Causation in Science – Temporality, Modality and Reduction

September 3, 2012 - September 5, 2012
Causation in Science, Norwegian University of Life Sciences


Main speakers:

Fredrik Andersen
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Rani Lill Anjum
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Mauro Dorato
University of Rome 3
Dagfinn Døhl Dybvig
University of Nordland
Ragnar Fjelland
Bergen University
Carl Hoefer
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
Anita Leirfall
Bergen University
Stephen Mumford
University of Nottingham
Johan Arnt Myrstad
University of Nordland
Elias Núñez
Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Iñaki San Pedro
Universidad Complutense de Madrid
Thor Sandmel
University of Oslo
Allen Stairs
University of Maryland, College Park
Mauricio Suarez
London School of Economics
Sigurd Tønnessen
University of Tromsø

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More information will be posted on the webpage closer to the event about travel and accommodation.

Registration is free and open to anyone. Please register by sending an e-mail to [email protected] by 14 August.

The aim of the project Causation in Science is to develop a metaphysically plausible notion of causation that is also scientifically robust. It is hard to see how this can be achieved without considering some of the wider issues related to a realist notion of causation in modern physics. The following themes will be discussed at the workshop:

Causal realism

The concept of causation is controversial in physics. On the one hand, there is a view expressed by Bertrand Russell, and currently revived by Huw Price and others, that causation should have no place within an informed objective description of the world. On the other hand, many of the key notions employed by modern physics are characterised in dispositional terms, such as spin, charge, mass and radioactive decay. Causal dispositionalism suggests that this gives us at least some causation within physics.


Quantum entanglement has been suggested by some as demonstrating that there can be simultaneous causation at a distance. Such causal non-locality, if it really is the case, would count against the spatial contiguity that Hume thought conceptually central to causation. Relativity theory, however, seems to imply that there cannot be simultaneity of cause and effect. If they are spatially distinct events, there is no sense in which they are simultaneous, and any causal influence between them must take time to travel. The description of simultaneity in physics thus seems to have philosophical implications for how to best understand causation with respect to locality.

Time and space

In modern physical theories there are various theories of space/time theories, some of which seem irreconcilable (for instance, standard Quantum Mechanics utilises absolute space/time while Quantum Field Theory utilises relative space/time). There are also diverging theories on the ontological nature of space/time ranging from illusion to physical object. What conclusions we should draw concerning simultaneity and causation will depend on how we understand the notions of space and time.

Another central issue is the kind of modality that is found in physics. Deterministic, indeterministic and probabilistic laws are usually linked to modal notions of necessity, randomness/pure contingency and probability. The modality of a tendency is more than pure contingency, yet short of necessity, and it does not carry any commitment to determinism or indeterminism. There might, however, be some irreducibly probabilistic tendencies. In virtue of what a law is supposed to be deterministic, indeterministic or probabilistic is thus something we need to make explicit. Another issue is how these modalities relate to predictability.

Reductionism, holism and emergence

Physics is often presented as the key, fundamental science to which all other sciences are supposed to reduce, be modelled, or at least relate. An open question is still whether there could be a role for holism and emergence within physics itself. If so, this would at least leave open the possibility for real emergence within other sciences.


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August 14, 2012, 11:00am CET

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