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February 23, 2018

CATEGORY: FQXi Essay Contest - Spring, 2017 [back]
TOPIC: Causality is Fundamental, not Math Ontology by Roger Schlafly [refresh]
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This essay's rating: Community = 6.4; Public = 8.0

Author Roger Schlafly wrote on Feb. 1, 2018 @ 21:49 GMT
Essay Abstract

The concept of causality has been derided by philosophers as being not truly fundamental, and the search for fundamental physics usually leads to the quantum state function, spacetime, string theory, or some other mathematical object. I argue that causality is more fundamental, and that the arguments against it are mistaken.

Author Bio

Roger Schlafly has a BSE from Princeton U, and a PhD in Mathematics from U California Berkeley, under I. Singer. He blogs at

Download Essay PDF File

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 03:26 GMT
Dear Roger Schlafly,

I very much enjoyed your essay on causality. Those who deny it seem to have some abstraction in mind. Your essay is so impressive because it's based on simple common sense, applied to a variety of special cases in physics.

Why is common sense required, for example, to counter the symmetry of time? You probably somewhat up best when you point out:

"But this is only a formal mathematical symmetry of the equations."

I have, for several essays, focused on the fact that physicists project mathematical structures onto physical reality, and then often come to 'believe in' the projected structure as real. Your treatment of this is excellent.

In addition to 'time-symmetry', physicists have projected 'space-time symmetry' on to reality. I analyze this in my current essay, which I hope you will read, comment on, and score.

Best regards,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 07:00 GMT
Dear Roger Schlafly,

I too consider causality most fundamental, and I appreciate your essay defending causality and offering many compelling reasons for that view. I even see causality indispensable because it is the only alternative to mysticism.

You distinguished between causality and the direction of time. I am not sure whether or not this is necessary. Maybe, this split reflects the intention of causality deniers to justify some putatively contradicting claims. If I recall correctly, in his essay Dos Santos "purifies" Brukner's quantum science from what he calls "philosophical prejudice".

My point of view arose from awareness of logical contraditions with application of generally accepted and meanwhile mandatory tenets. Because you have a PhD in mathematics, you will be able to carefully check what I found out.

Best regards,


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Peter Jackson wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 18:57 GMT

Great essay, I think you put a lot of silly and distracting ideas to bed very conclusively. I have you down for top marks for that valuable achievement, interesting and easy to read.

You also well identify and characterise the great remaining 'carbunkle' on logic and causality at the most fundamental scale; Quantum Mechanics, which you'll recall I've been addressing.

Well shockingly this year I think I've completed the task. I do hope you'll study and help test the ontology of the classical mechanistic sequence, starting with Maxwell's orthogonal state paired momenta on each particle rather than 'no assumption' so silly 'superposition' in QM. You'll like the way that the finding also identifies the error in the apparent 'backwards causality' /quantum eraser analysis. (Do also check out Declan Trail's mathematical proof & plot.)

Very well done for yours. Like your previous essays it was a pleasure to read, right on topic and also a relief after some others! maybe there's hope for us yet.

Very Best of luck.


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Alan M. Kadin wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 20:23 GMT
Dear Dr. Schlafly,

Your essay is clear, simple, and well argued. I agree that causality is fundamental.

I would argue that quantum entanglement is not consistent with causality. This is now important technologically, because quantum computing has become a fashionable field for R&D by governments and corporations. But the predicted power of quantum computing comes directly from entanglement. I predict that the entire quantum computing enterprise will fail within about 5 years. Only then will the mainstream start to question the foundations of quantum mechanics.

In my own essay, “Fundamental Waves and the Reunification of Physics”, I argue that both GR and QM have been fundamentally misunderstood, and that something close to classical physics should be restored, reunifying physics that was split in the early 20th century. QM should not be a general theory of nature, but rather a mechanism for creating discrete soliton-like wavepackets from otherwise classical continuous fields. These same quantum wavepackets have a characteristic frequency and wavelength that define local time and space, enabling GR without invoking an abstract curved spacetime.

Alan Kadin

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 22:15 GMT
"I predict that the entire quantum computing enterprise will fail within about 5 years."

I agree with that. Maybe that will cause some re-thinking about what quantum entanglement means.

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Marcel-Marie LeBel wrote on Feb. 2, 2018 @ 23:04 GMT

I agree with the importance of causality. An entirely dynamic universe must be made of a causal process. A spontaneously evolving universe has causality written all over. At the fundamental level, this causality is logical (basis of maths). This general spontaneous evolution of the universe is what we perceive as time.

My essay calls for substance and cause to be fundamental...

Best of luck,


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Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 08:49 GMT
Dear Roger Schlafly, you said: “Causality is Fundamental” And who doubts?

As soon as the memory of the past was born in the living organism, he began to search for the cause of the present. The source of the cause is the physical space, which according to Descartes is matter. Space is the foundation for fundamental ideas about the world. Figuratively one can say that space is the body of God, which moves in the future from the past. The moment of his creation is the moment of our life. Look at my essay, FQXi Fundamental in New Cartesian Physics by Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich Where I showed how radically the physics can change if it follows the principle of identity of space and matter of Descartes. Evaluate and leave your comment there. I highly value your essay, however, I'll give you a rating as the bearer of Descartes' idea. Do not allow New Cartesian Physics go away into nothingness, which is end of some questions.

Sincerely, Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich.

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Don Limuti wrote on Feb. 6, 2018 @ 12:26 GMT

I would say that causality has been mugged by the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics.

And, would add that to the extent that a phenomena is mathematically perfect, it is not physics.

Do take a look at my essay on the causation of space-time. I think it is refreshingly cause based. So, therefore it is not as fundamental as your essay, but interesting nonetheless.

Thanks for your well presented essay in defense of causality.

Don Limuti

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Mozibur Rahman Ullah wrote on Feb. 7, 2018 @ 12:18 GMT
Dear Roger Schlafay

I enjoyed reading your defence of causality. You might be interested in causal set theory that extracts the causal structure of GR and attempts to build a physical theory on top of this. I'd also say that the measurement problem in QM signifies cause and makes time real in a way that the classical theories don't. See Smolins book, Time Reborn, where he moves away from a timeless conception of he universe to one where time is essential.

Best Regards

Mozibur Ullah

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Member Noson S. Yanofsky wrote on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 13:40 GMT
Dear Roger Schlafly,

Thank you for a very stimulating essay. You have two parts. One says that causality is important and the other says that mathematical objects/equations are less important. What about mathematical objects/equations that describe causality? Is it not true that such mathematical entities are as important as causality. Newton's laws can be thought of as describing causality.

Thank you for such an interesting essay.

Please take a look at my essay.

All the best,

Noson Yanofsky

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Feb. 8, 2018 @ 16:38 GMT
Yes, mathematical equations often describe causality, and Newton's laws are a good example. Saying F = ma means that force is causing an acceleration, and positions can often be predicted by solving a differential equation with an initial value problem. But the force is causing the acceleration whether the differential equation is very precise or not.

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Member Noson S. Yanofsky replied on Feb. 11, 2018 @ 10:34 GMT
Thank you for the explaination. Please take a look at my essay.

All the best,


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Flavio Del Santo wrote on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 20:19 GMT
Dear Dr. Schlafly,

thanks for this short, but interesting essay. Although I don't agree overal with your starting point, namely that "the search for fundamental physics usually focuses on mathematical objects". I think that this is a mere collateral effect. The search for fundamental physics search for the fundamental "things" (being them laws, or entities, or principles, etc.). Mathematics is the most successful way we found to describe those things, but it is used as a tool to model our ideas in such a way that we can perform experiments to test these ideas.

Having said this, I am also convinced that, exactly because of this, causality is fundamental. In my essay ( I called it a "fundamental bound", beyond which it is no more meaningful to perform experiments to test our theories.

I hope to discuss this further, also if you have a look at my essay.

I wish you the best of luck for the contest,


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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 21:38 GMT
Thanks. I enjoyed your comments about reductionism, falsification, and protein folding.

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Wayne R Lundberg wrote on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 21:29 GMT
Dr Schafly,

The title intrigued me as I am quite sure that causality is a fundamental property, and that current particle theory is remiss in its acausal formulation. But sure such a discussion should have, at a minimum, referenced the literature on the subject?

See J.B. Hartle, S.W. Hawking and T. Hertog, “The Classical Universes of the No-Boundary Quantum State” hep-th/0803.1663v1 March 2008. and especially

N. Seiberg, L. Susskind and N. Toumbas, “Space/Time Non-Commutivity and Causality”, hep-th/0005015v3, May 2000. in which they establish a causality criteria.

The NBWF fits the requirement but lacks a quantum algebra. {I supply that in many of my earlier works}

regards, Wayne

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Feb. 10, 2018 @ 21:50 GMT
Yes, those are specific technical papers that deal with causality in a theory of physics. I am not sure that I would say that any proposed theory that violates causality should be rejected, because there is always the possibility that our preconceptions will be proved wrong. But any such theory should be treated very suspiciously.

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Juan Ramón González Álvarez wrote on Feb. 12, 2018 @ 19:52 GMT
Yes, those arguments against causality of those "Philosophers and others" are "just wrong on every level".

Those standard wavefuction solutions used to describe phenomena are time irreversible, but contrary to a common confusion in the literature, those solutions do not correspond to time-symmetric equations. It is trivial to show that the weavefunctions used in quantum scattering are not...

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Author Roger Schlafly replied on Feb. 12, 2018 @ 21:34 GMT
Excellent comments! Yes, thank you.

I once saw a physicist make the following silly argument about entropy. This was back when it was thought that the expansion of the universe might be going to max out, and the universe would start contracting. The physicist argued that maybe then the 2nd Law would reverse, and entropy would start decreasing! That is hard to imagine.

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Anonymous wrote on Feb. 12, 2018 @ 23:01 GMT

Whiel I agree whole heartedly with your overall argument, I feel some of the arguments could be made even stronger.

I would propose the 1st law of thermodynamics makes causality redundant. That energy is "conserved," because it is always and only present, but being dynamic, is changing configuration. Causality being the term we use to refer to this change.

Which brings up the time issue. My observation is that since our minds function as flashes of cognition/sequences of events, we think of this effect called time as the point of the present, "flowing past to future. Which physics codifies as measures of duration, assuming it is an underlaying dimension.

The obvious source of this effect is that changing configuration, by which the future becomes past, as in tomorrow becomes yesterday, because the earth turns.

This makes time an effect of action, like temperature. Time as individual frequency and temperature as mass frequency and amplitude.

So separate clocks can run at different rates because they are separate actions. A faster clock uses more energy.

Time is asymmetric because action is inertial. The earth turns one direction, not both.

So there is only that present state, but what I focused on in my entry is the effort to dismiss space as a virtual effect of geometry, rather than geometry as a mapping of space. Which very much ties into your point about math as a tool to clarify regularities, not a platonic realm. Space is to physics, what zero was to math. That neutral state to which every form refers.

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John Brodix Merryman replied on Feb. 12, 2018 @ 23:05 GMT

That post didn't sign me in.


John Brodix Merryman

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 13, 2018 @ 23:20 GMT
Dear Dr Roger Schlafly

Very nice words in the abstract... "The concept of causality has been derided by philosophers as being not truly fundamental, and the search for fundamental physics usually leads to the quantum state function, spacetime, string theory, or some other mathematical object." You are correct causality is more fundamental.... Best wishes

I hope you will not mind that...

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Vladimir Nikolaevich Fedorov wrote on Feb. 21, 2018 @ 11:10 GMT
Dear Roger,

I highly appreciate your beautifully written essay. I completely agree with you. «I argue that causality is more fundamental, and that the arguments against it are mistaken».

I hope that my modest achievements can be information for reflection for you.

Vladimir Fedorov

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Steven Andresen wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 06:45 GMT
Dear Roger

If you are looking for another essay to read and rate in the final days of the contest, will you consider mine please? I read all essays from those who comment on my page, and if I cant rate an essay highly, then I don’t rate them at all. Infact I haven’t issued a rating lower that ten. So you have nothing to lose by having me read your essay, and everything to...

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David Brown wrote on Feb. 22, 2018 @ 11:12 GMT
"Energy is widely accepted as fundamental, so little needs to be said. But it is commonly assumed that mathematically exact formulas are fundamental, while causality is not." Einstein objected to the replacement of causality by a mixture of semi-randomness and semi-causality. I say that Milgrom is the Kepler of contemporary cosmology — on the basis of overwhelming empirical evidence. Google "witten milgrom". Is nature finite and digital? Do the concepts of time, space, energy, and quantum information fail at the Planck scale? Can quantum information be explained in terms of Fredkin-Wolfram information? Is Milgrom's MOND relevant to the Bohr-versus-Einstein debate?

Bohr-Einstein debates, Wikipedia

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