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Process Theory and Pandora's Box

Process Theory and Pandora's Box

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Essay contrasting Dowe and Salmon's process theories with Machamer's Mechanism theory.
Essay contrasting Dowe and Salmon's process theories with Machamer's Mechanism theory.

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Published by: Remko van der Pluijm on May 06, 2010
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Opening Pandora's box?
Salmon and Dowe's reductionistic accounts
All the accounts previously discussed were strongly opposed to concepts as causal power or other such vague metaphysical concepts. I think we can draw an analogy here with Pandora's box. Thesetheories all try to warn us for trying to make statements about characteristics of the world we cannot be certain of. Both Salmon and Dowe also want to stay away from the box, but want to do so whileconstantly looking at the box from the outside, as now we no longer see causation as a property of an event, but an ongoing process. I will discuss these two accounts below and end with a shortoutline of the account by Peter Machamer et al, who do seem to think we should open Pandora's box.
Basic assumptions
To be able to understand the first two process theories, one must understand the basics of aMinkowski space-time diagram. Let us look at the picture below:
 Figure 1: Minkowski light cone (Norton 2008)
Basically, a Minkowski space-time diagram is a diagram with space on the x and z axis and time onthe y axis. Time is usually measured in terms of the speed of light, as most contemporary physicsaims at relativity theory, where the speed of light is one of the important restrictions for objects.However, the usage of a Minkowski diagram isn't restricted to relativity theory: it is simply a two-dimensional representation of an object in time. In other words, one could see it as if one wouldslice time in tiny fragments and at each moment determine the position of an object in a twodimensional field.The figure shown above shows a Minkowski light cone. This is a special form within a Minkowskidiagram, related to relativity theory. With the centre between the two cones representing the present,the cones are formed because the light will travel the maximum in all directions, each time forminggreater circles of which the cones exist. As no object can travel faster than the speed of light, we cansee how all actual objects have to stay within the double cone, which represents how far light cantravel. Next, to be able to understand these theories, one has to see the difference between these threeaccounts and other accounts on causation. Rather than seeing causation as a relation betweenevents, these theories try to understand causation as a process
. Therefore, we cannot give adefinition of the necessary and sufficient conditions for C to be a cause of E, but we can give adefinition of what it means for a process P to be causally relevant, in other words not a pseudo- process.
1Dowe 2008.
Salmon: mark transmission and at-at theory
Salmon looks at continuous processes and tries to determine what makes a process causallyrelevant. For him, the difference between a process and an event is that an event is that events areshort and happen fairly locally, while processes are longer lasting and are therefore also have agreater reach, i.e. a greater spatial extent
.He distinguishes between two different elements of processes: their production and the propagationof causal influence. His production is based on causal forks, which play an important role in the“production of order and structure in causal processes”
. These causal forks are statistical forks, areminiscence of Reichenbach's principle of Common Cause (PCC). PCC states that, when thecombined probability of two events is higher than the product of both together, we should look for acommon cause C which screens off A and B. We can illustrate this quite simply by looking at lungcancer and yellow fingers. If the chance of these events both happening is higher than what wewould expect if these events weren't related, we should look for another event, say for examplesmoking, which causes the abnormal high change of lung cancer and yellow fingers occurringtogether.PCC is actually one of the three relations Salmon distinguishes, the other two being the interactivefork and the perfect fork. The former is a situation in which two processes both have an effect onthe other and cannot be screened off by a third process. It is, according to Salmon, “involved in the production of modification in order and structure of causal processes.”
His propagation of causal influence is based on his theory of mark transmission. According toSalmon, a process is a genuine (causal) process if it is capable of transmitting a mark. This reflectsthe Minkowski light cone as described above: no causal process can travel faster than the speed of light, so no line in a Minkowski diagram of a causal process can be situated outside of the lightcone. However, there are some processes which actually seem to travel faster than light. For Salmon, these are pseudo-processes: they cannot transmit a mark.But what then is a mark? Salmon refers to the 'loose' term structure or characteristic. So, when wefor instance look at a man and his shadow, both can be analysed as a process (for Salmon, allobjects are processes). However, when I walk into the shadows, the shadow disappears and it re-appears again. But, when my two arms get chopped off by a ninja, this will have a lasting result for  both me and my shadow. So Salmon seems to refer to a certain type of consistency being there in aman, but not in a shadow
.We can now look at Salmon's definition of a mark:
be a process that, in the absence of interactions with other processes would remain uniform with respect to a characteristic
 , which it would manifest consistently over an interval that includes both of the space-time points
 ). Then, a mark (consisting of a modification of 
 ), which has been introduced into process
by means of a single local interaction at a point 
 , is transmitted to point 
if [ 
and onlyif 
manifests the modification
and at all stages of the process between
without additional interactions
.The counterfactual form of the statement is to prevent certain counterexamples using dispositional properties or double changes. I'll give one based on Nelson Goodman's
 New Riddle of Induction
.Suppose there is a colour in this world named
. This colour has the property to look as white.However, the colour changes permanently when it is shone upon with a green light. Suppose further more that we have a moving white light beam and somebody who runs with a green lens in front of the white light while shining on a Bleen wall. Now, since the colour of the light has changed permanently into green when it shines on the Wheen object, the light has transmitted the mark by
2Salmon 1984.3Dowe 2008, Ch. 3.4Ibid.5I am tempted to say that a pseudo-process supervenes on (a number of) causal processes.6Salmon 1984, p148, as shown in Dowe 2008. Addition is by Dowe. It is added as it seems that a mark has to fulfillthis criterion in order to be able to distinguish processes from pseudo-processes.
the green lens, so this should be a process instead of a pseudo-process as Salmon states. Therefore,Salmon introduces the 'no further interventions clause' and hence the counterfactual.The definition of a mark is based on Russell's 'at-at theory', which states that movement is nothingmore than being at a particular place p
at a particular time t
and at another t
 being at another place p
. According to Salmon, there isn't anymore in Pandora's box but a space-time relation.
Objections to Salmon
While Salmon has created an account quite adequate for the physical sciences and is innovative(although not the first) in its use of processes, it still has a number of problems.First of all, it seems that his mark criterion is necessary nor sufficient. Phil Dowe gives an exampleof how the mark criterion isn't sufficient. According to Dowe, this is due to the 'vague' nature of thenotion of structure or characteristic
. Salmon needs his definition of structure to be loose, since hewants to include everyday notions of causation. However, the word 'structure' isn't very informingor restricting. Dowe gives an example regarding a shadow standing closer to a certain location thanthe building causing the shadow. During the afternoon, this characteristic changes. Since it involvesthe interaction of two processes, a mark is created and since this characteristic endures afterwards,the characteristic is transmitted according to the mark criterion. But as we have seen, shadows arealmost an archetype of pseudo-processes. The problem is that the word 'structure' doesn't tell usmuch about the criterion for being part of a 'structure' and therefore being susceptible of being amark.The mark criterion also isn't necessary as a condition, because a number of short-lived subatomic particles can play a vital causal role, but one could hardly argue that these particles are 'processes' by the mark criterion, as it should show some 'degree of uniformity over time'.
Even more problematic is the fact that the mark criterion states that no further interactions may be present,although in real life there are numerous of other interactions present
.Second, there seems to be some form of vicious circularity, as a mark criterion is defined as analteration to a characteristic by means of a local interaction. This local interaction has to be causal,since if it would be a pseudo-process, this would make the distinction between genuine and pseudo- process useless. After all, when the mark criterion, which is meant to be used to rule out pseudo- processes, can potentially be satisfied by pseudo-processes, the mark criterion is obsolete.Therefore, a mark criterion is defined by a local causal interaction and the definition of a causal process is circular 
.Third, the counterfactual nature of the mark criterion renders it susceptible to the criticism of counterfactuals, for one being that to determine whether a counterfactual holds is arbitrary. Salmonthinks this can be solved by letting science determine the value of the counterfactual by means of controlled experimentation, but this doesn't seem convincing as also in scientific experiments theenvironment isn't fully controlled.
The Conserved Quantity account
Dowe and later Salmon himself introduced a new theory based on conserved quantities (theconserved quantity account CQ) to circumvent these problems. Dowe has two formulations asshown below:
CQ1. A causal interaction is an intersection of world lines which involves exchange of a conserved quantity.CQ2. A causal process is a world line of an object which possesses a conserved quantity
Ad CQ1: an intersection of world lines refers to two lines in a Minkowski space-time diagram.
7Dowe 1992 p201.8Dowe 2008, Ch. 4.9Ibid idem.10Dowe 1992, p201.11Ibid, Ch. 5.

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