Posts Tagged ‘causation’

Time for Cause & Effect?

December 31, 2014

Cause, effect, and time are all mysteries at this point. As far as Physics is concerned.

When I was a young chicken, learning physics, pecking around the way chicken do, I came upon “the Arrow of Time”. At the time, the question about the nature of time was all about “Entropy” and the “Second Law of Thermodynamics”. How quaint it seems now that I got much wiser!

Entropy is about “states”. The “Second Law” says that processes augment the number of states, as time goes by.

The most basic question is then: ”What is a state?”

People in thermodynamics thought they had an answer. And, in a way, they do, like a car mechanics is full of answers about the state of your car.

Mechanics Getting Weirder: Are There Wormholes?

Mechanics Getting Weirder: Are There Wormholes?

[Yes, these distorted things are distant galaxies, viewed through the wormhole. The picture, from the excellent movie “Interstellar” depicts how a wormhole in spacetime would appear at close range; the little flower is the rotating spaceship. Interstellar represents an Earth where society has pursued its way down the abyss, thanks to the anti-science, anti-rationality movement in evidence nowadays. NASA went underground… Something not far removed from its present state, where tantalizing clues for life on Mars are left unexamined, because of the anti-nuclear movement… Long story, another time.]

However, nature is a Quantum car. And mechanics have nothing to say about it. Quantum Physics has its own notion of state. Moreover, in the meantime, the very notion of time and causality came under attack. From an unexpected corner.

It was simple enough when Lorentz and Poincaré introduced the notion of “local time”. Time was relative (Poincaré Relativity Principle, 1904): it depended upon one’s state of motion. In a local frame moving fast, time slows down (relative to the friend who did not get on that speedy rocket).

Einstein then observed that if a local time was accelerated, it would also slow down. Einstein somehow hoped to extract from this “General Theory of Relativity” a cause for inertia, but he failed (and could only fail, as GTR is local, not global). He ended up with just a Theory of Gravitation (Fock), a better and much improved version of the one of 1700, true… But still GTR is articulated basically the same equation arising from Ismael Bullialdus considerations in 1645 (and then Huygens, Borelli, Hooke, etc.)

Enter Quantum Physics. There time is absolute (oops). Locally absolute over an extent. Why? Because each Quantum processes are logically and mathematically analyzed in a particular space, relative to said process, and GLOBALLY therein (here is that global concept Einstein was desperately searching for, as he craved for inertia as a global phenomenon, following Newton and Mach).

That particular space relative to that particular process is not just two dimensional (as in the famed double slit experiment), it can be pretty much anything that can be depicted as a Hilbert space (consider Dirac Spinor space).

In the past, before 1904, one could consider that if something A preceded something else B, in time, A could have “caused” B. However local time already messes up with that situation (consider closed time loops in GTR; reference: just released movie Interstellar, a respected relativist, Thorne, made discoveries while consulting for the movie).

Quantum Physics makes causation a worse consideration than ever. As it stands, the Quantum is Non-Local. No need to get into Spin and Bell, to figure that one out: the analysis in Quantum Hilbert space uses time only as a one parameter transformation group, it’s intrinsically Non-Local (hence the famed “Collapse of the Wave Packet).

If a physicist changes a spin axis on Earth, does it do something to the second member of the entangled photon pair he sent to Beta Centauri? Instantaneously? Really? No one knows for sure (and I don’t believe the “instantaneous” part), but the present Quantum formalism (sort of) says it does.

Paradoxically, all of this debate about cause and effect has become very practical, in the most fundamental domain possible, Quantum Physics. As real physics moves away from the multiverse derangement syndrome, it ponders using, as nature and biology, and even evolution do, the Quantum.

Indeed, even biology uses the Quantum to compute, and find best solutions (as was demonstrated in the case of the chlorophyll molecule; much more examples are on the way, including that will demonstrate how a type of Lamarckian evolution works).

However “what causes what” has stood in the way of making Quantum Computers. Real physicists and engineers have been trying to get a handle on causation. One wants to isolate the process of computation, yet get it impacted by complicated inputs, and only these.

Time to spend some money on all this (that means re-direct the economy that way).

Patrice Ayme’


April 13, 2008


 N. Kristoff quotes with approval the theory that Planetary Heating will augment mayhem, because disruptions of climate caused problems in the past ( No doubt. The Little Ice Age is a plausible example, because a lot of social turbulence and wars occured then, after the relative calm of the earlier Middle Ages (see the P/S below though for a more refined chronology). And sure the eruption of a volcano in Iceland played a role in the budget problems of the French government that led proximally to the French revolution.

 However, Kristoff sinks in moral error when he claims that “Europe’s “Little Ice Age” led to a sharp cooling in the late 1500s, and that corresponds to a renewal in witchcraft trials after a long lull.” His dates for the Little Ice Age are roughly correct: the LIA was apparently caused by the “Maunder Minimum”, when 99.9% of sunspots disappeared, probably because the sun cooled a bit (sun spots are convection cells, like in a boiling soup in a pot). But the first minimum was in 1674, at a time when laws against withcraft had been outlawed, and maximal religious violence was clearly a century earlier.

 It’s important to find out what causes religious violence (it’s a question of planetary survival). Kristoff implicitly claims that climate change is the most prominent factor. But the evidence is otherwise. By presenting a plausible correlation as a direct causation, one creates a red herring, and one does not get to the proximal cause, the detection of which is necessary for prevention. So let’s set the record straight.

 Witch burning was taught by the Bible, Christianity, and, to a great extent Saint Paul and Christ themselves (alltogether, they insisted that bad people, and in particular bad women, should be thrown in everlasting fire). To claim religious persecution was -literally- in the air, is to let murderous superstition off the hook. When the sacred founding texts celebrate mayhem, their followers practice mayhem, it’s as simple as that. Whether the air was fresh or not, has nothing to do with it.

 Witch burning appeared during the late Middle Ages because, for the preceding millennium, Frankish and (Eastern) Roman power had kept Christianity under control. Leaders, especially the Franks in the West, had cracked down on Christian supersition because they were alarmed after the disastrous collapse of civilization of the Dark Ages (4C & 5C), which had been caused directly by Christian book burning and rage against anything having to do with freedom of thought.

 As early as the 6C, Pope Gregory the Great insisted that Frankish bishops allowing the teaching of grammar to people should be burned (the Franks ignored him). A millennium later, though, the Pope had Papal states, on which his law and terror of Christ could be extended, something he did not have in the 6C; similarly, Calvin, who enjoyed to see heretics burn slowly, close and personal, controlled Geneva in the 16C, but no religious maniac had any control in the High Middle Ages, a millenium earlier, at least, under the Franks.

 The same holds for anti-Judaism and religious wars: they both thrived in the Fourth and Fifth Century, and were then suppressed by the Franks, and much later resurrected from the dead in the late Middle Ages. The reason was the weakening of Frankish power (which had a strong centralizing theme around Pagan and Secular values) and later political opportunism of local potentates. In the late Middle Ages, nationalizing centers of power played with religious passions as instruments of power amplification (the momentary kicking out of Jews from various places, including Britain and France (13C), being an example).

 To some extent the invasion of Iraq for oil used Christianity in a similar fashion: G. W. Bush told us that “his Higher Father” had told him to invade. A magnificent case of what Sartre called “Bad Faith” (as in his famous garçon de café example). The proximal cause of the invasion of Iraq was the US domination by oil men and a national thirst for oil (Bush called it an “addiction”).

 The proximal causative reason of witch burning was letting Christianity run amok. Climate change was, at best, only weakly correlated to it. It was not directly causative. If it had been, it would have happened everywhere equally, in places equally climate affected, but it did not. By causative contrast, Christianity was directly causative in witch burning. The best proof of this is that witch burning became insignificant and then was made unlawful in the later 17C, although the Little Ice Age was reaching its maximum. Places such as Chamonix in the Alps (invaded by “horrible” glaciers in the 17C), did not burn any witches (although they asked the state to be freed from taxation).

 In Iraq, right now, the proximal causes of murderous violence are the foreign invasion by the self righteous, culturally challenged aliens from the other side of the planet, and a mix of ethnic oppression and Islam run amok. If one climbs high enough in the causation chains, one could of course say that the USA invaded because of energy, and that, along another causation chain, the energy and food crises, by throwing up in the air enormous quantities of greenhouse gases, cause climate change, and thus that, somehow climate change correlates to violence in Iraq. There is something to this kind of murky logics, but not much.

 Direct causation is better. For example, it should have been pretty obvious that, by allowing to use public subsidies and regulations to transmogrify food into fuel, one would get an immediate world food crisis. But never mind: to seduce farmers with a newer, stealthier subsidy, politicians in places such as France and the USA supported ethanol production from food, and the self righteous billionaire Branson fueled a plane with food. Now there are riots around the world caused by food inflation, itself caused by food burning, real and anticipated. And the causation is direct.

Patrice Ayme

 P/S: On the Late Middle Ages disturbances. Europe had a huge population by 1,200 CE, with the highest energy usage per inhabitant on the planet (hence the highest wealth per person). People were well fed, many indicators of power and economy were well ahead of the best Rome had provided with, and modern physics and engineering were pushing ahead of the best Antiquity had done. Favored by a peak of warmth around 1,000 CE, the Vikings had reached Greenland and North America (where conflict with the natives, and the moving south of the ice pack made everlasting colonies impossible). Then a number of things went very wrong: first massive ecological problems (due to overpopulation, deforestation and lack of ecological laws), then increasing tensions inside the Franco-British realm, then outright civil war, and the “Black Plague”.

 The Little Ice Age became maximum around 1,650 CE, at a time when religious wars and persecutions and witch burnings were on their way out, and clearly well past their apex (that was sometimes in the 15C). The first Thames frost fair was in 1607; the last in 1814. Amusingly, all sorts of evidence points out that the LIA centered around the century of the Enlightenment, rather than around witch burning! So maybe climate change renders people more intelligent (as it should!)?

 And what of the continual wars during the LIA? Clearly the LIA may have been an aggravating factor, but the proximal cause was the rise of large nationalist states fighting each other: the LIA was essentially a coincidence (England and various French regions had tried to become independent from each other for centuries, before they came to blows).