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Origins III :: Intervention, Time and Physics

Sydney, 19-21 July 2006

Timetable : Abstracts : Venue : Registration : Accommodation : Transport : Enquiries

 

Themes

This is the third workshop in the series The Origins and Functions of Causal Thinking, and will focus on the topic 'Intervention, Time and Physics'.  Issues to be discussed will include:

  • Origins and nature of interventionist concept. What is nature of the concept of an intervention into a system? Where does the concept have its origins? Is it necessarily tied to our experience as agents acting in the world?

  • Interventionism and use of causal notions in physics. Does interventionism tell us anything interesting about causal and counterfactual reasoning in physics?

  • Interventionism and time-asymmetry. What are the relations between interventionism, the issue of causal and counterfactual asymmetry, and the physics of time asymmetry?

  • Interventionism and other causal concepts. Can interventionism explain features of causal concepts such as the concepts of counterfactuals, laws, capacities and causal influence?

  • Interventionism and realism. To what extent is interventionism committed to subjectivism or anti-realism about causation? Are these commitments problematic?

  • Causation and context. In what ways is the causal concept context-dependent? Does this have any implications for interventionism?"

This workshop will be followed by a conference on Time and Consciousness, organised jointly with the Centre for Consciousness at ANU; the sessions on Friday 21 July are intended to provide an overlap between the two meetings. Details of the Time and Consciousness conference are available here.


Provisional timetable


 

Wednesday 19 July

 

 

Thursday 20 July

 

 

Friday 21 July

9:30 - 11:00

Jenann Ismael & Huw Price
The Difference Between Buses
and Trams

9:30 - 11:00

Mathias Frisch
Entropy, Interventions and Causation

9:30 - 11:00

Craig Callender
Time is the Simplest (and Strongest) Thing

Morning Tea

Morning Tea

Morning Tea

11:30 - 1:00

Brad Weslake
Two Varieties of Causal Anti-Realism

11:30 - 1:00

Doug Kutach
Causal Asymmetry and Culpability

11:30 - 1:00

Steven Weinstein
Nonlocal causation in Maxwell theory

Lunch

Lunch

Lunch

2:30 - 4:00

Cei Maslen
Elusive Causation

2:30 - 4:00

Richard Corry
Causation and Reductive Explanation

 


Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea


4:30 - 6:00

Chris Hitchcock
Folk Physics, Intervention and the Concept of Cause

4:30 - 6:00

Jonathan Schaffer
Intervention and Contrastivity

 


 


 


 



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Abstracts

The Difference Between Buses and Trams
Jenann Ismael and Huw Price (University of Sydney)

Tram drivers know where their vehicles are bound, and don't have to decide to take them there, rather than somewhere else; the tramlines take care of it. Bus drivers know where their vehicles are headed, too, but without the benefit of the rails. In this talk we explain how this difference offers both bad news and good for bus drivers. It make them less noble, less god-like creatures than their tram-driving cousins, for their epistemic perspective is necessarily degenerate in comparison; but degeneracy sets them free.

We propose that this discursion on public transport throws important new light on the foundations of interventionist causation: roughly, it suggests that the causal perspective is an inevitable by-product of an epistemic degeneracy.

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Two Varieties of Causal Anti-Realism
Brad Weslake (University of Sydney)

Agency theories of causation have often been criticised for not being sufficiently realist about causation. In my view recent agency theories have not been dialectically effective in addressing this charge. On the one hand there are those such as Huw Price and Peter Menzies, who have appealed to analogies with mind-dependent properties such as secondary qualities (Menzies and Price) and perspectives (Price), have emphasised the experience of agency, and have aimed for reduction˛encouraging (despite their disavowals) the view that the agency theory amounts to a kind of subjectivism. On the other hand there are those such as Judea Pearl and Jim Woodward, who in reaction have distanced themselves completely from the centrality of agency (Pearl), or who have sought refuge in non-reductionism, hoping the question of realism can thereby be evaded (Woodward). In this paper I describe a minimal agency view of causation, and place it with respect to issues of realism and anti-realism. I argue that it is confusion over two forms of anti-realism, encouraged by inessential aspects of the mind-dependent analogies, that has seen Pearl and Woodward shy away from endorsing the anti-realist elements in the agency theory.

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Elusive Causation
Cei Maslen (Victoria University, Wellington) 

David Lewis claimed that knowledge is elusive. "That is how knowledge is elusive. Examine it, and straightway it vanishes..." He argued that epistemology robs us of our knowledge: "Maybe epistemology is the culprit.  Maybe the extraordinary pastime robs us of our knowledge.  Maybe we do know a lot in daily life; but maybe when we look hard at our knowledge it goes away."

The aim of this paper is to answer the question: might causation be elusive in a similar sense to that in which knowledge has been claimed to be elusive?  Might there be pastimes that rob us of causation too?  I will argue for a contextual account of causation and present detailed mechanisms for fixing truth values from the context.

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Folk Physics, Intervention and the Concept of Cause
Chris Hitchcock (California Institute of Technology)

Our interventions in the world are guided by our folk physical theories of how the world works. For example, we know that we can move an object by pushing it with a stick, but not by pushing it with a rope. Nothing could seem more natural. Yet recent research on primates suggests that this kind of reasoning is far from trivial. Making use of an account of theoretical concepts due to Hempel and Carnap, I argue that one of the central roles of our concept of cause is to mediate inferences between interventions and folk physical theories.

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Entropy, Interventions and Causation
Mathias Frisch (University of Maryland)

Possible connections between thermodynamics and the causal asymmetry.

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Causal Asymmetry and Culpability
Doug Kutach (Brown University)

In developing an adequate explanation for causal asymmetry it is important to distinguish two importantly different applications of the concept of causation. One role for causation is in prediction. Knowledge of causal generalities allows us to predict how likely various effects will follow, given some alleged cause. In this prediction-permitting role, facts about causation can be empirically checked, e.g. whether this particular planetary probe will land on Venus. Another role for causation is assigning culpability for certain facts, i.e. the chunks of physical stuff that are responsible for the effect occurring. Although we humans sometimes have strong intuitions about how causal responsibility is properly allocated, there is no independent or objective check on whether our intuitions are correct. The asymmetry presumably present in manipulation, influence, and control involve a mixture of both roles. I will try to sort out what the distinction means for our understanding of causal asymmetry.

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Causation and Reductive Explanation
Richard Corry (University of Tasmania)

One of the most powerful tools in science is the method of reductive explanation, where we explain the behaviour of a complex system in terms of the behaviour of the parts from which it is composed. In order to employ this method we observe the behaviour of the parts in isolation and use this information to tell us how the parts will contribute the behaviour of the whole.  Clearly then, the method assumes that something in what we learn when we observe the parts in isolation remains true when the parts are part of a larger whole. In particular, since all but the most trivial complex systems will involve causal interactions between their component parts, we must assume that something about these causal relations remains constant from one situation to another. Nancy Cartwright points out that we certainly donăt assume that it is the behaviour of the parts that remains constant from one situation to another. Not only would such an assumption be false, it would trivialise the notion of reduction. Standard analyses of science try to avoid this kind of  problem by turning their attention from actual behaviour to laws of nature, dispositions, and counterfactual truths. But we will see that these approaches cannot make sense of reductive explanation either: the facts they point to will either not remain constant from one situation to another, or else they will be useless in predicting the behaviour of complex systems. In response to this kind of problem Cartwright introduces the notion of a causal capacity and suggests that it is a systemăs capacities that remain constant from one situation to another. However, I will argue that although Cartwright is on the right track, when it comes to understanding reductive explanation, her notion of capacities is no better off than the standard analyses it was set to replace. I will argue that what is assumed to be constant in reductive explanation are component causal influences. These influences sit somewhere between Cartwrightăs capacities on the one hand and the dispositions and counterfactuals that appear in standard analyses on the other. I finish by considering whether standard counterfactual, interventionist, or agency analyses of causation  have the resources available to make sense of these component causal influences.  If they do not, then it would seem that they cannot capture a notion of causation that is fundamental to scientific practice.

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Intervention and Contrastivity
Jonathan Schaffer (University of Massachusetts)

Jim Woodward has suggested that that interventionism presupposes a conception of causation that is contrastive for both cause and effect. I will discuss the extent to which contrastivity is presupposed in the notions of intervention and causation.

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Time is the Simplest (and Strongest) Thing
Craig Callender (University of California, San Diego)

What is the difference between time and space?  This paper proposes an answer: the temporal direction is that direction on the manifold of events in which our best theories can tell the strongest, most informative "stories."  Put another way, time is that direction in which our theories can obtain as much determinism as possible.  I make two arguments.  The first is a general one defending the idea that strength determines what is temporal.  The second is a more specific technical illustration of the first: understanding 'strength' as having a well-posed Cauchy problem, I show that for a wide class of equations, namely, linear second-order partial differential equations, the desire for strength does indeed distinguish the temporal direction.  After assessing how general the second argument is, the paper explores the ramifications of this theory for various problems in the philosophy of time.

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Nonlocal causation in Maxwell theory
Steven Weinstein (University of Waterloo)

Maxwell's equations were the inspiration for special relativity and the principle of relativistic "causality", whereby spacelike-separated events are understood to be causally independent.  In this talk, I will show that one of Maxwell's equations actually implies a form of nonlocal causation - causation between what are nominally causally independent events - and show that this sort of causation, while not susceptible to an interventionist or counterfactual analysis, is crucial for many everyday attributions of causal connectedness.

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Venue

The conference will be held at historic Tusculum mansion, 3 Manning St, Potts Point. (Manning St can be seen in the centre of this map. Tusculum is the square-shaped property just south of the double-n in "Manning".)

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Registration

Full-fee registration is $50, or $70 for both this meeting and Time and Consciousness, provided you register by Thursday 13 July 2006. An additional late registration fee of $10 applies to all registrations received after that date. Student/unwaged registration is $20 (which covers both meetings) or $30 for late registrations. Registration includes morning and afternoon refreshments.

To register, simply download this form and follow the instructions.

(Speakers at either meeting get free registration at both.)

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Accommodation

A limited number of rooms at the Macleay Apartments have been reserved for conference attendees and are available at the special conference rate of $125 per night. These are within (very) easy walking distance of the  conference. (Please contact John Cusbert at john.cusbert@gmail.com if you would like to make a booking.)

There is also plenty of other accommodation in Potts Point and Kings Cross, within walking distance of the conference. Listed below are some options. For those on a very tight budget, there are also numerous backpacker's hostels on Victoria Street.


Other options

Challis Lodge
21 Challis Avenue
Potts Point

$55 per night for a single room (shared bathroom)
$65 per night for a double/twin (shared bathroom)
$70 per night for a single room (ensuite)
$75 per night for a double/twin (ensuite)

Stay seven nights for the price of five! 

Phone: 

+61 2 9358 5422

Fax:

+61 2 8356 9047

Email:

challis@budgethotelssydney.com

Web:

www.budgethotelssydney.com


Holiday Lodge Hotel
55 Macleay St
Potts Point  

$55-$100 per night for a single room
$60-$120 per night for a double room
$120-$140 per night for a family room

 

Phone: 

+61 2 935 63955

Fax:

+61 2 9356 3485

Web:

www.holidaylodgehotel.com.au


Victoria Court Hotel
122 Victoria St
Potts Point

Rates on enquiry

 

Phone: 

+61 2 9357 3200

Fax:

+61 2 9357 7606

Web:

http://www.victoriacourt.com.au



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Transport

The best way to get around downtown Sydney is on foot or via public transport. The conference venue and the accommodation listed on this site are all within a 5-10 minute walk from Kings Cross railway station.

From the Airport

You can catch a train from the Airport to Kings Cross station, though you will need to change trains at Central station. The train fare from the Airport is $10. A taxi from the Airport to Potts Point costs about $28. There are also regular shuttle buses from the airport to accomodation in Potts Point. "Kingsford Smith Airport Bus Service" runs one such service, which costs around $8 per person and departs from outside the arrival hall every half hour. There is no need to make a booking.

Parking

Streetside parking is very limited in this area. Listed below are some commercial parking lots within 5-10 minutes walk from the conference venue. Parking charges are around $13 per day.

 
Kings Cross Car Park Pty Ltd
Ward Ave Kings Cross NSW 2011
ph: (02) 9358 5000
 
Bayswater Parking Station
33 Bayswater Rd Kings Cross NSW 2011
ph: (02) 9357 7343
 
Enacon Parking
Cathedral St Woolloomooloo NSW 2011
ph: (02) 9380 8850
 

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Enquiries

Please direct all enquiries to John Cusbert at the following email address:
john.cusbert@gmail.com


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Web page maintained by John Cusbert. Last update 26/6/2006