce the words and ideas that they do.

So it becomes extremely difficult for someone like myself, who is committed to being as truthful as possible, when the REALIS of the situation is such that there is no real way to communicate the most interesting and accurate and useful model of the situation in the time that is available.

In such a situation (one politicians often face) conditions may demand that lies are told in order to produce survivable behaviours from those who cannot (in that particulars of that context) comprehend the levels of complexity and strategy actually present.

It gets deeply complex when one is in a context with 4 or more levels of sets of independent agents using variations on that strategic approach for their own particular ends. For many the objective is not long term survival of all with as much freedom as can be responsibly exercised, but some much shorter term gain in some other value domain (like money or power or prestige), with little awareness or regard for the implications on long term survival.

Does that mean that my personal VR version of OR (Objective Reality) is perfectly aligned?
No – most certainly not. The evidence I have is that reality seems to be sufficiently complex that no computational entity (human or AI) could ever attain perfect alignment. We must all, of logical necessity, use contextually relevant simplifications, and those are all, of logical necessity, prone to error and failure modalities. And the version I use does seem to be more accurate and useful than any of the others I have explored to date. And I expect that should I live for the rest of eternity, I will still be refining aspects of it – reality does clearly seem to in fact be that complex. And the issue of context identification is deeply complex, with many levels of fundamental uncertainty present (including strategic levels).

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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