The problem of a physical causal history

The causal closure principle states that once the physical causal history of a physical effect is given there is nothing more to explain about it. I want to problematize the idea of a history within the physical order and point to some solutions to the problem.

Like any history a history within the physical world has to start somewhere, but physics since Aristotle explains things not by histories but by conserved quantities. Aristotle considered motion, time, and body to be the relevant conserved quantities and he drew different proportions of comparison between them (or what we now call laws). The sorts of proportion he was interested in were different from the ones familiar to us :  Physics Bk. VI and VIII looked at possible proportions between finite or infinite quantities while we’re more interested in specifying numerical values of variability as expressed on Cartesian co-ordinates, like when we ask how many foot-pounds of pressure drop would correspond to a drop in degrees Fahrenheit.

Conserved quantities are not historical since it’s essential to histories to start somewhere and develop into something while this is impossible for conserved quantities as such. There is no story to tell about motion or energy or time or angular momentum since any point at which you could start would take for granted the full existence of the thing whose ‘story’ you seek to tell and would allow for no further development. Whatever you want to call the account of something that must start in medias res and which never changes to anything else, you can’t call it a narrative, story, or history.

Aristotle saw that this committed him to an infinite motive power, and he denied that such a thing could be physically realized. The claim received a tepid response from Christians, who thought they were committed to denying an infinite universe. There was more to this than the Genesis myth. The finitude of the universe was part of a deeper, unspoken understanding that the universe is essentially narrative since there is an account of where it was from and where it is going. This seems to be where Christianity saw more deeply into the problem than Aristotle did, since a universe with no narrative structure is essentially meaningless, and a meaningless universe cannot be the domain of a meaningful life. The Preacher hammers this point home in Ecclesiastes, and resolves it by turning directing our search for structure and context away from the universe and to the law of the Lord, i.e. the God’s revelation of himself in his relation to his chosen ones.

STA is unwilling to throw the universe under the bus for the sake of human meaning, but he is also unwilling to allow human reason to discover whether the universe itself is capable of a narrative structure that would allow for meaning. This introduces the problem of how our beliefs about meaning can be reasonable. What could the point or the story of the universe be if at any point in time its fundamental structure is identical and complete?

One response to this is to deny that meaning can scale. Maybe things in the universe have purpose or meaning but the universe as a whole does not. Such an account could not be a physical one since physics doesn’t allow for this sort of partitioning of the action of the part from the activity of the whole. It does, however, allow for a subordination of the whole to one of its parts, or the infinitude of the universe to the desire of the nutritive/reproductive soul.





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