Re: The Tipping Point

From: Robin Faichney (
Date: Mon Apr 30 2001 - 19:32:58 BST

  • Next message: Robin Faichney: "Re: The Tipping Point"

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    Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2001 19:32:58 +0100
    Subject: Re: The Tipping Point
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    In-Reply-To: <3AEC5655.21049.36C0AA@localhost>; from on Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 05:58:45PM -0500
    From: Robin Faichney <>
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    On Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 05:58:45PM -0500, wrote:
    > On 29 Apr 2001, at 11:52, Robin Faichney wrote:
    > > On Thu, Apr 26, 2001 at 04:19:19PM -0500, wrote:
    > > > On 26 Apr 2001, at 10:15, Robin Faichney wrote: > > > On Sun, Apr
    > > 22, 2001 at 10:36:45PM -0500, wrote: > > > On 21
    > > Apr 2001, at 17:28, Robin Faichney wrote: > > > Is it really > > wrong
    > > to focus in on just part of a system? > > > No, but it will not > >
    > > result in all the knowledge that can be gleaned > even about that > >
    > > part, without considering its function in the greater > whole of which
    > > > > it is a part. > > > > We can't gain "all the knowledge" at once,
    > > can we? Surely we have to > > focus on the individual parts of a
    > > system, one at a time, as well as > > taking an overview, if we really
    > > want "all the knowledge". > > > It can be useful, but its usefulness
    > > will of necessity be limited.
    > >
    > > Isn't it the case that focusing on the individual parts of a system,
    > > one at a time, as well as taking an overview, is *essential* for a
    > > complete picture?
    > >
    > Both are necessary, and neither is sufficient. Both components
    > and their interactions are required for systemic understanding.

    Well thank you for that. Had to drag it out of you, though, didn't I?

    > > To rephrase my main point: to see a chain of causation
    > > [grain properties+relationships -> tipping point -> grain disposition]
    > > violates the principle of Occam's Razor, when the causal chain
    > > [grain properties+relationships -> grain disposition]
    > > completely explains the phenomenon.
    > >
    > Actually, the last part of that razor states "which accounts for all
    > the observations"; you realize this, and attempt to show how an
    > understanding of the tipping point is nevessary for such an
    > accounting. However, the tipping point itself is one of the
    > phenomena to be accounted for, and it does possess explanatory
    > force with regard to individual grain disposition, drawing the
    > dispositions of many individual grains under a single principle,
    > which considering them atomistically does not do. In other words,
    > the understanding of the tipping point more efficiently accounts for
    > the behavior of multiple grains as a class, rather than having to
    > undergo diophantine contortions over and over for each grain.

    Of course it's more convenient to look at the higher level, but that's
    irrelevant. The question is, how do we get there: how do the lower
    level events aggregate up to the higher level one, and vice versa.
    All I'm saying is that it's wrong to view as causation what is actually
    aggregation (bottom-up) or disaggregation (top-down), i.e. a shift in
    viewpoint. This is really very simple: if the movement of a particular
    grain is considered part of the tipping point phenomenon, it cannot also
    be considered either a cause or an effect of that phenomenon. If it is
    part of it, it is simultaneous with it, whereas effects always follow

    > > > > You can say that a cause is only really that for the
    > > > > durationless instant that it is, actually, causing -- but that's
    > > > > only about how we use the word "cause". It's an attempt to get
    > > > > away from the normal usage, whereby that same state of affairs has
    > > > > the word applied to it before the event, and the state of affairs
    > > > > that constitutes the effect is still called "the effect" after the
    > > > > event. You are trying to redefine causation to suit your own
    > > > > purposes, and that's an absolutely hopeless task, due to the
    > > > > usefulness of the normal concept and the uselessness of yours.
    > > > >
    > > > The definition which I put forward is the philosophical definition
    > > > of the term, as opposed to the commonplace one.
    > >
    > > Even philosophical definitions should be of *some* use, however
    > > abstract.
    > >
    > And it is. The concept of reciprocal interactions hews more
    > faithfully to the actual referent event than the idea of one
    > element being the cause and another element being the effect.

    You are considering entities as cause and effect. See below.

    > > > Since entities
    > > > affect each other in their interrelations, and those effects perdure
    > > > past the instant of interrelation, both must be considered as both
    > > > causes and effects (of each other), or neither can be.
    > >
    > > Your confusion is due to viewing (or trying to view) entities as
    > > causes and effects. Where one billiard ball is stationary and another
    > > rolls towards it and hits it, of course it silly to view one ball as
    > > the cause and the other as the effect. In fact, the *situation* in
    > > which one ball is sent rolling towards the other is the cause, and the
    > > situation in which they are both rolling away from each other
    > > (assuming no other interactions) is the effect of the collision. This
    > > is perfectly clear and simple, isn't it?
    > >
    > One could just as well say that one has stopped the rolling of the
    > first ball, while the second ball continues to roll, along with the
    > table and the rotating earth; your narrative only holds validity once
    > one has chosen one referential frame, and dismissed all the others.

    That's true of any narrative. But my point is that the ordinary
    concept of causation is not invalidated by your scenario in which
    one ball is the cause and the other the effect, because that's not
    how ordinary causation works.

    > > > > A decision is not caused by any neural
    > > > > event that is simultaneous with it, nor does it cause any
    > > > > simultaneous neural event. The tipping point phenomenon is
    > > > > neither caused by, nor causes, the activity of any one grain of
    > > > > sand, because it *is* many such activities, aggregated.
    > > > >
    > > > Not just as a sum of their parts, but including their
    > > > interrelations, and these involve the system as a whole. And a
    > > > decision can cause a spatiotemporally subsequent neural event.
    > >
    > > Actually, the neural event need only be temporally distinct. And the
    > > story is not complete unless we note that there's a transition, within
    > > that statement, between very different conceptual frameworks.
    > >
    > Different explanatory systems better represent each.

    Are you agreeing with me?

    > > The tipping point is, I now have to admit, a slightly better analogy
    > > than I'd previously considered it to be. Individual grains are
    > > affected by the collapse that's due to the critical angle having been
    > > reached in the same way that subsequent neural events are caused by a
    > > conscious decision, i.e. through diagonal causation, where both
    > > ordinary causation and conceptual framework translation are involved
    > > in the explanation.
    > >
    > Both top-down and bottom-up causation are invilved in the matter of
    > the interrelation between conscious decisions and subsequent
    > neural events.

    Please explain exactly how top-down causation is better than diagonal
    causation in such explanations.

    > > Perhaps you could just indicate whether you're now prepared to accept
    > > diagonal causation.
    > >
    > No. Im willing to accept that decisions affect subsequent
    > decisions horizontally, and that neural events effect subsequent
    > neural events horizontally, but add that decisions and neural events
    > effect each other vertically, and that this is not an artifact of
    > explanatory levels, but an actual physical phenomenon.

    Diagonal causation is not "an artifact of explanatory levels", any more
    than is any explanation of any sort of causation. It is ordinary
    causation where cause and effect are on different levels.

    > Let's put it
    > this way; your mental decision to type causes your body to do so,
    > and the aferent-efferent pathways subtending that action are
    > stimulated by that subsequent action, just as your mental decision
    > to read a text causes you to read it, and the pathways subtending
    > that reading are activated by your active choice of a particular
    > mode of perception. It only seems more problematical because we
    > can see the fingers typing and the person reading, but require the
    > PET-scan to detect the neural activity in each case. Juat because
    > we do not possess complete knowledge of the mechanisms
    > involved, in both decisions that subsequently affect neural
    > pathways and their effects upon actions (remembering that
    > perceptions and actions are praxically interpenetrated, and only
    > isolable in abstraction), is not a reason to deny what is
    > apodictically self-evident; that these things do indeed routinely
    > happen, and the spatiotemporally prior exert causal force, to some
    > degree, upon the posterior, under the commonly understood
    > definition of causality.

    Do you *still* think I deny that decisions affect neural events?

    Consider this: time in this model is horizontal, so if the neural
    events are *subsequent* to the decision, that is not vertical causation.
    There is a vertical component (hierarchical organisation), but the fact
    that time is involved means that the vector is diagonal.

    Robin Faichney
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    (CAUTION: contains philosophy, may cause heads to spin)

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