Causation (In science, [very short] history of. (2008). Encyclopædia Britannica.)

causation (science, history of. (2008). Encyclopædia Britannica.)
Regularities, even when expressed mathematically as laws of nature, are not fully satisfactory to everyone. Some insist that genuine understanding demands explanations of the causes of the laws, but it is in the realm of causation that there is the greatest disagreement. Modern quantum mechanics, for example, has given up the quest for causation and today rests only on mathematical description. Modern biology, on the other hand, thrives on causal chains that permit the understanding of physiological and evolutionary processes in terms of the physical activities of entities such as molecules, cells, and organisms. But even if causation and explanation are admitted as necessary, there is little agreement on the kinds of causes that are permissible, or possible, in science. If the history of science is to make any sense whatsoever, it is necessary to deal with the past on its own terms, and the fact is that for most of the history of science natural philosophers appealed to causes that would be summarily rejected by modern scientists. Spiritual and divine forces were accepted as both real and necessary until the end of the 18th century and, in areas such as biology, deep into the 19th century as well.
causality (Heisenberg, Werner . (2008). Encyclopædia Britannica.)
Although he early, and indirectly, came under the influence of Ernst Mach, Heisenberg, in his philosophical writings about quantum mechanics, vigorously opposed the Logical Positivism [1] developed by philosophers of science of the Vienna Circle. According to Heisenberg, what was revealed by active observation was not an absolute datum, but a theory-laden datum—i.e., relativized by theory and contextualized by observational situations. He took classical mechanics and electromagnetics, which articulated the objective motions of bodies in space-time, to be permanently valid, though not applicable to quantum mechanical systems; he took causality to apply in general not to individual quantum mechanical systems but to mathematical representations alone, since particle behaviour could be predicted only on the basis of probability.
[2] The Logical Positivist school differs from earlier empiricists and positivists (David Hume, Ernst Mach) in holding that the ultimate basis of knowledge rests upon public experimental verification rather than upon personal experience. It differs from Auguste Comte and J.S. Mill in holding that metaphysical doctrines are not false but meaningless—that the “great unanswerable questions” about substance, causality, freedom, and God are unanswerable just because they are not genuine questions at all. This last is a thesis about language, not about nature, and is based upon a general account of meaning and of meaninglessness. All genuine philosophy (according to the group that came to be called the Vienna Circle) is a critique of language; and (according to some of its leading members) its result is to show the unity of science—that all genuine knowledge about nature can be expressed in a single language common to all the sciences.

[1] The Vienna Circle, which launched its first manifesto in 1929, had its origin in discussions among physicists and mathematicians before World War I. The general conclusion was reached that the empiricism of Mill and Mach was inadequate since it failed to explain mathematical and logical truths, or to account satisfactorily for the apparently a priori element in natural science. In 1922 Hans Hahn at Vienna University laid before his students the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus of Ludwig Wittgenstein, published in the previous year. This work introduced a new general theory of meaning, derived in part from the logical inquiries of Giuseppe Peano, Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, and A.N. Whitehead, and gave the Vienna group its logical foundation. Most of the group’s members moved to the United States at the outset of World War II. In the meantime disciples had been found in many other countries: in Poland, among the mathematical logicians; and in England, where A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic (1936; rev. ed., 1946) provided an excellent introduction to the views of the group. Logical Positivism. (2008). Encyclopædia Britannica.

[2] Logical Positivism. (2008). Encyclopædia Britannica.

Notwithstanding the above …


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.