Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism)

From: Robin Faichney (
Date: Thu Apr 19 2001 - 10:02:38 BST

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    Subject: Re: Levels of explanation (was Re: Determinism)
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    In-Reply-To: <3ADDA86B.9253.40A00E@localhost>; from on Wed, Apr 18, 2001 at 02:44:59PM -0500
    From: Robin Faichney <>
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    On Wed, Apr 18, 2001 at 02:44:59PM -0500, wrote:
    > Translating between levels of explanation is much more difficult that
    > observing causal efficacy between them.

    If you don't translate the concepts, you can't be clear on which entities
    are interacting.

    > > But my concept of diagonal causation perfectly explains the PET scan
    > > findings, with no need to charge recklessly across all the lanes of
    > > the explanatory highway, as you do. "My decision causes my neural
    > > activity, never mind exactly how, I'll just insist it's top-down
    > > causation, and if you don't accept that you're an irrational
    > > anti-scientist." Until you examine and find good grounds to reject
    > > diagonal causation, you *cannot* rationally claim that top-down
    > > causation is the only possible explanation for the PET scan findings.
    > >
    > Actually, here you misrepresent your frankenstein reverse bastard
    > creation ('diagonal' causation) which denies one of it's parents
    > (vertical); it is not able to deal with the spatiotemporal succession
    > of a cause already decided (and announced) before it is
    > implemented and its effect manifested.

    Why not? (Actually, that's exactly what it was developed to do.)

    > > > > So how can you also claim that events on one level influence those
    > > > > on another, when the former *is* the latter? Unless, of course,
    > > > > this is diagonal causation, i.e. ordinary horizontal causation but
    > > > > with cause and effect viewed at different levels, as in the case
    > > > > of the PET scans.
    > > > >
    > > > Because the decision to do X can be made before X is done and
    > > > the corresponding PET-scan noted cerebral changes are measured for
    > > > correlation with the subjective task, as I noted in the above
    > > > example.
    > >
    > > But that's perfectly explained by diagonal causation! You continue to
    > > dismiss what you haven't bothered to glance at!
    > >
    > Not when you deny intentional causation between verbally
    > announced mental decisions as to future allocation of attention and
    > the scientifically registered spatiotemporally subsequent pattern
    > changes in neuronal activation configurations which access the
    > specific areas involved in those particular tasks upon which
    > attention is intentionally focused.

    Joe, Joe, Joe!! What did I say next? Let's see...

    > > I say that, in practice, it's fine to consider
    > > neural activity to be caused by a decision. I said exactly that in
    > > the message you quote and -- theoretically -- are replying to here --
    > > while in practice it seems you didn't bother to read great chunks of
    > > it.

    Why don't you read what I write?

    > > But theory requires that we be much more analytic, and in
    > > particular, that we don't slip insensibly from one type of
    > > explanation, one conceptual framework, to another.
    > >
    > Causation passes between 'levels' much easier than explanation,
    > as it is simply a physical fact of interrelation between existent
    > entities, not a verbal representation, or linguistic 'aboutness', which
    > can be confused by multiple referential frames.

    And how do we recognise "existent entities"?

    > > > > Of course it can be "useful" to consider the relationship between
    > > > > what a person is thinking about and activity in specific neural
    > > > > areas as causation (though that leaves open the question as to the
    > > > > direction of the causation -- which I'd suggest is most directly
    > > > > addressed by temporal considerations, cause preceding effect).
    > > > >
    > > > This allows for both top-down and bottom-up, and I concur with it.
    > >
    > > Then it's a pity that both top-down and bottom-up are inexplicable,
    > > while diagonal causation, which fully accounts for all cases where
    > > cause and effect are on different levels, is itself quite easily
    > > understood.
    > >
    > Diagonal causation is a mutant hybrid which is of necessity LESS
    > clear than either of its primogenitors.

    Ain't prejudgement great? Never need to stir your bones. Just lie back
    in that warm bath and gloat over your own intellectual superiority.

    What's unclear about ordinary causation plus conceptual framework
    translation, Joe?

    > > > I do not think that lower-level schemas possess explanatory
    > > > capacities for higher-level phenomena, when they are sufficiently
    > > > separated by degrees of complexity and recursion.
    > >
    > > This again!! Not only do I agree with that, it's the foundation of my
    > > case -- that is precisely why top-down and bottom-up causation don't
    > > work -- but what I asked was whether you agree that "we have to
    > > distinguish between causation and conceptual framework translation".
    > > Why don't you answer that?
    > >
    > No, that is what makes using the laws and concepts of one level to
    > attempt to explain one far more complex is a fool's errand;

    So who's playing the fool?

    > explanation and causation are two different things

    But the explanations we're discussing are OF CAUSATION!!!! A causes B
    is a causal explanation, and that's the focus of this entire discussion!

    > - please try to
    > keep them separated. Causation, both top-down and bottom-up, is
    > much more easy to attribute than explanations are to proffer, if
    > those explanations attempt to explain complex emergent
    > phenomena

    Explanations of causation and of emergence are very different things.
    That you should confuse them, however, is perfectly consistent with
    your general confusion in this whole area.

    > > > You are
    > > > welcome to try to understand the forest by deconstructing a cell in
    > > > a leaf if that's what you wanna do, but I doubt if you'll find out
    > > > much about its ecosystem that way.
    > >
    > > Can you quote one sentence of mine that would lead any reasonable
    > > person to think I have such a reductionist agenda?
    > >
    > physics, > > chemistry and biology deal with successively higher
    > > levels (actually, > > sets of levels) of explanation. If biological
    > > phenomena are analysed > > in sufficient detail -- which is not
    > always
    > > desirable because it means > > losing sight of the bigger picture -

    I think you need to work on your cut'n'paste skills, Joe! :-)

    But what matters is that you missed "which is not always desirable
    because it means losing sight of the bigger picture". Maybe if
    you'd spent 20 seconds making that quote easier to read, you'd have
    actually read it yourself instead of just glancing at it.

    > And does this reductionistic agenda work with atoms and thoughts?

    How often do I need to say it before it will penetrate your skull?

    Robin Faichney
    Get your Meta-Information from
    (CAUTION: contains philosophy, may cause heads to spin)

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