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“Cause as the active agent which generates its effect”

“State of a system at any time is meant the totality of all the properties that the system is endowed with at that time”

“Phenomenon which generates another is called the cause, the phenomenon generated by the cause is termed the effect”

“Indeed, I think we all agree  with Newton that the ultimate  basis of science is the  expectation that nature will  exhibit the same effects under  the same conditions”

Niels Bohr, 1958

What are the “fundamental ingredients” of Cause and Effect?  One of the classic philosophical answers lists:

  • energy (and, its aggregate stable form, the matter)
  • space,
  • time. 

It is impossible to find a general definition for Energy.  It is however observed that Energy:

  • is conserved,
  • exists in different forms,
  • can be stored,
  • can be transferred through space
  • can be transferred from one material body to another,
  • can be transformed into other forms of energy.

A discussion of the problem of causality is dependent not only on an interpretation of experimental facts and theoretical conceptions of modern physics, but also on a comprehension of the category of causality itself.  Causality is interpreted in different ways, and this gives rise to misunderstanding and difficulties in any discussion of the  problem of causality, which at times disintegrates into arguments about words.   It is therefore deemed highly desirable, before going into a discussion of the matter, to clarify the concept of causality and elucidate the relationships between its different meanings.  In the majority of the technological cases, causality is used in the sense of a relationship between cause and effect, in which the cause is the active agent which generates its effect. This is the definition of causality ordinarily encountered in the:

  • technological literature (example, Root Cause Analysis);
  • forensic literature (example, who or what caused what);
  • philosophical literature;
  • natural-science literature (example, the causes of phenomena). 

Classical Determinism

In certain cases the concept of causality is  identified with the necessary relationship of  states of a system, when the initial state of the system of necessity determines its state  at any subsequent instant of time.  By the state of a system at any time is meant the totality of all the properties that the system is endowed with at that time.  This kind of causality is ordinarily termed classical determinism.

Laplace Determinism

In Theoretical Physics causality is frequently identified with the fundamental possibility of absolutely precise predictions of a future state of a system that uniquely defines its behaviour if the state of the system is known at some given instant of time.  This kind of causality is termed Laplace determinism

Mathematical Determinism

The concept of causality is also used in the meaning of mathematical determinism.  This occurs when the differential equation expressing the behaviour of a physical system in mathematical form has a unique solution under specified initial and boundary conditions. In the Quantum Field Theory (QFT), the concept of causality is identified with the  assertion that physical actions cannot be propagated in space-time with a velocity exceeding that of light.  In accordance with the Lorentz transformations, this ensures invariance of the temporal relationship of cause and effect.

Cause and Effect

In elucidating the relationships between the various meanings of the term “causality” it is of fundamental methodological importance to recognise the objectivity of the relationships and interactions of phenomena in the surrounding world, which  relationships and interactions are reflected in the man-made concepts of causality,  regularity, necessity and chance, possibility and reality, etc.   On the basis of our activities, we are convinced that there exist relationships of phenomena such that one phenomenon gives rise to (or, generates) another. Indeed, if we are capable of generating lightning by creating the phenomena under which it occurs in nature, if we are able to regulate the intensity and direction of a discharge of  atmospheric electricity by altering the appropriate conditions, and, finally, if we are able, in the laboratory, to produce “artificial” lightning, we have then demonstrated that there is a connection in nature itself between the given phenomena and lightning.  Certain phenomena generate, give rise to other phenomena.  That phenomenon which generates another is called the cause, the phenomenon generated by the cause is termed the effect.   Thus, the concept of cause reflects an active agent, the concept of effect reflects a result generated by the active agent.   The activity of the cause is ordinarily expressed by the verbs "generate", "give rise to”, “produce”, “alter”, “operate”, and so forth.  In the scientific literature and in colloquial speech, the dynamic character of the cause is frequently denoted by means of such  words as "motive  force",  "impulse", "source of motion", etc.   The notion of “effect” is often expressed by such words as:

  • “caused”,  
  • “generated”,  
  • “having as its cause”, 
  • etc. 

This definition ignores the most essential feature of a causal relation, the activity of the cause.  The effect not only necessarily accompanies the cause but is also generated by the cause. 

Conditioned Effect of a Cause

This definition is exceedingly broad, it satisfies more than a causal relation. The effect  generated by a cause depends on the conditions.   The conditions are the totality of all the  dynamical relations of  the given body with other  bodies, with the exception of its  causal relation.  A bottle in free fall to the surface of the earth experiences the gravitational action of the earth and other celestial bodies; it is also acted upon by the air, etc.   The gravitational interaction with the earth which causes a bottle to fall is the cause of this phenomenon.  The remaining dynamical factors operating on the bottle make up the conditions of the action of the cause. Under certain conditions, a given cause C gives rise to a phenomenon E, under other conditions, the same cause C gives rise to phenomenon E'.  If the conditions are varied,  the effects generated by the cause will also vary.   As an example, we may imagine that:

  1. we are blowing a serie of pre-heated PET preforms by one and the same mould;
  2. all preforms entering that unique mould are identical;
  3. the blowing sequence is automatic and enacted by mean of identical timings and air pressures;
  4. following each blowing, the mould is returned to the original state.  

Though the cause, the pressured air blowed into pre-heated preforms, is the same, we are convinced after a number of blowed bottles that the outcoming bottles are not identical.  The eyes of whoever or an Electronic Inspection device confirm differences in several of their geometric, mechanical and optical properties.  This is due to the changed conditions under which the each originally supposed identical preform is blowed.   As an example, changes on the ambient temperature when blowing the sequence.   The same cause operating on the same object generates, under different conditions, different effects.  It is readily seen that the distinction between condition and cause is not absolute but relative in character. In a definite relationship, every condition is a cause, and in another relationship, every cause is a condition.   For instance, the action of the wind causes a flying dart to be deflected in its parabolic flight and is, in this respect, a cause for its divergence when targeting a precise point.  Then all the other relations, including the action of the hand on the dart at the time of the launch, will be conditions of this cause.

 The bidimensional distribution of the places where darts hit the target surface, approximates the familiar bell-shaped Gaussian profile. The same cause operating on the same object generates, under different conditions, different effects

Difference Between Cause and Condition

The cause is a dynamic factor generating a given phenomenon.  But the conditions, though they affect the behaviour of a thing, do not generate the given change brought about by the cause.  A condition alters the behaviour of a thing in a different respect than the cause, but this alteration influences the effect brought about by the given cause.  For example, the elastic stresses produced in the stainless steel tank of a Filler Machine during CIP-phases with hot water, are essentially dependent on temperature conditions, the variation of which alters the physical properties of the steel, and this in the final analysis affects the distribution of internal stresses in the tank.  One might say that any cause is, in a specific respect, a condition, and any condition, in another respect, is a cause.  However, in a fixed relationship, the distinction between cause and condition is definite.  The cause is a relatively active factor generating a given effect.  The condition is a relatively passive factor which affects the result brought about by the cause but which is not the cause of the effect.

Cause as Sum over Conditions 

But it is a fact that some interpretations identify the cause with the  totality of conditions  necessary and sufficient  for a given phenomenon to take  place.  Cause reduced to sum of the conditions positive and negative taken together.  A definition ignoring the  difference between the relatively active and the relatively  passive  relationships. Every  phenomenon is regarded as the consequence of an enormous number of other  phenomena of diversified significance.  Thus, we would then be compelled to include in  the concept of the cause of a falling bottle not only the interaction of the bottle and the  earth, but also its interaction with all other celestial bodies, including even the absence of any kind of relationships impeding the fall.  We then have to include in the composition of the cause other conditions as well: the specific weight of the air must be less than the specific weight of the bottle, the gravitational force between the body and the earth greater than the gravitational force acting between this bottle and the sun, and so on.  A rigorously scientific method of exposition knows no “causes” but only law-governed relationships….   A law-governed process or state is never determined with complete precision by “one exceptional cause” but always by a sum of conditions, all of which are equivalent, for  they are equally necessary

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