Tuesday 18 August 2020

My tendency to reverse causality

It is actually one of the most difficult of insights genuinely to reverse the direction of causality - especially for the first time (ie. doing it for yourself, rather than following in footsteps). But I can see that I have often made what I regard as my most-important 'breakthroughs' by reversing assumptions. For example, reversing the causal arrows of a relationship between entities or phenomena.

For instance, in medical science, maybe my best idea was related to 'depression' (i.e. severe endogenous/ psychotic depression, or melancholia) being a psychological response to immune-activating illnesses. This reverses the usual idea that depressed people have - as a consequence of their psychiatric condition - raised imnune markers, symptoms of malaise, pyrexia, increased rates of autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases etc. (This also meant that effective antidepressants worked by treating these physical causes and symptoms, rather than by treating the 'emotions'; again a reversal of causality.)

Reversing the direction of causality for depression and its treatment may seem simple, and it is simple once formulated; but it took me about fifteen years to sort-out and piece-together.  Once the idea was formulated there was plenty of evidence to support it - but it was having the idea that was so difficult.

I came across a similar thing today in relistening to a lecture by William Arkle. It suddenly struck me with full force that I had taken Arkle's scheme of God's work and reversed the causality, in a way that might well confuse anyone following my frequent links to Arkle's work.

From Arkle I got the invaluable insight that God's purpose is to produce 'divine friends' - to raise his Sons and Daughters to (as near as possible) God's own level and to participate with God in the ongoing work of creation; but for these divine friends each to be a distinct person, an individual - so that each brings something new and original to the work (rather than merely repeating what God already brings to the business). This understanding I still hold-to.

But for Arkle, God's problem is how to make individuals from an original divine unity - from the singleness of one creator God. He suggests that this was achieved by God first dividing himself into male and female, then implanting a little flame of divinity into each person, then making a complex educational world unique for each person (i.e. unique from the specific perspective in which each specific person was 'placed' by God). In this varied reality, each person becomes unique by tackling the challenges and problems differently - thus Men grow-apart and become more and more different. So much for Arkle...

But underpinning my own Christianity is Mormon theology; which has men and women as distinct from the beginning, and each man and women an unique 'being' existing from eternity. (This also applies to God, who consists of two Heavenly Parents, a man and a woman).

From this combination between Mormonism and Arkle; I have developed my own understanding of God's problem which ends-up being almost the opposite of what Arkle said. I believe that God started-out with zillions of unique individuals (at odds with each other), living in a state of chaos - and God is aiming at a state where the 'divine friends' are able and desirous to cooperate harmoniously in the ongoing work of creating.

For me, now, this is the key to the specifically Christian concern with love; since it is by love that unique individuals are able-to choose-to cooperate in harmony (as we can imagine would happen in an ideal family).

It also clarifies the role of Jesus's work, which made it possible for any number of unique Men to choose (by following Jesus to resurrected eternal life in Heaven) to make a permanent commitment to loving creation. Each person is bringing his or her own unique perspective, abilities and motivations to the job - so that divine creation may continually expand in scope while remaining in harmony.

(My favoured analogy for Heaven is with an idealised wholly-loving extended family of immortals; continually being added-to by new and unique people - by descent, marriage, adoption, and true-friendship; but always - because of their mutual love - working together, and cohering in their work; because they each work for each other, as-well-as for themselves.) 

Such a view is simple enough to explain (it didn't take me many words!) yet was probably impossible to formulate explicitly until the 19th century at earliest...

At least there seem to be no pluralist philosophies of this kind, until first Joseph Smith (the Mormon prophet) and later William James (the philosopher and psychologist) saw and embraced the possibility. This idea of metaphysical pluralism is, for me, one of the very greatest US contributions to the history of human development. Because, as far as I know, all previous philosophers/ theologians - since the ancient Greeks - seem to have assumed the primal unity of reality.

So here is another example of reversing causality - and an indication that it is a genuinely difficult thing to do!


gwood said...

Causality can run both ways at once. That's what a feedback loop is.

Bruce Charlton said...

@gw - Not sure about that - for example?

Francis Berger said...

"I believe that God started-out with zillions of unique individuals (at odds with each other), living in a state of chaos - and God is aiming at a state where the 'divine friends' are able and desirous to cooperate harmoniously in the ongoing work of creating."

I may be wrong, but this seems to tie in well with Berdyaev's view of personality, which is spiritual and unique to each person (more than mere individuality, which B regarded as merely a natural phenomenon). In this sense, personality is what truly separates an individual from others. At the same time, personality has a communal aspect that seeks to co-operate and create with other personalities (at the spiritual level) and, ultimately, to form a deep relationship with God.

As I mentioned above, I may have misinterpreted Berdyaev here (he is easy to get wrong). In any case, I am inclined to agree with you rather than Arkle on this point. I don't think God intended to men to continue growing apart, but rather desires a coming together via love and creativity.

Jonathan said...

I have a favorite canonical example of reversing causality, somewhat analogous to your depression/immune insights. I'm thinking of the "Calories In / Calories Out" (CICO) model of obesity. People arguing in favor of CICO often invoke the First Law of Thermodynamics. Energy is conserved, so it seems indisputable that weight gain or loss is caused by what you eat and how much you exercise.

But the real direction of causality is nearly the opposite. The flaw is that everyone assumes that eating and energy expenditure are independent variables you can manipulate at will, and your weight is the dependent variable that naturally follows. It's a very seductive presumption, because the eating and exercising seem to happen first and the weight change seems to follow.

In reality, your body has ways of making you eat, and in the long term, your appetite is stronger than your willpower. Your body can also reduce your energy expenditure dramatically through lower body temperature and lethargy, and it does so when it can't easily tap into energy stores. The real chain of causality starts with metabolic conditions that make energy stores easily or not-easily available for burning, which causes activity or lethargy, satiation or appetite. (The metabolic conditions can be changed by specific food choices.) Your body decides first how much fuel to conserve or expend, and your behavior follows.

It's interesting just how difficult these leaps of insight can be when one has wrong assumptions (faulty metaphysics?) about biological/physical/spiritual causality.

Bruce Charlton said...

@J. Good example.

Chip said...

If matter causing mind is the predominant view, would the opposite be an example of seemingly reverse causality in some cases? Bruce has talked about a certain kind of thinking participating in creation, if I recall and understand correctly. A recent commenter (Jake?) said something similar in the past week. One of the strangest but intriguing possible example I came across browsing in a Goodwill book store. We often hear of the heavens and maybe climate having causal influences on humans, but this writer (who was referencing Steiner) suggested the reverse causality, that the climate or atmosphere was affected by human psyche or mind or emotions, I suppose. Funny if anger, fear, hysteria could actually bring about planetary heating. Does Barfield skirt on the edges of this kind of thinking?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chip - Yes, Barfield quite explicitly states that matter 'precipitated'from' spirit/ mind. This - in different words and from different ways of reasoning, is compatible with Mormon theology - which has us all existing pre-mortally as spirits; which 'condense' into incarnate bodies, with increased agency.

(You can read this clearly and enjoyably set-out in Barfield's 'Platonic dialogue' Worlds Apart. The Barfield-based character/s debate this with archetypal scientists, psychoanalysts etc - and a CS Lewis-based character.)

This way of thinking sees early reality is inter-penetrating spirits; and later incarnation, or solidity, as a kind of concentration and boundedness - that separate spirits and enhances their agency/ free will - while also creating the problem that they lose that natural spontaneous intercommunication that happens with spirits.

I understand Heaven to be the situation where we have the advantages of both bodies meaning we are 'free'; and a restoration of the state of 'intercommunication' (which is actually an empathic sharing of thinking) which is then a chosen state (not natural and spontaneous, but an individual and free choice to participate)

Tom Hart said...

This ability, to reverse causality, is expressed in Charles Sanders Pierce's abductive logic--it's also how Sherlock Holmes and Dupin think. Abductive logic is how we formulate a hypothesis; the good hypothesis emerges from thinking like a detective.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TH - I should clarify that I am suggesting this reveral business is sometimes, but not always!, where truth lies; and that a false causal direction can be a very potent and lasting way of preventing genuine insight and progress.

On the other hand - the standard leftist trope of (selectively-applied) inversion of morality (and many other things) is done to obscure truth, subvert common sense and erode confidence in personal experience.

And - when sustained by official and media propaganda - this is also very difficult to perceive and eradicate.

The difference is honesty, and the desire to know the truth; when these are absent, discourse degenerates into attempted manipulation.

Tom Hart said...

@BC “On the other hand - the standard leftist trope of (selectively-applied) inversion of morality (and many other things) is done to obscure truth, subvert common sense and erode confidence in personal experience.”

Those are the outcomes, but the intention is to raise your status by providing a novel explanation that is also more holy than other explanations; subjectively, it just feels like being a better person than your immediate social group. The difference is that the novel explanation is never really tested against reality and isn’t meant to be; it’s just something to say that sounds good and boosts morale—if it mimics other ways of formulating statements, such as scientific statements, that happen to be high status then so much the better. The novel explanation is a hypothesis that is never tested, and is, in fact, impossible to discard, because it has become holy.

Leftism is, in part, a malfunction of the religious instinct; and so the problem is that for the individual participant it feels good or feels like being a good person. I don’t think any left-wing people are deliberately seeking to hide the truth; rather, they think a social truth is more important and holy than other truths.

The truth leftists (over)value is that creating bad feelings leads to social conflict; therefore, this social truth should triumph over any truth that could lead to social conflict. This is why most young people are leftist; they are more concerned about group opinion than older people, aside from having less experience of reality—and their small experiences of reality are more easily trumped by their social group. It is true that relentless honesty and truth seeking leads to social conflict; however, the left makes not noticing certain truths a mark of status—in the long term, as with Chernobyl and Mao’s famines, the complete absence of truth-seeking social conflict in particular areas leads to catastrophic errors, rather than small errors that are corrected by small social conflicts. There is a right level of social conflict that isn’t disastrous and is actually productive, but suppressing social conflict completely eventually leads to a disastrous error—similar to the catastrophic forest fires that occur when humans diligently clear away waste wood, hoping to avoid fires. In other words, leftism is rational strategy for avoiding short-term social conflict in certain areas, but the short-term peace is paid for in a long-range mega-disaster.

Accordingly, science will always feel Satanic: it destroys religious illusions that make people feel good—however, it is actually good in the sense that it destroys hypocrisy (cf Jesus) through demanding objective tests. Hence the good (non-hypocritical) guys will always look like the bad guys and the bad guys (who sounds holy) will look like the good guys—to put it in simple comic book terms (in fact, good and bad are not absolute categories).

Bruce Charlton said...

@TH - I don't agree with your apparent embrace of equating leftism with 'holiness' and regarding it as an alternative religion. While there are of course some similarities, as there are between any group activities of humsn; this line of talking comes from atheists who regard saying that 'leftism is a religion' characterised by 'holiness spirals etc' - is equivalent to saying that leftism is made-up nonsense. Such people do not believe in any religion, nor do they believe in the reality of holiness.

The core fact about leftism, which I believe it is essential to grasp in order to understand it; it that our actual current post-60s New leftism is negative, it is negation, it is 'against' - but never truly 'for'.

Therefore in essence it is the opposite of a religion. A religion is focused on deity, and this focus enables social cohesion. Leftism is (at its core) denies deity and the immaterial, is anti-Christian (specifically - allying with other religions tactically against Christianity), and atheistic.

Leftism has historically gone through a sequence of additional negations - anti- marriage and family/ sexual revolution, anti-war/ pacifism, anti-slavery/ abolition, anti-inequality/ socialism etc through feminism, antiracism, anti-whites, anti-native-populations and so on.

So it would be accurate to say that Leftism has usurped religion, specifically Christianity; but it serves as an anti-religion - not a religion; and is a force of social destruction - not of social cohesion.

Tom Hart said...

@BC You could say social status instead of holiness and mean the same thing without involving any metaphysical claims; so let’s say it’s a question of competition for social status. I’m not an atheist and I think there are such things as holiness spirals; but I think apprehending reality directly is synonymous with union with the Godhead, and that the core of religion is esoteric—the exoteric expressions of devotion, of holiness, must exist but can get out of control.

“Therefore in essence it is the opposite of a religion. A religion is focused on deity, and this focus enables social cohesion. Leftism is (at its core) denies deity and the immaterial, is anti-Christian (specifically - allying with other religions tactically against Christianity), and atheistic.”

Robespierre created a cult of the supreme being; and the Parliamentary side were all fervent believers in God. Marx’s theory of history is derived from Hegel’s; and Hegel’s account of a historical movement towards the Absolute is a secularised account of the Christian journey to God. So leftists can believe in God, no problem.

Leftism took the Old Testament insistence on destroying idols and extended it to such an extent that it has even destroyed the concept of a supernatural God, since they also regarded Him as a false idol. One thing I noticed in the Old Testament is that the destruction of idols and general iconoclasm is praised again and again; it’s the most important thing, since it’s connected to the primary commandment to only serve one God. As soon as people got hold of vernacular cheap Bibles in the 15th century, the iconoclasm set in, because they saw the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church in this regard—and the iconoclasm has never stopped; especially since destroying unholy things is an easy way to raise your status.

This is what gives the left its negative character: it is involved in competitive iconoclasm. The first recognisable modern leftist movement emerges during the English Civil War, particularly the fringe around the Parliamentary side; these people were extremely iconoclastic. Even today, pulling down statues is an act of iconoclasm intended to purify the land of racism and so restore it to purity; the land is poisoned by worshipping the images of false gods—dead white men—and must be cleansed.

If you combine this with the negative aspects of the New Testament—Jesus tells people to turn on their fathers and mothers to follow him; to give up their property; that they are all brothers and sisters; and that the end times are coming when the last will be first—you basically have the left: an iconoclastic cult that says all people are brothers and sisters, families are unimportant, wealth is unimportant and bad, and all will be equal at the imminent coming end of the world (social revolution). Christianity also changed the nature of taboo: pagans claimed that religious rites were holy; they didn’t care whether you thought Jupiter was real, so long as you sacrificed to him. Christianity cares about what you think; going to mass is important, but violating doctrine—heresy—is the most serious offence. This sets the context for the left’s obsession with what you think and say, as opposed to what you do.

Obviously, it would help if people believed in a real supernatural God and went back to an older iteration of Christianity; but the Parliamentarians did believe in God and the Jacobins sort of did, so belief in God can’t be the whole story.

Leftism does create social cohesion for leftists; the right often gets this wrong and claims that leftists are disorganised and chaotic. The left is like the army: a coordinated force that creates chaos for other people. In the left’s case, it’s not an external enemy they cause chaos for; they cause chaos for the more responsible elements of society— it’s like an army pointed inwards, at what is responsible.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TH - You need to understand I am an ex-atheist, ex-leftist (as a teen I read the history of socialism, joined the Labour Party on my 16th birthday and was a local party representative) etc etc.

I have myself in the past held, and more recently seen-through and refuted, your arguments and evidences; and since 2010 provided a more historical and developmental set of arguments e.g. in my books Thought Prison and Addicted to Distraction (linked in the sidebar). I have done this repeatedly on this blog and others - and I don't want to do so all over again!

Your mistake is certainly understandable - and I understand it from the inside. But you really need to go away and Think about these things - as I myself did, if you want to understand why you are wrong - rather than firing back your prior theory and interpretation (my own past errors) which I have already heard so, so many times!

Ron Tomlinson said...

@Bruce, do you know why bad weather affects mood? I mean that some combination of rain, lack of sunshine and low pressure seems to have a mild depressive effect.

Is it because reduced air pressure causes more tension/work for the arteries? Or that lack of ultraviolet light outside results in more mould and bacteria in the air we breathe, putting a greater load on the immune system? Or simply that its harder to see dimly lit objects and surroundings? And then some of us have a psychological response to that burden. Or what?

William Wildblood said...

TH says "the Parliamentarians did believe in God and the Jacobins sort of did, so belief in God can’t be the whole story." Did they really? You see, I don't think they did. They may have thought they did but their focus was always on the affairs of this world so they were political first and only then religious. And as far as I am concerned that means they did not really believe in God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RT - Well, I wouldn't accept your premise that bad weather produces depression! I think what does produce depression is short daylight hours - i.e. Seasonal Affective Disorder at extreme latitudes - the more extreme, the stronger the effect; esepcially in populations that have not evolutionarily adapted (across many generations) to extreme latitudes. I think that the effect of weather is more on short-term emotions, than on longer term mood.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - As well, being a negative ideology; leftism has evolved very significantly over the centuries - most obviously and decisively in the middle 1960s with the rise of identity politics in the USA and rapidly spreading from there via the global media: at first antiracism and feminism, more recently the sexual revolution. Up to then, leftism had focused on class, and favoured the working class (the British Labour Party was mostly funded by Trades Unions: the paid the salaries of MPs for example); nowadays the British left loathes the working class, native-born men; who - for decades - were (supposedly) their primary victim group.