On the Scientific Implications of Vertical Causality

March 12, 2018

Wolfgang Smith

Following Galileo, Descartes and Newton, Western civilization succumbed to the spell of what I have termed horizontal  causation. From the publication of Newton’s Principia, in 1687, to the discovery of quantum physics in the early twentieth century, scientists assumed without question that, at bottom, the universe constitutes but a gigantic “clockwork,” in which the disposition of the parts determines — with mathematical precision! — the movement of the whole. And even after physicists were forced, in light of the quantum facts, to abandon the aforesaid clockwork paradigm, their view regarding causality remained yet every bit as “horizontal” as before: the only concession on the part of the experts, it appears, was to add the term “random” as an admissible epithet in the description of physical causality. Fundamentally the universe, to this day, is conceived officially as a “clockwork,” howbeit one which no longer functions with one-hundred percent precision: one might say that in addition to rigid cogwheels, it now comprises some “wobbly” components which in effect play the role of “dice.” The large picture, therefore, has scarcely changed at all: to this day Nature is perceived on scientific authority as a dull affair: merely “the hurrying of material particles, endlessly, meaninglessly” as Whitehead1Science and the Modern World  (Macmillan, 1953), p. 54. lamented long ago.

With the rediscovery, however, of what we have termed “vertical causation” or VC, the picture has changed. Let us recollect, first of all, how this finding came about: vertical causality made its appearance precisely in our consideration of the so-called “quantum measurement problem.”2The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key  (Angelico Press, 2005), pp. 109-125. Having reached the conclusion that the measuring instrument could not be a physical  object, but must be corporeal, it became apparent that the so-called “collapse of the wave-function” cannot therefore be effected by means of physical — or what I term horizontal — causation, since a transition between two distinct ontological domains cannot but be instantaneous. And this fact in turn entails the recognition of a hitherto unrecognized kind of causality: a mode which differs fundamentally from physical  causation by virtue of the fact that it acts, not by way of a temporal chain of events, but instantaneously.

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“[E]ven from a purely scientific point of view, what is called for at this moment in history is an enlarged and vastly deepened understanding of Nature: it is high time to … become philosophically literate once again.”

Following this recognition we discovered that the newly-found vertical causality explains a number of physically  incomprehensible phenomena, from Bell’s famed nonlocality  to the prosaic fact that cricket balls don’t multilocate.3Rediscovering the Integral Cosmos  (Angelico Press, 2018), with co-author Jean Borella. The story, however, does not end on the level of physics: turning to the opposite end of the scala naturae — to man the anthropos  namely — and availing ourselves of William Dembski’s 1998 theorem to the effect that “horizontal causation cannot produce CSI (complex specified information),” we drew the obvious yet startling conclusion that in producing CSI, we humans avail ourselves (demonstrably!) of vertical causation. What confronts us here is a scientific proof, no less, of what is traditionally termed “free will.”4Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions  (Angelico Press, 2013), pp. 180-201.

It appears thus that VC plays a decisive role not only in physics, but in the biosphere as well: that in fact its effects preponderate as one ascends the ladder of organic forms. I might add that when it comes to the enigma of visual perception, it turns out (in light of the discoveries of a cognitive psychologist named James Gibson) that here too VC plays the pivotal role: for it happens that what Gibson terms “the pick-up of invariants in the ambient optical array” is something horizontal  causation simply cannot effect.5Science and Myth  (Angelico Press, 2013), pp. 69-98. In particular: a perception of movement cannot be obtained by sampling the data “in time”: here too a “supra-temporal” and consequently instantaneous  mode of causality proves to be necessary.

I would like finally to reiterate, in light of the aforesaid recognitions, that I consider scientific inquiry into the effects of VC within the various ontological strata of interest to science — from the “mineral” or inanimate to the different plant and animal genera, up to the human — to constitute the most challenging vistas open to fundamental scientific inquiry in our time. As regards research of a foundational kind, we seem to be approaching the end of what can in principle be understood on the basis of horizontal causation; and I surmise that much of what presently obstructs us at the frontiers of scientific inquiry may prove indeed to be effects of VC. In a word, I surmise that even from a purely scientific point of view, what is called for at this moment in history is an enlarged and vastly deepened understanding of Nature: it is high time to jettison our Galilean, Cartesian and Newtonian assumptions to become philosophically literate  once again.

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1. Science and the Modern World  (Macmillan, 1953), p. 54.
2. The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key  (Angelico Press, 2005), pp. 109-125.
3. Rediscovering the Integral Cosmos  (Angelico Press, 2018), with co-author Jean Borella.
4. Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions  (Angelico Press, 2013), pp. 180-201.
5. Science and Myth  (Angelico Press, 2013), pp. 69-98.