Changing Another Person LO20163

AM de Lange (
Fri, 11 Dec 1998 17:37:22 +0200

Replying to LO20152 --

Dear Organlearners,

Jon Krispin <> writes:

>I suspect that one of the areas where we may not be
>connecting here has to do with the idea of causation and
>cause-effect relationships. Much of the thinking that has
>been done on causation has debated such ideas as whether
>the concept of causation is an ontological phenomenon, an
>epistomological phenomenon, or both. In the behaviorist
>concept of causation, this type of debate has little relevance.
>This is because the behaviorist perspective does not adhere
>to any traditional definition of causation. Coincidentally, this
>debate has little relevance in systems thinking for the same

Greetings Jon,

Thank you very much for painting a rich picture form the viewpoint of
behaviouristic psychology.

With such rich pictures it is not possible to respond to all the things
which one connects to. Hence one has to select what one wants to connect
to in writing. I will select "causality" to respond to because I think it
is vitally important to our Systems Thinking. Why?

By mentioning the word "select", think of what its consequences are. For
example, the most famous theory of evolution is that of Charles Darwin
based on "natural selection" as the PRINCIPAL CAUSE for evolution.
Darwin's theory was not the first. In the early middle ages the church
fathers developed the theory of predestination. They deemed this theory
necessary to counteract the "paganist" theory of the four elements set out
by the ancient Greeks. During the Renaissance the theory of vitalism began
to lift its head. But the first real challenge to the theory of
predestination was Goethe's theory of regeneration. However, Darwin's
theory was the one to replace effectively the theory of predestination.

In the theory of predestination the cause for evolution was God self who
acted for six days only. The clergy, basing their theory on the first
chapter of Genesis, did not allow any immanent (=this side of the
Creation) cause even though the rest of the Bible speaks of many immanent
causes in many different developments. Darwin's theory succeeded because
it supplied a powerful immanent cause, namely "natural selection".
However, Darwin's theory would not even have caused a ripple, were it not
for Newton's work. Newton showed through his laws of dynamics and
gravitation that the motion of heavenly bodies was caused in a perfect
manner by the force of gravitation. Thus he made the existence of
immanent causes an essential feature of the material world.

The first real challenge to Darwin's own theory was Jan Smut's theory of
holism, a theory so advanced that few understood it sufficiently in order
to replace Darwin's theory effectively. The latest contenders are the
theory of irrversible self-organisation (Ilya Prigogine) , the theory of
autopoietic systems (Humberto Maturana) and the theory of complex adaptive
systems (Stuart Kauffman). However, for anyone of these theories to
supersede Darwin's theory, such a theory will at least have to "translate"
natural selection into its own paradigm. What is even more important to
note, is that "natural selection" functions as the cuase for evulotion.
Thus, for anyone of these theories to supersede Darwin's theory, such a
theory will have to provide for a cause affecting much more
self-organising phenomena than merely biological species. In this sense
alone, Prigogine's theory is more superior than that of Kauffman or
Maturana. In Prigogine's theory, the cause is "entropy production".

Please note that all what I have written up to this point, concerns causes
for changes in the organisation of only the physical (material) world.
Behaviourist psychology began with the need to understand the cause for
changes in the organisation of the psyche (mind). Fortunately the work of
the behaviourists began in a time when it was already realised that the
spirtual world of the mind are not isolated from the physical body and its
neurological system pervading almost the entire body. Hence one of the
first things which they had to investigate was if a cause in the one (body
or mind) could have an effect in other one (mind or body respectively).
Through their work, probaly more than any other discipline of psycology,
we now know that body&mind is an indivisible complementary dual.

However, in their desire to establish the relationship between cause and
effect in the COMPLEX system body&mind, the behaviourists began to loose
focus on finding the PRINCIPAL CAUSE (a cause which could act in either
body or mind and have an effect in either body, or mind or both). The most
confusing thing (let us call it the "on-off" facet) was that many causes
could produce either some effect or no effect at all. They began to
digress into different theories of causality rather than focusing on
finding a principal cause of which this "on-off" facet is part of its
makeup. Finding no consolation in any of those theories, they began to
invoke prematurely feedback loops onto the stimulus-response pattern which
soon led to their unique viewpoint called behaviourism. Behaviour B is the
principal cause, acting on the Antecedents A to produce Consequents C,
shaped (modified) by feedback loops.

Interestingly, they have proceeded with behaviourism to an articulation
which resembles irreversible self-organisation very much. The A
(antecedents) resemble the present organisation (thermodynamical state) of
the system with its capacity to produce entropy through force-flux pairs.
The B (behaviours) resemble the actual entropy production (note, the
"becoming" and not the "being" entropy) with its first manifestation as
change in processes (called chaos). The C (consequents) resemble the
result of the second manifestation of entropy production as a change in
structures, defining a future (now new present) organisation of the system
with a future (new present) capacity to produce entropy. The feedback
loops resemble the "minimal qualification" of entropy production which
leads to a negative feedback in closed systems, but can lead to a positive
feedback in open systems.

See the Primer on Entropy for an elementary explanation for this
"minimal qualification" of "entropy production.
"Primer on Entropy - Part III B LO20048"
< >
Also see my reply to Winfried Dressler for some (unfortunately)
advanced application of it in
"Learning & Technology LO18655"
< >

But let us now focus on causality. I am not going to discuss the
ontological en epistemical thepries of causailty. I think that Jon is able
to to it pretty good and jope he will give us all one day as summary on
it. I rather want to connect with what Jon writes:

>One definition of causation which typifies many of the
>attempts to define it was proposed by the philosopher
>Immanuel Kant. He suggested three conditions (physical
>and logical) that must be present in order for causation to
>be inferred. They are contiguity (the *cause* and the
>*effect* are closely related in time and space), succession
>(the *effect* always appears to follow the *cause* in space
>and time), and irreversibility (the *effect* cannot possibly
>appear before the *cause* in a logical sense. It appears if
>and only if the "cause" has appeared first - - the order of their
>appearance is irreversible). If these three conditions are
>present, then we will begin to infer production of the
>*effect* by the *cause*.

I now want to show how all three these conditions have very little to do
with causality.

The first condition
The first condition of Kant "contiguity (the *cause* and the *effect*
are closely related in time and space" was smashed by the the
discovery of radio waves by Herz and the subsequent theory of
electromagnetism developed by Maxwell through his four famous
equations of electromagentism. He created these four equations to
summarise all known empirical relationships for electric and magnetic
phenomena (except -- guess what? -- the production of heat by an
electrical current passing through a resistance.) Then he showed that
these four equations define the existance of electromagnetic waves. As
the frequency of these ways increase, they are called radio, micro,
inrared, light an ultraviolet waves, then x-rays and finally gamma
particles. In other words, as their frequency and thus (Planck's
famous discovery known as the quantum effect) their energy increase,
they behaviour become more like that of particles an less like that of

Through these em waves the cause (sender of em_waves) and the effect
(receiver of em_waves) could be separated by any distance. The
separation time was then determined by the velocity of these waves
which is the same for all frequencies (usually called the velocity of
light and symbolised by c). Physicists even began to think in terms of
three cause&effects in this pattern, namely
* sending em_waves (cause=sender, effect=wave)
* propagting em_waves (cause=wave, effect=wave)
* receiving em_waves (cause=wave, efect=receiver)

Einstein with his famous Special Theory of Relativity painted the last
detail in the picture by drawing our attention to the fact em_waves
are the principal way by which one space-time point connects with
another space-time point. In other words, there is no contiguity of
space and no contiguity of time other than through em_waves. This led
to his five famous insights, namely
* that 3D space and 1D time are the duals of a linear
4D space-time continuum
* the faster any ruler moves, the shorter it becomes
in the dierction of the motion
* the faster any clock moves, the slower the time it
* the faster any objects moves, the larger its mass
* mass is a "freezed" form of electromagentic energy
and thus just another form of energy

But Einstein realised he had caused himself a serious problem. What about
gravitational forces, the first natural law ever to be disovered (by
Newton). How is it possible for gravitational forces to act over a vast
interval of space and time? Thus he set out to create his General Theory
of Ralativity, showing that when electromagnetic energy "freezes" is space
and time, it actually bends the original linear 4D space-time into a
non-linear shape by drawing some of the 4D lines into a point which then
manifest what we know as mass. Thus we should not think of gravitational
forces as acting over a difference in linear space-time like
electromagnetic forces, but rather as inherent curvatures in 4D
space-time. What Newton's law of gravitation thus did, was to give one
description of this bending of 4D space-time by leaving out the fourth
dimension, namely time.

Unfotunately, I cannot go further into this issue because then I will
never get in this contribution to the other points which I wish to make.
Jan Smuts immediately recognised the importance of Einstein's discoveries
with respect to evolution -- the "change of organisation". There is an
innate contiguity on the level of the fundamental forces (such as
electromagbetic forces) which makes nature an indivisable WHOLE. An object
with mass was then a lesser whole emerging as a singularity in this innate
whole, caused by this innate whole. This innate whole could also cause
lesser wholes to come together as gerater wholes with new structures.
Along the chain of lesser wholes evolving into greate wholes, we then have
what we recognise as living organisms.

What Jan Smuts did, was a truely remakable thing. He tacitly recognised
wholeness as essential to all changes in phsyical organisations. But
unfortunately, he articulated this wholeness as the cause itself rather as
essential to an underlying cause. What was this underlying cause? Well, by
the time when Smuts wrote his epic work "Holism and Evolution", all
physcists were convinced that the Law of Entropy Production was
responsible for one and only one thing, namely an increase in disorder.
See my Primer on Entropy just how serious the situation was. Only the
cosmologist Eddington had a different opinion. But unfortunately for
Smuts, Eddington appeared to late on the scene so that his insights could
not function as a cause for Smuts.

The second condition
The second condition of Kant "succession (the *effect* always appears to
follow the *cause* in space and time)" caused immense problems in
perception for chemists. Because of the work of Newton in gravitation, the
notion grew that causes and effects were vested in objects having the
property mass. With the discovery of electric and magnetic forces, the
notion was strengthened in the sense that the objects has to have other
properties such as electrical charge. Thus in 1865 the notion of causes
and effects vested in objects culminated in the "law of mass action",
formulated by Guldberg and Waage, to explain why a chemical reaction did
not proceed completely, but stopped at some point with some amount
(measured as mass) of each reagent still available for reaction. This
point was called the equilbrium point.

What Guldberg and Waage discovered by their law, is that the masses of the
reagents (causes) still available at equilbrium together with the masses
of the products (effects) already produced, could be used to calculate a
so-called equilbrium constant, using also the so-called stoichiometrial
coeffcients of the reaction equation. (The stoichiometrical coefficients
are the ratios in which the reagents react and the products get produced).
Soon it was clear that every reaction (certain reagents producing certain
products) had its own equilbrium constant. It did not matter with what
masses for the particular reagents the reaction began, the equilibrium
constant stayed the same. Thus it seemed as if the cause (reagents) and
the effect (products) became balanced through the equilbrium constant.

However, through the work of Le Chatelier (1884) a totally new perspective
was opened up to chemists. He discovered that if a stress was applied to a
system at equilibrium, the system will adjust itself so as to reduce the
stress. (Today we know that his principle is notheing else than the
"minimal qualification" of "entropy production.) When his principle was
tested empirically in chemical systems, it caused serious problems in
perception. Add some extra mass of one of the products of a reaction to
the system at equilbrium and the reaction indeed goes backwards to reduce
the stress! It means that the former products now function as cause and
the former reagents now function as effect. In other words, cause and
effect could switch their roles, depending on which one the stress is
layed. How was this possible

Through the epic work of Gibbs (1876) it became partially clear why. The
chemical system's "free energy" is a minimum at the equilbrium point. When
a stress is put on a system, its free enegy is increased above this
minimum value. The system reacts to this increase by decreasing the free
energy back to the minimum value. The system decreases the free energy by
producing entropy with it. This entropy production then drives the system
to the new equilbrium state. But the one thing which kept on baffling
chemists, is how the STATIC equilibrium state could so effortlessly switch
into DYNAMICAL action in order to change into a new STATIC equilbrium
state, then switching off again.

Then one day someone made a remarkable discovery with a technique which is
now known as "radioactive labeling". (I cannot remember who it is and when
this discovery was made. A search in all my textbooks in chemistry and
physics was negative since important historical information is seldom
consistently included in them.) The person added some product to an
already existing equilbrium. In this product some atoms of one of the
elements were replaced by radioactive atoms. The idea was to see if the
original amount of the product or the newly added amount of the product
was responsible for the backward shift of the equilibrium. The result was
astonishing. If only the original amount contributed to the backward
shift, then no reactive atoms of the product would occur in the reagent
containing the same element. If only the additional amount did the job,
then all its radioactive element would now occur in its corresponding
reagent. Neither were the case! Only so much of the radioactive element
occured in the reagent as the ratio between the orginal and the additional
amounts of the product. Why?

Because the quilibrium is not static at all! It is a dynamical equilbrium.
Here is the explanation. At equilbrium there are both an irreversible
forward reaction and an irreversible reverse reaction. The rate of
reagents dissappearing by the forward reaction is equal to the rate of
reagents produced by the reverse reaction. The reverse reaction did not
distinguish between a molecule of the product whether it was "originally"
there or added "later" (the "later" observeable through the radioactive
element). In other words, the reagents were neither cause nor effect.
Likewise the products were neither effect nor cause. The stress (entropic
force) is the actual cause while the equilibrium (equal reaction rates of
opposing irreversible reactions) is the actual effect. It is the
minimality of the entropy production which tells the one reaction to
reduce its rate and the opposing to increase its rate untill they equalise
again. It is this minimality which acts as ATTRACTOR, letting the system
act towards a new equibrium state characterised by the same equibrium
constant and minimium free energy.

It is even possible to think of the new equilibrium state itself as the
ATTRACTOR state, something which lies somewhere in the future and acts
backward into the past, pulling the disturbed system into a new order.
This kind of thought, called teleology, is favoured by many scholars of
the new science called complexity. But actually it is the "entropy
production" in the present with its qualification "minimality" which does
this guiding job!

The third condition
The third condition of Kant "irreversibility (the *effect* cannot
possibly appear before the *cause* in a logical sense" was smashed in
logics itself by model theory. Aristoteles in ancient Greece began
with logical inferences. The next step was the epic work of Euclid,
showing how logical argumentations could be used to create a whole
subject called geometry. The next 2000 years no knew developmenst took
place -- geometry was the only pratical example. Then in the middle
nineteenth century first Venn (with set diagrams) and later Boole
(with algebraic calculations) created new interest in logic. This was
followed by the work of Frege in which he magnificently showed the
abstract and thus symbolic nature
of logic.

But the real epic work was done by Russell and Whitehead in their
monumental work "Principia Mathematica". In this work they carefully
elucidated "proof theory", showing what was going on in the background of
Euclid's epic work. In "proof theory" some "axioms" (beings) and "basic
rules" of inference (becomings) are needed to set up a "proof system". The
"proof system" also contained the "theorems" (beings) and "derived rules"
(becomings) which could be developed by the "axioms" and the "basic
rules". The first derived theorems seems to have nothing in common with
mathematics, but as the theorems become more complex, they appeared to be
exactly like well known postulates, axioms and theorems in all branches of
mathematics. Thus Russel and Whitehead succeeded in showing that the "laws
of logic" could function as the foundation of mathematics.

An extraodinary feature of proof theory was exactly this "logical
irreversibility" which Kant commented on in causality. Thus mathematicians
and logicians began to believe that the basis of causility lies within
logics itself. This sparked off investigations into the ontological and
epistemological dimesnions of causality.

However, Kurt Goedel threw a spanner in the works. He showed through proof
theory that if logic was the foundation of mathematics, then there will be
some theorems in mathematics which cannot be proofed by proof theory! This
famous theorem is called the Incompleteness Theorem. It simply means that
"proof theory" is not sufficient to represent mathematics. This theorem
acted as a great entropic force. It initiated unprecedented bifurcations
in mathematics. One of them was "model theory". In model theory logic is
build up by matrixes of the values "true" and "false" It was then showed
that "model theory" could substantiate all the theorems of proof theory
and even some theorems and derived rules which could not be produced by
proof theory. But even "model theory" could not satisfy the dilemma caused
by Goedels theorem. It could produce some theorems which "proof theory"
could not deliver, but it could not indicate if it could produce all of

However, as a side kick, it became clear that all the "logical
irreversibility" of proof theory is nothing else than "logical
reversibility" in model theory. In other words, contrary to what Kant
thought, logic is not the source of irrversibility because it is also is a
source of reversibility! It seemed that Einstein's viewpoint formulated
many years before these findings, was vindicated -- irreversibility was
nothing else than an inferior working of the mind so that irreversibility
does not exist objectively. Wow, it seems that "proof theroy" together
with the simultaneous appearance of Schroedinger's last work "What is
life" finally sealed the lot irreversibility.

What is causality?
I have to stop now, making this contribution a real cliff hanger!

But I hope I have shown that causality EITHER does not exist at all OR
does exist in such a unique manner that unless we shift our paradigm, we
will not be able to perceive it. Which case will it be?

Jon, it is in this spirit which I want to caution that the last words on
causality has not been written. In fact, I believe that the dialogue on
causality has merely outgrown its "addoloscent phase".

Best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>