24 June, 2013

Analogy & Causality

In the early days of “explanation” historically, there was simply insufficient knowledge and understanding available for a meaningful causal approach. Things could be described and similarities noted, but as to a full explanation in modern causal terms, it just wasn’t possible. But, that did not mean that very useful models could be referred to, in terms of which some sense could be made out of new situations. By far the best way of doing this was to relate the phenomenon being studied to some well understood and reasonably close analogue situation with which the investigator was intimately familiar.

Thus Analogistic Explanation was the earliest sound method. There were “causal” attempts made but they tended to attribute the functioning of parts of Reality to Gods and Goblins, so were hardly either sound or useful.

Analogy, on the other hand, could be very reliable, if appropriate analogies were found, so that even without any reasons for why certain behaviours occurred, the type of system which produced the rich set of factors and behaviours could be identified and a solidly familiar situation used as a guide to what was going on. Without an understanding of mechanisms and causes, the producing system type could be identified and quite detailed knowledge from a good analogue transferred to the area under study. This was not such a way out method. After all early Man was surrounded with things he didn’t understand, but he knew them very well and how they behaved. He was daily called upon to make judgements on what was likely to happen in one of these situations. He had learned to “understand” how these things acted under a wide variety of circumstances. It could be called understanding by familiarity and interaction, even though underlying causes were completely unavailable to him.

Considering this major lack of what we might call “Causal Knowledge”, this method by Analogy was highly intelligent, and when appropriately employed, very effective. Of course, to directly counter pose Analogy and Causality, as if they were fully available alternatives is very largely an oversimplification. As studies and subsequent knowledge grew, these two forms would interpenetrate and the resulting amalgam became very sophisticated, and such a simple categorisation as either one or the other became impossible.

NOTE: For example, let us consider that a certain complex situation was not only familiar but also had been carefully studied and many or even all of its components actually understood causally. If this was subsequently used as an analogue for some new area of study, the result would be extremely well founded, and considerably better than when NO causal elements were involved as in the very early cases.

But, to return to the bottom-most rungs of our ladder of technique, while analogy was dependant only on experience and could therefore be applied at a very early stage, causality was a more demanding beast. As already mentioned Man was always keen to reveal causes from the outset, but had only supernatural causes available to him. To reveal necessary causes as products of Reality itself demanded a great deal more than a seemingly appropriate Myth. The ground for causality was Man’s own capabilities. He caused things to happen everyday of his life. Without this ability to bens aspects of Reality to his needs and will, he would not have survived.

Thus, he HAD to see the world as subject to cause – his own causes in everyday life – and God’s causes when it came to things totally outside his control. But, Man did develop tools and weapons with his own hands, and began to take pride in his ability to cause! Plus his “ability to express in language” and his ”ability to form artistic images”. Such sources clearly refined his “all-powerful Deity” as” Man writ Large”

Man was built for causing and looking for causes.

While his implements were Ready-Mades, a more sophisticated attitude to cause could not develop, but from a surprisingly early stage Man began to construct original and clever implements which revealed design-for-use in himself. So, he was increasingly well equipped to look for and find causes, and the crucial stages occurred when he began to make sophisticated weapons such as Bows & Arrows. Great skill and knowledge was embedded in the construction of these weapons and “causes” were much less religious and much more functional in those sorts of endeavours.

While causes were still “bunched” together with their immediate concrete effects, no profound development was possible. They had to become causes in a wider field – that is, perceived causes in everyday activity had to be seen as applicable in a NEW way. Invention based on understanding of causality opened Mankind’s eyes to the possibilities in using causes creatively. This ultimately made possible the consciousness of sequences of causes building up to very sophisticated results. This was the birth of Reductionism.

This is usually seen “upside down”, so to speak, in that it immediately brings to mind a sort of top-down analysis. But that is typical of Man. It certainly did not arise that way round (i.e. out of analysis). That was a much later development. It MUST have been initially grasped in a “building up” way. Certain causes could be marshalled to produce situation X, and then this new set up marshalled in its turn to produce situation Y. Man began to plan a whole series of stages resulting in a final sophisticated product. In a recent TV documentary, Ray Mears and a Native American from Canada worked together to build a birch-bark canoe from original forest materials. Every stage in construction was conditioned by what was needed at each succeeding stage, so that ultimately hundreds of highly skilled sub-products had to be appropriately designed to fulfil its purpose at the next level. As Ray Mears explained, the final product was probably the finest boat ever conceived of by Man.

Just such activities laid the basis for Reductionism – levels of causes building up to complex results. Only later did it become a means of analysis – where complex situations were investigated to reveal underlying layers of contributory sub-systems – where causes had been marshalled to a complex end.

Now, Reductionism is clearly the workhorse of scientific understanding and is used everyday and in multiple circumstances to explain situations. It would be sufficient, but for one profound thing. Reality is not constructed entirely out of such pedestrian steps. Reductionism involves NO innovation – NO new levels – NO restructuring of the environment itself. Reductionism is ONLY applicable in mechanistic or single level systems – that is the steps in increasing complication are all at the same level. In Reality we have Emergence, where wholly new, never-before existed Levels emerge, which transform the forming circumstances themselves, and make possible subsequent developments that were IMPOSSIBLE before the Emergence took place. The Emergence of Life is the most important example, but such Emergences are Legion, and have occurred millions of times in the development of the Universe. But note, once a reductionist analysis arrives at such an emergent situation it fails. You cannot move through an Emergence to its original producing situation by the crude methods of Reductionism.

Now, surprisingly, you may think, analogy copes very well with Emergence – because it is not attempting to reveal quantitative formulae, but instead copes with explaining the situation by finding similar analogistic forms and processes elsewhere. It takes things as given in real analogies and reapplies the features of a whole system to obviously similar sets of processes in other circumstances. Where formulae blow up when presented with the simplest of Changes of State, for example from solid to liquid, analogies sail through both in verbal explanation and in physical modelling.

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