CAUSATION AS THE SELF-DETERMINATION OF A SINGULAR AND FREELY CHOSEN OPTIMALITY.
IN THEIR RECENT MANIFESTO, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, philosopher Roberto Unger and physicist Lee Smolin present a bold agenda for a sweeping reform of cosmological science, which they claim has failed to make substantial explanatory progress during the past quarter-century. (1) The reasons for this failure, they argue, stem from limitations of the basic explanatory framework that has defined physical inquiry since Newton: in its efforts to understand the entire universe as a single dynamical system that evolves according to a fixed set of laws, cosmology cannot account for these laws and other features of the unchanging background that must be assumed by all dynamical descriptions. To move past this impasse, Unger and Smolin propose that cosmology embrace a fully background-independent explanatory framework for which time is real, everything is related, and physical laws are products of a singular cosmic evolutionary history. Within this alternative framework, however, Unger and Smolin find themselves confronted by what they call the "metalaws dilemma": either the laws of nature evolve according to some higher set of metalaws, which simply reinstates a timeless background at a higher level, or the laws of nature evolve randomly and the path of inquiry is blocked.
Needless to say, if the reformist agenda of Unger and Smolin is to be taken seriously, they will have to convince the scientific community of its merits. Here we are more interested to highlight the philosophical implications of their proposal. In particular, we wish to call attention to the fact that their embrace of a fully relational, background-independent framework presents an unusual opportunity for proponents of process-relational metaphysics to engage with questions of cosmological science. Smolin has long distinguished himself as a physicist with an unusually deep connection to philosophy, (2) and in this latest collaboration he joins philosopher Unger in urging that "natural philosophy" be revived as a companion to cosmological science. (3) But most importantly, by articulating their so-called metalaws dilemma as a problem for the development of a fully relational cosmology, Unger and Smolin have effectively issued a challenge to process-relational metaphysics that now calls for a response.
Our purpose in this article is to indicate how process-relational metaphysics might respond to this challenge. We believe that Unger and Smolin's presentation of the metalaws dilemma is a sign that they are unsure of how to rethink causation in fully relational terms, especially with respect to the kinds of reasons that apply to the fully relational determination of events. Moreover, as we explain below, our view is that the real crux of the issue confronted by Unger and Smolin is not the evolution of laws but rather the apparent incompatibility of rationally determined causes, as required for the progress of inquiry, and the decisiveness of the present moment, as required for the reality of time. Accordingly, we argue that to complete the transition from a timeless, background-dependent form of explanation to a time-drenched, background-independent form of explanation, it is necessary to incorporate real decisions or free choices into our understanding of natural causes as fully relational events. The real dilemma faced by Unger and Smolin, therefore, is between free choice and reason in the causal determination of events, a dilemma that we term the "problem of choice."
In response, we propose to understand causal events as freely chosen relational singularities, constrained only by their intrinsic relations to past events, and whose relational identity constitutes a singular optimality. At the core of our proposal are two claims, one ontological and the other axiological. The ontological claim is that, if the reality of time and the rational determination of all natural events are to be upheld together, we must allow that new reasons--and not just new events--come into being. The axiological claim is that for this to work we must expand our view of what counts as a reason for natural inquiry: specifically, we propose that the singular relational determination of an event creates an optimal aesthetic value, special to that event, that explains why that event is constituted "just so."
To prepare for our proposal, however, first it is necessary to set up the problem of choice as a critical issue that must be confronted by the alternative framework of Unger and Smolin (and, indeed, by any framework of cosmological explanation). In the following sections (III-V) we show how various flaws in the position of Unger and Smolin are symptomatic of their failure to address the problem of choice. This part of the argument proceeds through an examination of three closely related problems for cosmology--complexity, fundamentality, and facticity. Once confronted, perhaps the most challenging aspect of the problem of choice is the implication that a mixture of novelty and recurrence is entailed by each and every causal event. To clarify this point, in section VI we briefly examine how two very different approaches, stochastic algorithmic models and Leibnizian theories of optimality, both fail to make genuine novelty cohere with recurrence in their respective accounts of causation. Finally, after these preparatory arguments we present our theory of causation as the self-determination of a singular and freely chosen optimality.
Context and Premises of the Argument. As indicated above, our proposal is presented as a response to the arguments of Unger and Smolin; as such, it presumes rather than argues for a number of controversial views concerning time, causation, and physics that we share with them as common ground. For instance, while Unger and Smolin are not alone in urging that physics recognize the reality of time, theirs is a minority view, as most physicists believe that Einstein's theory of relativity requires that we regard our experience of time as an illusion. (4) Unfortunately, we cannot review most of the reasons offered by Unger and Smolin in support of their position, nor can we review the many rival theories and empirical objections with which they must contend. Instead, if our proposal is to be kept to a manageable length, the following claims must be taken as premises:
* There is only one, singular universe.
* Time and change are real: the present is decisive and the future is open.
* The reality of time is all-inclusive: there is no independent, timeless background.
* The principle of relativity is all-inclusive: everything is connected and determined relationally.
* Causal connection is a primitive feature and does not depend on laws.
* Physical laws describe patterns of causation, have limited reach, and can evolve.
* Mathematics can provide only approximate descriptions of reality.
Two of these premises warrant further emphasis and clarification. First, while there are multiple senses in which philosophers and scientists interpret the reality of time, here we are interested in the basic, intuitive sense that entails the openness of the future and the decisiveness of the present: time is real in the sense that something is decided in the present that is not fully determined by the past. Second, the principle of relativity as adopted here is a general principle that pushes toward the all-inclusive relativity of a fully relational universe. Although Unger and Smolin do not argue this point at length, they indicate that their advocacy of this principle leads not only to a time-drenched background-independent explanatory framework for cosmology but also to the adoption of a relational, event-based ontology. (5) Furthermore, a key implication of this move is that within a fully relational framework all events are singular in respect of their intrinsic relations to all other events. (6) As we discuss below, Smolin embraces this consequence, but Unger does not. The reason for this divergence, we suggest, is that if all events are uniquely constituted, then a version of the metalaws dilemma seems to apply to each and every event considered as a singular causal primitive, as we explain below. This explosion of the metalaw dilemma into a vast multitude of interrelated but singular events is what signals to us that the real dilemma is between reason and choice in the causal determination of events. Moreover, it suggests that the only solution to this dilemma is a correspondingly pluralistic form of optimality for which each and every event achieves its own singular optimization.
Also, a note about the philosophical context and style of our argument: although our response to Unger and Smolin is essentially a Whiteheadian theory of causation, readers will notice that we do not use the special terminology of Whitehead's philosophical cosmology and that we do not make detailed reference to Whitehead's works or to the rich tradition of process philosophy that follows after him. This is not an attempt to hide our intellectual debts. Rather, in preparing this essay our goal has been to extract the most important and relevant ideas of process philosophy and express them in terms that are accessible to philosophers and scientists who, like Unger and Smolin, are engaged in a kind of process-relational thinking about nature but are not conversant in (or committed to) the peculiar phraseology of Whiteheadian metaphysics. To facilitate this connection, the following arguments are developed in dialogue with the position of Unger and Smolin, using their terms wherever possible.
The Challenge of Complexity. Let us begin by clarifying the nature of the explanatory failure that, according to Unger and Smolin, is responsible for the stalled progress of cosmological inquiry. It is not that new data is no longer forthcoming. Rather, the alleged explanatory impasse has more to do with the kinds of answers that are being sought than with the limits of inquiry (whatever those may be). For even if cosmology were to achieve the Laplacian ideal of a complete dynamical description of our universe, questions pertaining to the precise nature of its fundamental background features--the "Why These Questions"--would still be left over: Why these laws? Why these constants? Why these initial conditions? When considered against the immensity of possible alternatives, the arbitrariness of these fundamental features is dumbfounding. For instance, physicist Roger Penrose has estimated the extreme low-entropy initial conditions of our universe as having the ridiculously low probability of one in 10 to the power of [10.sup.123]. (7) Consequently, as if the task of describing the lawful character of our universe were not enough, cosmology finds itself faced with the additional burden of explaining why this particular lawful character is found together with these very special background features.
Perhaps it could be argued that the cosmological "Why These Questions" are simply off limits to natural inquiry, properly understood, and so we should not be overly concerned with their intractability. To our knowledge this is not a common view, but it is worth considering briefly. A rough version of an argument in its favor would go as follows: the "Why These Questions" pertain to our universe as a whole; when taken as a whole the universe is a singularity; the business of science is to explain the generalities that characterize classes of entities, not the individual characters of entities qua singularities. After all, what kind of reasons can be given for a singularity?
This is a critical question to which we will return. But first let us consider why the aforementioned "Why These Questions" cannot be so easily left aside. The explanatory challenge of cosmology is not just the singularity of our universe per se but the apparent arbitrariness of this singularity. Now, strictly speaking, if all possible universes are equally improbable, the existence of our universe is no more arbitrary than the existence of any other. The problematic arbitrariness in question has to do with the way in which, from the vantage point of modern cosmology, the most notable features of our universe--the emergence of complex, nested structure at every scale, the evolution of life and intelligence, and so forth--seem to be contingent on the precise values of its fundamental constants and initial conditions. (8) This is what is commonly known as the fine-tuning problem: in respect of its fundamental parameters, our universe seems specially tuned to be "interesting," (9) at least in comparison with most alternative possibilities.
"Complexity" is the currently fashionable term for all that is interesting in our universe, and the origin of complexity has recently become an important topic in cosmology and other sciences. (10) Despite the common intuition that complexity is a distinctive trait of our universe, it turns out that this complexity is rather difficult to define and measure. (11) Leaving these technical issues aside, it is telling that our intuitive sense of the complexity of nature does not usually appear to us as arbitrary. Rather, the troublesome arbitrariness of complexity emerges as a problem only when we attempt to explain it in terms of the fundamental laws, constants, and initial conditions of modern physics. This suggests that apparent arbitrariness of complexity in our universe is a product of the peculiar explanatory logic of modern cosmology. That is, the complexity of our universe appears arbitrary only when we consider it within a cosmological framework whose most fundamental explanatory features--the timeless background against which the universe is defined as a single system--are fixed and simply given. Thus the current explanatory impasse of cosmology can be stated as follows: the most interesting features of our universe are purely accidental in relation to the most fundamental explanatory features of our current cosmological framework. (12) If this is the case, it is no wonder that cosmology has stalled.
Questioning Fundamentality. Curiously, when the crisis indicated by Unger and Smolin is viewed in these terms, we find that their own proposal for a radical refraining of cosmological physics fails to confront the challenge of complexity head-on. Instead, their manifesto attempts to finesse the matter by understanding the observable features of our universe as products of an indefinitely long evolutionary history that extends back to an earlier, extraordinarily hot universe but does not begin there. (13) However, because they are unable to give an account of the governing constraints or principles of this evolutionary history without reinstating a timeless framework--this is their metalaws dilemma--they are at risk of simply replacing the bad infinity of multiverse explanations with a bad temporal infinity that is thinly disguised as a merely "indefinitely old" history. (14) Accordingly, we believe that the persistent arbitrariness of complexity within the framework proposed by Unger and Smolin is a sign that their attempt to reform the explanatory logic of modern physics is incomplete.
When we speak of the "explanatory logic" of modern physics we mean something much broader than any particular constructive theory, scientific method, or set of fundamental assumptions. We mean any notion of explanation that entails the assumption of fundamentality. This assumption posits an absolute, ontological distinction within nature between whatever is fundamental and whatever is not--that is, between a set of fundamental things that do the explaining and a set of nonfundamental things that are to be explained therewith. The assumption of fundamentality is widespread in Western science and philosophy--atomism is an especially common and influential variety--while the explicit rejection of fundamentality is comparatively rare. Justus Buchler's principle of ontological parity (15) is a notable exception; outside Western thought the rejection of fundamentality in nature is most famously represented by Mahayana Buddhist philosophy and its embrace of the "emptiness" (sunyata) of all things. A common trait of cosmologies that reject fundamentality is thoroughgoing relationality, as fundamentality requires that at least some relations in the universe are radically asymmetric: what is not fundamental depends on what is fundamental, while the identity of what is fundamental depends on nothing but itself. (16)
Given their embrace of a fully relational ontology, it is not surprising that the criticisms of Unger and Smolin also target something like the assumption of fundamentality, although they do not label it as such. The rejection of fundamentality is implicated by their distinction between background-dependent and background-independent forms of explanation and their strenuous advocacy for a transition from the former to the latter. (17) It can also be seen in their view of a singular, evolutionary universe in which everything changes, including change itself. However, we believe that various problems with their current stance--the metalaws dilemma, as well as their failure to confront complexity and their ambivalence with regard to the problem of facticity (see below)--indicate that they are unsure of how to negotiate this transition to a fully relational, background-independent framework.
We suggest that to complete this transition it is necessary to develop a new explanatory logic without fundamentality. However this new logic is to be developed, it should be clarified at the outset that without fundamentality no set of determinate features can be distinguished as the explanatory foundation for other features of reality. This bars any absolute distinction between abstract or general features, on the one hand, and concrete or singular features, on the other. It also undermines any absolute distinction between necessary and contingent features. Being clear about lack of fundamentality is thus a first step toward confronting the problem of choice, as it presses upon us a closely related problem, the problem of facticity.
The Problem of Facticity. We agree with Unger and Smolin that the intractability of the "Why These Questions" is a sign that the traditional approach to cosmology is deeply flawed. Going further, however, we propose that the accumulation of such questions is the inevitable outcome of any explanatory logic that seeks to eliminate choice from nature. The reason is that to explain any particular thing by reference to another thing is essentially to shift the burden of the explanation of determinacy from the former to the latter. This strategy works just fine in many cases where approximate explanations about a limited context will do. However, when cosmological explanations are being sought, this strategy sets up an infinite regress. (18) The intuition behind the assumption of fundamentality is that this infinite regress can somehow be blocked or that it culminates in a set of final "Why These Questions" that can be set aside or finessed (for example, by the introduction of a multiverse scenario). But, in fact, when we resort to so-called fundamental features to explain the universe, the "Why These Questions" only become more insistent as the determinate nature of these few features is called upon to explain the determinate nature of everything else. This is why, for instance, the so-called block universe is at once both hyperrational and absurd: every event is completely and rationally determined within the whole but the nature of whole itself is utterly inexplicable. (19)
The implication of this pattern--the repeated attempt to avoid choice only to have it crop up again in the form of "Why These Questions"--is that choice cannot be eliminated from cosmological inquiry; at best, it can only be postponed. The problem of choice for scientific explanation can therefore be phrased in metaphysical terms as follows: the failure of any determinate thing to be explained in its entirety by any other determinate thing implies that the contingency of determinate being--being this and not that--is an ineradicable trait of things in nature and cannot be explained by conversion into necessity or a chain of dependent relations without begging the question. On the other hand, if and when cosmological inquiry demands a reason for being this and not that, how can this reason be determined without converting this choice into necessity? This is the problem of choice in a nutshell, and in this form it should be recognizable to many as a variation on an old theme. (20) How should natural inquiry come to terms with this problem, and when should it do so?
Interestingly, this metaphysical formulation of the problem of choice is very close to the problem of facticity raised by Unger: the fact "that [our universe] just happens to be one way rather than another." (21) Unger seems to recognize that facticity presents a problem for natural inquiry and that this problem is exacerbated by the notion of singularity, whether applied to the universe as a whole or to any part thereof. When regarded as a singularity, a thing's determinate nature cannot be explained by lawlike relations of dependence because such explanations treat their explananda as members of a general class. Thus contemplation of singularity constitutes a direct confrontation with facticity, the character of being "just so," and with facticity, according to Unger, natural inquiry comes to an end. (22)
In light of his position on facticity, then, we can see why Unger is so reluctant to admit the singularity of all things as a consequence of a fully relational, event-based ontology. While Smolin embraces this possibility, Unger dismisses most singularities in our "cold universe" as "trivial." (23) The reason for this dismissal, it seems, is that Unger intuits the challenge that such a wild proliferation of singularities presents to inquiry: it implies that confrontation with facticity cannot be avoided. Acknowledging facticity while postponing its challenge to inquiry is, in short, Unger's preferred way of acknowledging the problem of choice qua the radically contingent determination of being. But our point is that, within the context of cosmological explanation, once the assumption of fundamentality is rejected, facticity and its implied problems apply to all determinate features, singular or not. The only difference is that singularities present the problem with particular force because it is obvious that explanations of their determinate nature cannot be deferred, and so there is no temptation to fall into an infinite regress. Consequently, in a fully relational cosmological framework, one cannot avoid facticity simply by denying singularity or by calling it trivial. As we will see, distinctions of importance and triviality are essential to our proposal as well. But such distinctions need to emerge in a nonarbitrary way from within the framework of cosmological explanation, or else they become seriously question-begging. One cannot avoid facticity by confining cosmological inquiry to nontrivial, "nonfactitious" (that is, recurrent and lawfully determined) features, as if it were possible a priori to divide factitious from nonfactitious aspects of a fully relational universe in some nonarbitrary way. Thus it is striking that, while Unger argues that the facticity of our universe must be confronted, he also argues that this confrontation should be postponed. (24) That he would attempt such a division is a sign that Unger has not come to terms with the lack of fundamentality implicitly entailed by a fully temporal and relational universe.
If facticity, or the fact that our universe is "just so," cannot be so easily avoided within a fully relational cosmological framework, then, perhaps, neither can the problem of choice--having a reason for being this and not that without predetermining this choice. Our recommendation is that Smolin and Unger should confront this problem directly because only by establishing real choice in the determination of singular, relational events can they maintain the reality of time. On the other hand, the problem with invoking choice in the sphere of physical explanation is that it threatens to undermine the reasonableness of nature. If choices are radical in the sense of being undetermined by antecedent reasons, then it seems that nature is irrational and inquiry founders. But this is to assume that events are rationally determined only if they are entirely determined by antecedent reasons. Might it be possible that some of the reasons for the determination of a causal event originate in the event's actual occurrence? The issue at hand is the nature of reason as it applies to a universe in which becoming is real, and the most radical implication of the "philosophy of becoming" espoused by Unger and Smolin (25) is that new reasons as well as things must come into being.
Causation Entails Both Recurrence and Novelty. Before introducing our concept of event-specific optimality, it will help if we briefly consider how others have attempted to incorporate choice into theories and models of causation. But first let us clarify some of the special requirements for a theory of causation that is compatible with the reality of time. Recall that one of our premises is that causal connection is a "primitive feature," meaning that it can occur without laws. As pointed out by Unger, an essential ingredient of causation in this primitive sense is the influence of the past on successive events. (26) On the other hand, if time is real and the future is open, the past cannot simply dictate how events are determined: the present must be open to novelty as well. Accordingly, a basic criterion for a fully temporal theory of causation--one that incorporates some kind of "choice" in the determination of events--is that it must find some way to register the constraints of the past, the openness of the future, and the decisiveness of the present by combining some measure of recurrence and novelty into each and every causal event. (27) Thus one way to get a handle on how various concepts of causation handle the problem of choice is to examine how they manage to have both recurrence and novelty together.
From this angle we find that many attempts to reconcile causation and time combine recurrence and novelty as two distinct and divisible elements of causal process. For instance, Smolin has proposed to model causation using a "principle of precedence," (28) which states that events that have precedents yield outcomes constrained by precedent while unprecedented events have novel outcomes. There are several problems with this proposal, however. First, it seems merely to restate the phenomenon that needs to be explained as a principle. Second, it neglects Smolin's own position that all events are singularities (29) and thus, at least in some respect, unprecedented. Third, as pointed out by Unger, (30) Smolin's principle offers no explanation of why recurrence occurs when it does, or why novelty occurs when it does. It simply posits two kinds of events, those with precedent and those without.
A more common strategy is to add a drop of novelty to each and every event by means of a random input. We see this clearly in algorithmic models of causation as an iterative, rule-governed process that operates on past states of a system while introducing a stochastic element at one of its steps. (31) Such models of causation can be said to preserve the reality of time in the sense that future states of the system cannot be derived from knowledge of past states. However, on closer inspection the implied concept of temporal process proves rather thin, as it turns out that causation is nothing more than a deterministically rule-governed process that has been jerry-rigged to save the appearance of time's arrow. It adds no new reasons that can be investigated, and as a result it raises questions about how the model is to be verified by natural inquiry. If the stochastic element is entirely separable from and superfluous to the rest of the causal process, what justifies its inclusion, except to save the appearance of time?
Stochastic models can be very useful for some explanatory purposes, but for the purpose of developing a new cosmological framework they are a dead end. Whenever randomness is posited as an ontological fact--rather than a consequence of our epistemic limits--it amounts to a hypothesis of no explanation, which is effectively a declaration that inquiry has a clearly defined limit. (32) But even more to the point of our present discussion, this insertion of randomness offers us a very poor account of the reality of time and causation-in-time. For one, it offers us a picture of nature as an almost perfectly rule-governed system that, for no discernible reason, is marred by flecks of randomness. Moreover, it offers no way of connecting our physical theory of time with our personal experience of time's flow. (33) This experience suggests that the decisiveness of the present involves the adoption of new reasons in relation to both past arid future events, not just a random swerve from an otherwise unyielding mass of past influences.
What other options are there? The failure of randomized models of causation in respect of reasonableness clearly points up the advantage of optimalism, which in its most well-known, Leibnizian form can be used to account for the determination of all things as a rational choice. Unfortunately, we cannot enter into a detailed discussion of Leibniz's philosophy. Here we wish to focus on a general feature of Leibnizian optimalism that undermines our commitment to real novelty and the reality of time. The problem with most varieties of Leibnizian optimalism is that the "choice" of the present moment is conceived as a rule-governed selection from a set of possibilities that are fully predetermined; this presupposition seems to be required by any optimality principle that ranks possibilities according to some measure of value. (34) But if the relevant possibilities are predetermined, so is their ranking by the optimization principle, and thus so is the "choice." A Leibnizian actual world therefore follows a predetermined trajectory through a predetermined landscape of possible worlds--the trajectory runs along the ridgeline that connects one optimum to the next. Accordingly, for a Leibnizian approach, time is not real in the full and inclusive sense that we, along with Smolin and Unger, are determined to uphold.
Consequently, while Leibnizian optimalism is a tantalizing way to handle causation as a rational choice--especially once we have adopted an ontology of singular, relationally determined events--it comes with too high a price. This price may explain why Smolin seems to be drawn to some kind of optimality principle to explain causation (35) but has stopped short of proposing optimalism as a solution to the metalaws dilemma: perhaps he perceives a conflict between optimality and real time. Smolin is undoubtedly aware that his former mentor, Julian Barbour, with whom he developed a concept of optimality defined as "extremal variety," (36) embraces Leibnizian optimalism as a way to explain the structure of the universe while supporting the elimination of time from physics. (37) On the other hand, if the optimalist path is rejected, we seem to be left without any way to understand the decisiveness of the present as a rational choice.
To sum up: optimalism seems to be the only rational way to handle the novel side of causation, but the price of this rationality is that causation becomes a rule-governed selection from a realm of predetermined possibilities. Unger calls this notion of possibility the "spectral idea of possibility," as it turns possibility into a timeless form of concrete existence that haunts the actual world, "waiting for its cue to come onto the stage of actuality." (38) A realm of infinite concrete possibilities is not unlike a multiverse in terms of profligacy; moreover, insofar as this spectral realm determines the course of the actual world, it functions like a timeless independent background. The implied lesson is that, if time is real, new possibilities must be continually brought into existence as a result of the creation of new actualities; (39) moreover, all possibilities must be partly vague, allowing for their specification by actual events. Yet these requirements only press upon us the dilemma of choice and reason with greater force. How can something that is unprecedented even in the world of possibilities have a reason for its determination? Thus, as it seems impossible to have genuine decisiveness in the present without abandoning reason, we seem to be caught between two horns of a dilemma--real but irrational choice, or reason without real choice or time. In the face of this dilemma, the unreality of time has been the historically preferred option.
Causation as Singular and Freely Chosen Optimality. At long last we present our sketch of the kind of optimality that we believe can overcome this dilemma. We first present our proposal in the form of five claims concerning the nature of causation as a singular, relationally defined event. Then, in the remainder of the essay we elaborate on these claims to show how they relate to one another and to indicate how they might contribute to the development of an alternative explanatory framework:
(a) All the ingredients of a causal event--the relata coming from past events, their form of integration into the new event, and the value achieved by their integration--are codetermined as a unitary relational complex or "gestalt."
(b) The "choice" enacted by a causal event applies to the determination of the relational complex as a whole, not in isolation to any particular part thereof or step therein, and is completely free from external constraints.
(c) The value achieved by a causal event is inherent to its relational identity, and the optimality of this value is defined with respect to the singular relational context determined by the event itself.
(d) The determination of a causal event is constrained internally by nested structures of inclusion and exclusion deriving from past events and by its aim to determine itself as a concrete, optimally defined unity.
(e) Importance is an intrinsic feature of all forms of integration and is essential to the relational value-identities achieved by causal events.
To begin, it should be pointed out that these claims are far from unprecedented. Our approach to value and causation draws from traditions of process-relational thought, especially as developed within American pragmatist and process philosophy of the past century. The most important precedents are Alfred North Whitehead's theory of "causal prehension" as developed in his philosophical cosmology, (40) and the axiological metaphysics of Robert Cummings Neville. (41) Compatible sources for a process-relational approach to causation can also be found in recent studies of Chinese philosophy, (42) among other sources. Most essential for the present task are the wealth of resources offered by these traditions for understanding the kinds of "aesthetic reasons" that can apply to the singular relational determination of events.
To reiterate, our main purpose in this essay is to show how process-relational metaphysics might respond to Unger and Smolin's call to revive "natural philosophy" as part of a comprehensive relational reconstruction of cosmological physics. (43) As we have indicated, various flaws and inconsistencies in their arguments show that they are unsure of how to carry out this relational program. Another example is Smolin's proposal that the "qualia" of conscious experience be understood as nonrelational, "intrinsic" properties of causal events, (44) effectively reintroducing a kind of ontological dualism between relational and nonrelational properties. Accordingly, from the vantage point of process-relational metaphysics, the first step is to show how such dualisms can be avoided by understanding relational entities and their relata as thoroughly codetermined, as stated in the first claim above:
(a) All the ingredients of a causal event are codetermined as a unitary relational complex.
This means that relational entities, properly understood, should not have any nonrelational parts. The difficulty of meeting this requirement is illustrated by the use of graph theory to model a world of relational entities. (45) In a graph model, entities are nodes of relations defined only by their relations. The limitation of such models, at least as typically construed, is that nodes are understood simply as sets of relations rather than ways of integrating these relations into a coherent unity. There is no question of how the different relations belonging to a single node hang together. Accordingly, the relations themselves--or edges, as they are called in graph theory--are not modified by their inclusion in different sets. Thus, in this respect, edges might be described as "nonrelational relations." (46) In contrast, we affirm with (a) that all aspects of a relational event are individuated by their participation in that particular event, much the way a particular flavor is modified by its mixture with other flavors within a single dish. Or, to use another analogy, in a group of mutual friends (A, B, C, and so on), although all friends are shared by all, each friendship is specially modified by its integration with other friendships in the life of each individual so that no two relations are the exactly same: "friendship with A" is different in the case of B, C, and so on.
Such a thoroughgoing embrace of relational identity might seem to collapse into an unworkable nominalism, as it implies that no aspect of a causal event's identity can be shared with any other event. But our position does not exclude similarity; that would mean denying recurrence. It only affirms that relata and other recurrent aspects of relational identity are always changed at some level of specificity by their inclusion in different relational events. The taste of strawberry is still recognizable as such when combined with other flavors (chocolate or cheese) but it is not exactly the same. To take another example, an implication of our position is that a common feature such as the color red never recurs exactly the same way twice, because the relational context in which it appears is always at least slightly different. However, this contextual variation does not prevent us from identifying red and other common features, resemblances, and so forth. In some cases, and depending on our interests, this variation may be negligible. In many contexts and for many purposes we are justified in treating aspects of relational identity as if they were nonrelational and exactly repeatable--indeed, this is a crucial supposition for many kinds of knowledge, including experimental science. Nevertheless, the principle of relativity suggests that features are exactly repeatable only when considered in abstraction from the relational particularity of real causal events. The importance of these points becomes more apparent as we move to consider the other claims.
(b) The choice embodied by a causal event applies to the determination of the relational complex as a whole and is completely free from external constraints.
By now it should be fairly clear that (b) follows logically from (a). The difference between them is that (b) draws out the implications of (a) for thinking about the "free choice" of a causal event. If a relational complex has no nonrelational parts that are determined independently, no choices can apply to any aspect of the complex in isolation from the rest. This requirement jars somewhat with our commonsense notion of choice as exercised in many tasks of integration: in such tasks, we often--but not always--begin with a number of things that need to be integrated somehow and then select the best form of integration (for example, when we figure out what dish to make from the ingredients we have at home) or when we begin with a predefined form and then select the components that can best be integrated by that form (for example, when we have a particular dish in mind and then go to the market to find the best ingredients). But for relational metaphysics the choice of relational identity applies to both form and components at once. Indeed, perhaps "choice" is a misleading term for the relational determination of an event as a whole, as there is no independent agent who does the choosing (apart from the event's own becoming), no criteria that can be specified independently of the event, and no predetermined relata from which to choose.
To clarify this last point: for a newly emerging causal event, all past events count as potential relata, and according to the manner in which they are included, their own relational features can present important internal constraints on possibilities of integration. However, outside of these structures of integrative possibility, there are no constraints on how potential relata should be integrated by the present causal event, even to the extent that many past events can be effectively excluded--this is what we mean by "completely free from external constraints." (47) To clarify this point, a rough analogy could be made to the organization of a formal banquet: the host might be completely free to invite whomever he wants, and thus free from "external" constraints in this respect; but the relations and personalities of invited guests present "internal" constraints on possible seating arrangements. Again, such analogies are misleading if we divide them into elements or stages (for example, by determining the guest list independently of the seating arrangement). For relational metaphysics, "internal" constraints aire never, in fact, wholly distinct from the free "external" choice of relational identity.
As slippery as this kind of integrative problematic can seem when discussed abstractly, in daily life we are regularly confronted by integrative "choices" of this kind: it happens whenever the nature of an event or situation is as much in question as the manner of its realization. Consider questions of varying complexity like, "What should we have for dinner?" or "What kind of social event should we organize this weekend?" or even "What should I do with my life?" All of these questions pose complex tasks of integration in which both the form of integration and the components to be integrated need to be defined, ideally so as to result in an optimality that is maximally effective or satisfying for the purpose at hand. At least at the opening stage, all of these relevant parameters are in play, and inquiry moves back and forth between different levels of specificity. Because of the complexity of integrative possibilities where both form and components are undecided, it would seem that in making this kind of choice we exercise maximum freedom. For the same reason, however, such choices can be mentally taxing, which is why we often prefer to nail down some aspect of the integrative task ("Let's make pizza with whatever we can find at home") so as to narrow down the possibilities. (48)
Returning to cosmology, the challenge of this approach is to indicate that the internal constraints of integrative choices are enough to produce the kinds of enduring structure, continuity, and regularity that we observe in nature--more will be said about this crucial point below. Here it should be noted that if the relational complex that constitutes a causal event coalesces as a whole, whatever reasons account for its singular determination are not fully available until after the fact of its completion. This means that perfectly exact, mathematically precise predictability is ruled out for all causal events, in keeping with the position of Unger and Smolin with respect to the openness of the future and the limited reach of mathematical description. On the other hand, insofar as internal constraints can give rise to statistical regularities in the formation of caused events--including even lawlike patterns of recurrence--this relational approach should be specifiable so as to account for whatever predictive power science can have.
With respect to the question of novelty, the singular holistic determination of causal events as relational entities means that novelty is necessary for and intrinsic to all causal events rather than an extrinsic feature that is added (by fiat) to some component or stage of the causal process. In this way, a fully relational understanding of causal events achieves a thorough integration of time into the causal fabric of nature, but it comes at a price: on this view there is no basis for the empirical detection of novelty as a distinct element in processes of natural causation. Because novelty is everywhere, it is nowhere isolatable as a discrete feature. On the positive side, this position presents no arbitrary barriers to inquiry and, we suggest, accords better with our experience of novelty. (49)
(c) The value achieved by a causal event is inherent to its relational identity, and its optimality is singularly defined.
This claim presents the thesis of optimality in minimal terms; it is a vague hypothesis in need of further specification. While this lack of definition may seem to leave a gaping hole at the core of our proposal, at this stage it is critical to distinguish between the metaphysical thesis of freely chosen singular optimality and its interpretation in terms of some kind of extremal property (a maximum or minimum) that can, at least in principle, be measured--such as, for instance, some measure of complexity. (50) Here we are most concerned to indicate in broad outline what kind of optimality can apply to the fully relational determination of a singular event. (51) Even a more detailed version of our thesis would serve only as a heuristic principle, as it would never allow for a priori knowledge of how any given system or process is to be identified as a singular optimality. The empirical question of optimization, insofar as it can be defined, depends on the particular relational constitution of the event in question: individual events and optimalities are coextensive and cannot be identified independently of one another. Nevertheless a number of key implications of our thesis can be unpacked for consideration.
First, (c) asserts that relational and axiological metaphysics coincide: inquiry into the relational constitution of identity converges with inquiry into the nature of value at the most general level. As abstract as this assertion may be, it is not empty. It suggests that reasons that pertain to relational determination should resonate with our experience of value, especially the kinds of aesthetic values that apply to complex wholes. "Aesthetic value," in the general sense being developed here, is not confined to our notions of beauty or art, although it can be used to articulate and refine these notions. Rather, it is a characteristic of any harmonic unity--that is, of any coherent unity-in-diversity. For such a unity, aesthetic value pertains to the hang-togetherness of its diverse features, as well as the way in which these diverse features are determined by their particular way of hanging together. This implies that the aesthetic value achieved by the hang-togetherness of an event's diverse features entails more than just their compatibility; the aesthetic value of togetherness is more than the absence of conflict. Rather, the key implication of aesthetic value is that relational determination of an event achieves something "extra," some kind of harmonic characteristic of the whole that goes beyond the mere aggregation of its component properties. On the other hand, this something "extra" cannot be anything superadded or otherwise extrinsic to the relational determination of the event. It seems, then, that the optimal value must consist in the way the event's inclusion of its components entails the organization of their diverse features into a unified pattern that realizes their diversity in some particular way.
The singular realization of diverse features in some patterned form of relation is vividly experienced in certain works of art. Aesthetic enjoyment is, accordingly, the intuitive basis for the idea that relational singularities can explained--at least in principle--by singular reasons. But the basic effect is much more general. In experiences of all kinds, insofar as something is experienced, certain differences are emphasized, while others are attenuated in a way that contributes to an overall feeling of contrast between diverse features. Let us suppose that, whatever its particular content, the most basic structure of any experience is the determination of a perspective constituted by a foreground of (relatively) clear and distinct contrasting features together with a (relatively) vague, penumbral background. One of the key insights of Whiteheadian metaphysics is that this feeling of contrast is not a "merely subjective" feature of our experience, but rather an intrinsic feature of all relational events and, as such, essential to the production of all types of order. One way to make this point is to argue, as Whitehead does, that the relational determination of all events involves a "subjective pole." But the broader metaphysical point is that contrasts--constituted by hierarchical arrangements and emphases of similarity and difference, and not just difference per se--are intrinsic features of relational identity as well as essential features of value.
Relational identity, therefore, is not just a matter of inclusion or exclusion: how things are included is just as essential. Indeed, in a fully relational universe where "everything is connected," perhaps it is more accurate to conceive of all relations as kinds of inclusion, so that exclusion is a limiting case corresponding to the most trivial kinds of inclusion. The reasons that apply to various kinds of inclusion in the relational determination of identities are the aesthetic values that are achieved by the complex contrasts that result from a particular form of inclusion. Again, these values are not aesthetic because they strike us as beautiful (although that may be the case), but because they pertain to an inherent, holistic quality of the togetherness of diverse features. This quality is more than just a summation: it is a particular realization of diversity, whose particular "vividness" or "intensity" of contrast is the overall effect of the diverse natures of its component features as expressed through their patterned unification.
We will expand a bit more on these points in our discussion of importance and triviality below. Here it should be reiterated that the introduction of hierarchical arrangements of difference and similarity into our account of causation is warranted only insofar as it seems to be required by a purely relational concept of optimality, which in turn must find confirmation in our experience of value as well as in its implications for cosmological inquiry. This is a considerable burden of proof. On the other hand, this connection with value not only has ample precedent in the history of philosophy, (52) it also opens up the possibility that physical science can be reconnected with humanistic disciplines, not to mention diverse spheres of human experience.
Finally, it should be clarified that the optimality achieved by an event is not a global or even local optimum, insofar as such optima are usually defined by an observer who is external to the event in question. Strictly speaking, the value achieved by an event is optimal only for itself, as it corresponds to the singular relational "parameters" decided by the event. Our proposal does not, therefore, entail any claim about the optimality of the universe as a whole--at least not any claim that could be tested. From our perspective, events can be identified as having outcomes that may be judged as better or worse. In many cases, however, this perspective has little to do with how events are actually constituted. Only in some cases are we able to influence the determination of events so that their optimalities are the ones we are seeking. To say that all events are optimally determined does not mean that they are optimized in conformity with our values and expectations.
(d) The determination of an event is constrained internally by nested structures of inclusion and exclusion deriving from past events and by its aim at unity and optimality.
This statement asserts that the identities and features of past events entail structures of inclusion and exclusion--products of their own relational determination--that function as internal constraints on the integrative possibilities of new events in the present. As forms of relational identity persist and evolve over time through successive events, their inherent relational structures develop into a rich multitude of nested hierarchies, each constituting a different strand of history. Considered as a whole, the universe is singular and has just one history defined by successive decisions of a single, universal axis of simultaneity that constitutes the present and divides past from future. (53) But the universe comprises many histories insofar it includes many distinct and branching lineages of shared relational identity. As a result, the past exists for the present not as a single monolithic block but rather as a vast "heterarchy" of potentialities for integration: many diverse and complexly overlapping kinds of relational identity, each of which constitutes a hierarchy that presents distinctive integrative possibilities. For the present theory, the diverse structures of this heterarchy are what are called upon to explain causal constraints, continuity, and endurance, including lawlike patterns of recurrence. Accordingly, the "force" of causation is neither an abstract, timeless rule nor some kind of coercive power exerted by the past; rather, it is an inherent feature of historically evolved, relational identity.
Smolin anticipates this point of view in his discussion of "evoked reality," (54) his term for the independent reality of constraints that are created when new things come into being. For instance, in the case of games like chess, "we invent the game, but once invented." (55) there is a set of possible plays of the game which the rules allow." (56) Other common examples of "evoked reality" are historically evolved systems of musical tonality and the grammatical systems of language. Smolin clearly believes that evoked realities can also be found outside of culture, for instance, in the hereditary constraints of life on Earth. (57) Going further, our claim is that all causal constraints are evoked realities: they are hierarchically nested structures of integrative possibility created by past events and adopted by subsequent events as part of a continuous strand of history. As the identity of each event is itself constituted by relations of inclusion and exclusion derived from one or more histories of relational constitution, the constraints of these relations are internal rather than external.
So much needs to be accounted for by this internal view of causal constraints; here we can only gesture toward a more complete theory. However, one question demands at least a preliminary response: if there are no external constraints on the determination of causal events, how can internal constraints bind the present to the past in such a forceful and consistent manner as we observe? Why is the universe not much more chaotic than it appears? Why are we so often coerced by physical limitations? Some of this explanatory burden can be reduced if we understand the order we observe to be a product of statistical smoothing, allowing for greater disorder at the microscale level. Nevertheless, the emergent order we observe must be accounted for; the following is a preliminary sketch of how such an account might work.
In short, we need to build space into our relational theory of causation. As pointed out by Smolin, insofar as it defines the immediately relevant past for the relational determination of new events, the locality of three-dimensional space constitutes an "enormous constraint" (57) on patterns of causation. Yet within the framework of a fully relational cosmos of freely chosen events, such a constraint cannot be imposed from without as an external condition. And, in fact, we know that some kinds of events do not conform to the normal constraints of locality: locality is actually quite "disordered" at the microscale. (58) The key, then, is to find some way to understand the constraint of locality in relational terms as an evoked reality, that is, as a common pattern of relational identity that is shared by a large number of past events in such a way that their diverse individual identities derive from this common history. This would mean that no subsequent event can integrate into itself any features belonging to these past events without also adopting the historical constraint of locality, which, in turn, further defines a context of local causal relevance for each event. In short, locality pertains to an especially broad and encompassing level of the historically defined, nested heterarchy of relations that is presented by the past rather than an externally imposed condition of causation per se.
Thus, for instance, it is impossible for a humanly embodied event to disregard the constraints of locality, because humanly embodied events are kinds of locality-constrained events; they belong to the history of such events, and as such they must inherit the constraints of locality. So, while a newly emerging event is, in principle, completely free in the sense that it has no external obligation to determine itself as a locally constrained event, if it chooses to be an embodied event it must also adopt the constraints of locality and all that goes with it. In this way, all constraints on the movement and behavior of complex, enduring entities such as ourselves are rooted in the constraints inherent to relational identity. When faced with imminent destruction--say, from the impact of an oncoming bus--it would be nice if we were able to choose an alternate form of identity that is not constrained by locality. But, unfortunately, such choices are excluded not "from without" by an abstract rule but "from within" by the evoked reality of our own historically formed, relational identity.
In choosing to define itself as a relational identity, an event is effectively choosing how to relate itself to various nested, historically evolved forms of identity: the one thing it cannot do is adopt a particular history as its own while attempting to eliminate some basic feature that characterizes that history as such. Analogously, while a musician is, in principle, completely free to choose the kind of music that he plays, he cannot play, for example, "atonal bluegrass"--that is, he cannot play bluegrass while at the same time disregarding the conventions of tonality on which the characteristic chord progressions of bluegrass are based. The prohibition of atonal bluegrass comes not from without, as some kind of rule, but from within the historically evolved conditions of bluegrass as a living tradition of popular music. Actually, experiments in atonal bluegrass are not impossible--indeed, they probably have happened more than once. But they have yet to produce anything of enduring value, that is, a viable form of musical expression. Although it may seem strange to relate the "hard facts" of physical causation with the sociohistorical conditions of musical expression, we believe that the historical, "evoked" constraints of relational identity are, in both cases, the right way to understand the influence of the past and the accumulation of pervasive kinds of order.
Also part of (d) is the claim that each causal event can be understood as aiming at the singular optimal value achieved by its own determination as a concrete unity. This aim at self-determined optimality establishes teleology as a dimension of every causal event, although it should be emphasized that the goal of optimal self-constitution is the only goal to which a causal event contributes directly. Within the context of intelligent life, concerns for a more distant future can become ingredients in the self-constitution of an event, so that this event can be said to aim at goals beyond itself. However, to be more precise, the event in question aims at determining itself so as to constitute a constraint on subsequent events so that--given the additional constraints of locality and other more specific conditions--they are likely to yield the intended outcome. Where such long-range intentions play a significant role in self-constitution they are dependent on highly complex patterns of relational constraints (semiotic relations, and so on). Insofar as such conditions are only rarely achieved, this account of the teleological dimension of causation does not entail any claims about the large-scale, end-directed course of cosmic evolution. On the contrary, it suggests that most events in our universe aim at nothing beyond the immediate "satisfaction" of their own determination. (59)
(e) Importance is intrinsic to all forms of integration and is essential to value.
Statement (e) is a crucial specification of (c) and (d). It further clarifies the point that the value achieved by relational self-constitution is not a function of the aggregate diversity of all the relata taken together, but refers instead to the definiteness or contrast achieved by their mutual determination. As signaled by the term "contrast," this value is not an additive property that treats component differences as if they were equivalent variables or "degrees of freedom." Rather, it includes the "forcefulness" of difference created by the selective emphasis on certain differences and the trivialization of others. Differential strength or intensity of contrast is a ubiquitous and perhaps essential feature of our subjective experience; the present theory proposes that it is also a basic feature of relational identity. Given the thoroughly relational nature of self-constitution, such differences of importance must be intrinsic to the codetermination of the event as a whole (rather than an extra step). It follows as well that differences of importance must be intrinsic to the hierarchical structures of possibility determined by previous events. Thus importance emerges as an "objective" feature of natural processes: the various kinds of enduring things in nature can be identified by the kinds of differentiations to which their constitutive causal events give importance.
The claim that importance is an objective feature of causal events is critical for the support of empirical inquiry in a relational universe. It preserves the singularity of relational self-determination as a solution to the problem of choice while at the same time supplying a basis for simplification and approximation as well as grounds for the unbounded continuance of inquiry. The traits of importance and triviality are essential for the transition between "aesthetic reasons" and the logical structures of mathematical science. If importance is real, then inquiry can come to rest with a simplified description that includes just the important features of interest. Such a description is, however, only an approximation, and as such it can be revised indefinitely. Without importance, our proposal would make causation so obscure as to be completely inaccessible to inquiry: although each event could be rationally determined, in principle the reasons of self-determination would be buried in the intricacies of a singular relational complex whose full description would be equivalent in scope to the entire universe. With importance, our proposal allows that many processes can be effectively described within a local context and by just a few variables, thus registering the spectacular success of modern physics. In addition, the concept of importance as a real feature of events supplies an ontological context for understanding the effective dynamical descriptions of physics as approximations while avoiding the pitfalls of the standard distinction between macroscopic and microscopic levels of description.
In short, if importance is an objectively real feature, then so are macroscopic levels of description. They aire not just approximations that could be replaced in principle by more complete microscopic descriptions. Rather, insofar as macroscopic features pertain to real differences of importance for the self-constitution of the system itself, any description that is purely microscopic is also incomplete. Effective descriptions at the macroscopic level, when successful, capture predominant patterns of causation within a system or region, and they do so because these patterns are the products of real individual choices about the important features of self-constitution within that system or region. In addition, because important features are relationally codetermined parts of a whole that includes countless other relational features, our approach does not erect any arbitrary barriers between approximate descriptions and the fullness of concrete reality. Although inquiry must always have practical limitations, on our account there is no fixed boundary that divides repeatable, lawlike phenomena from a "noumenal realm" or other transphenomenal reality. Where currently available approximations no longer suffice for purposes of inquiry, the theory of causation outlined here should provide indications for how to proceed.
Let us now summarize the sense in which causation, as described here, is the product of a freely chosen and singular optimality. It is freely chosen in the sense that any past history can be adopted by a new event as its own, that is, as part of its relational identity. However, each history brings its own set of constraints. Moreover, within constraints of an adopted past history, while there is always room for free self-determination, what is self-determined may be trivial in comparison with the demands for conformity. For the same reason, although every causal event is relationally determined in a singular way, much of this singularity may be trivial and of little consequence for successive histories. Finally, the optimality of an event pertains only to its singular relational determination and is likely to be viewed as less than optimal from other perspectives.
These qualifications seem to leave us with a concept of causation that is freely chosen, singular, and optimal in only a trivial sense that cannot make any difference to natural inquiry. How does such a concept represent an advance in understanding? Let us recall the different criteria that have led us to this point. The formulation of the problem of choice within a relational framework showed us that we need some rather special reasons to account for the singular and fully relational determination of events. In this section we have proposed that "aesthetic reasons" are precisely the kinds of reasons that can apply to complex, relational singularities. Note that this approach leads to a massive proliferation of reasons, as each and every causal event defines its own aesthetic reason for being determined "just so." However, in this section we have endeavored to show that aesthetic reasons allow us to embrace this consequence while upholding the possibility of scientific inquiry and its ideals of repeatability, prediction, and mathematical representation. The key point is that aesthetic reasons are harmonic values that achieve more than just the compatibility or coherence of relational features. They also achieve some intensity of contrast through the patterned arrangement of these features. An essential feature of aesthetic value is importance, which turns out to be a critical feature of causation as well.
Without importance, we would live in a universe of relational singularities that were all completely unknowable to us. Importance is what makes knowledge possible. It is also what accounts for the possibility that a universe of freely chosen, singular optimalities can appear to be governed by laws, dominated by recurrent patterns, and completely indifferent to the outcome of causal events. But if this proposal can really lead to an advance in understanding, it must be possible to show how the characteristics of lawfulness and regularity, as well as the apparent indifference of nature, insofar as they do in fact hold, are cumulative products of relational events that determine their own unique aesthetic reasons for being "just so."
Conclusion. Needless to say, the preceding arguments are highly speculative and in need of further elaboration and refinement, especially if they are to be used to contribute to a new explanatory framework for empirical inquiry. We close with a few indications of how our proposal might be developed.
First, we need to clarify the explanatory ideal to which we aspire at the cosmological level. Ideally, our aim is to be able to explain the various structures, regularities, and tendencies that we observe as historically emergent forms of order determined by a single optimality principle acting according to the "internal" constraints provided by diverse, historically evolved local contexts--which themselves depend on the emergence of locality as widely shared constraint. Most importantly, we hope to account for three seemingly distinct but widespread tendencies with respect to order--the overall growth of complexity and patterns of recurrence and tendencies of disintegration and decay--as statistical outcomes of a single optimality principle operating within different kinds of locality conditions. If this could be achieved, we would not need a "principle of driven self-organization" plus a "principle of precedence" plus the second law of thermodynamics. (60)
With respect to causation, an important step would be to explore how our proposal could inform attempts to simulate the emergence of widely observed features--locality, time-reversible causal laws, and so forth--using network models of primitive causal processes. (61) Our approach is challenged by the fact that such models are typically based on iterative, algorithmic processes, which we have criticized as representations of time's arrow. Thus a critical question is whether and how a fully relational theory of causation such as ours can be made to accommodate the necessary limitations of modeling techniques without compromising its most important features. To the put the issue in terms of our proposal, it is necessary to show how the aesthetic rationality of causation gives rise to processes that can be approximated by mathematics and other rule-based models that are governed by nonaesthetic reasons.
Finally, we wish to highlight that the proposed theory of causation is offered here not only as a response to the problems raised by Unger and Smolin, important as they are, but also as a response to the deep cultural rift that divides the scientific world of facts from the value-laden world of experience. From this angle, it is evident that the full significance of Unger and Smolin's manifesto extends well beyond physics and cosmology: so much more is at stake than the reality of time. In short, their manifesto presents a unique opportunity to launch a broad-based conversation about how to reconceive nature so as to reconcile natural science with our experience of a time-drenched and value-laden world.
Institute for Culture and Society
Correspondence to: Institute for Culture and Society, Edificio de Bibliotecas, Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, 31009, Spain.
(1) Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time: A Proposal in Natural Philosophy (hereafter, Singular Universe) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). See also Lee Smolin, The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next (New York: First Mariner Books, 2007); Lee Smolin, Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2013).
(2) For instance, he has repeatedly acknowledged the influence of Gottfried Leibniz and Charles S. Peirce. See works cited in n. 1 above; see also Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
(3) Singular Universe, xvii-xix, 75-89.
(4) Physics and the Ultimate Significance of Time: Bohm, Prigogine, and Process Philosophy, ed. David Ray Griffin (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986); George F. Ellis, "The Evolving Block Universe and the Meshing Together of Times," Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1326 (2014): 26-41; Paul Davies, About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 1995); Smolin, Time Reborn.
(5) Singular Universe, 388.
(6) Ibid, 382, 529-31.
(7) Roger Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers Minds, and the Laws of Physics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 344; Roger Penrose, The Road to Reality (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), 730.
(8) Davies, The Cosmic Jackpot; see also Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos.
(9) Smolin, Time Reborn, 193-212.
(10) Philosophy of Complex Systems, ed. Cliff Hooker (Oxford: Elsevier, 2011).
(11) Complexity and the Arrow of Time, ed. Charles H. Lineweaver, Paul C. W. Davies, and Michael Ruse (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
(12) Lee Smolin, "Temporal Naturalism," arXiv:1310.8539vl (2013), 20.
(13) Singular Universe, 147-55.
(14) Ibid, 173.
(15) Justus Buchler, The Metaphysics of Natural Complexes (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), 31.
(16) The doctrine of God as a self-sufficient being on which all other beings depend is of course another important example of fundamentality in Western thought, but for present purposes we are concerned only with forms of cosmological explanation that assume a fundamental distinction within nature.
(17) See also Lee Smolin, "The Case for Background Independence," arXiv:hep-th/0507235vl (2013).
(18) For discussion of an influential Chinese version of this argument, see Brook Ziporyn, Penumbra Unbound: The Neo-Taoist Philosophy of Guo Xiang (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003).
(19) Arthur 0. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936), 331.
(20) No doubt others would prefer to phrase the problem as a conflict between freedom and reason rather than the "problem of choice," which has anthropomorphic connotations that seem out of place here. We prefer the language of choice because it connotes a decision that is both free and rational, as demanded by a fully temporal theory of causation (more on this below).
(21) Singular Universe, 513.
(23) Ibid, 371, 382-84, 530.
(24) Ibid, 514.
(25) Ibid, 249-51.
(26) Ibid, 32-36.
(27) Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Free Press, 1967), 5.
(28) Singular Universe, 466, 470, 483.
(29) Ibid, 382, 529-31.
(30) Ibid, 526.
(31) George F. Ellis, "Evolving Block Universe"; Marina Cortes and Lee Smolin, "The Universe as a Process of Unique Events," arXiv:1307.6167v3 (2015); Jeroen van Dijk, "Process Physics, Time, and Consciousness: Nature as an Internally Meaningful, Habit-Establishing Process" (unpublished manuscript, 2016).
(32) Charles S. Peirce, "The First Rule of Logic," in The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, Volume 2 (1893-1913) (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 42-56.
(33) See Richard A. Muller, Now: The Physics of Time (New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2016).
(34) For example, see Nicholas Rescher, Axiogenesis: An Essay in Metaphysical Optimalism (Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2010).
(35) See Time Reborn, 150, 218-19.
(36) Julian Barbour and Lee Smolin, "Extremal Variety as the Foundation of a Cosmological Quantum Theory," arXiv:hep-th/9203041vl (1992).
(37) Julian Barbour, "The Deep and Suggestive Principles of Leibnizian Philosophy," The Harvard Review of Philosophy 11 (2003): 45-58.
(38) Singular Universe, 299.
(39) Stuart A. Kauffman, Humanity in a Creative Universe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
(40) Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978). Readers who are familiar with Whitehead will notice that while we are deeply indebted to his philosophical cosmology, we do not carry forward all aspects of his system.
(41) Robert Cummings Neville, Reconstruction of Thinking (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981); Robert Cummings Neville, Recovery of the Measure (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); Robert Cummings Neville, Eternity and Time's Flow (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993); Robert Cummings Neville, Normative Cultures (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995).
(42) Brook Ziporyn, Ironies of Oneness and Difference: Coherence in Early Chinese Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012); David L. Hall and Roger T. Ames, Thinking through Confucius (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987).
(43) Singular Universe, 75-89.
(44) Ibid., 480-82.
(45) Barbour and Smolin, "Extremal Variety as the Foundation of a Quantum Cosmological Theory"; Barbour, "The Deep and Suggestive Principles of Leibnizian Philosophy."
(46) These points against nonrelational parts need further qualification to distinguish our position from a metaphysics of pure relations, which we do not endorse. See Neville, Recovery of the Measure, on the importance of "essential features" and their special mode of relation; see also Ziporyn, Ironies of Oneness and Difference, 61.
(47) Compare Whitehead, Process and Reality, 27, 47-48.
(48) Such integrative challenges are a major theme of Confucian thought, especially as interpreted by Hall and Ames, Thinking through Confucius, and Neville, Normative Cultures.
(49) For example, the striking novelty of some artistic achievements usually turns out, upon closer and more historically informed examination, to be infused with the artistic work as a whole; analysis nearly always reveals precedents for each component taken separately (and abstractly).
(50) To be clear: our theory of causation is not presented here as a claim about complexity in any technical sense, although we do believe that engagement with complexity science is an important next step.
(51) See discussion of "aesthetic order" in Hall and Ames, Thinking through Confucius, 131-38.
(52) See opening chapters of Frederick Ferre, Being and Value: Toward a Constructive Postmodern Metaphysics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996).
(53) For arguments concerning the reconciliation of simultaneity and relativity theory, see Singular Universe, 418-21.
(54) Ibid, 422-28.
(55) Ibid, 423.
(56) Ibid, 425.
(57) Smolin, Time Reborn, 182; see also the entire chapter, "The Emergence of Space," 172-92.
(58) Ibid, 182.
(59) Whitehead, Process and Reality, 219.
(60) See Smolin, Time Reborn, for further discussion of these principles.
(61) For example, Cortes and Smolin, "The Universe as a Process of Unique Events."
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Barrett, Nathaniel F.; Sanchez-Canizares, Javier|
|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2018|
|Previous Article:||"RATIONAL ANIMAL" IN HEIDEGGER AND AQUINAS.|
|Next Article:||ACHTENBERG, Deborah. Essential Vulnerabilities: Plato and Levinas on Relations to the Other.|