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The Ultimate of Reality: Reversible Causality

Azamat Sh. Abdoullaev

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ABSTRACT: Metaphysics is the search for an ultimate principle by which all real things and relations are ordered. It formulates fundamental statements about existence and change. A reversible (absolute) causality is thought to be the ultimate of reality. It is argued that a real (causal) process relating changes of any nature (physical, mental) and any sort (quantitative, qualitative, and substantial) reverses the order of its agency (action, influence, operation, producing): real causation must run in the opposite direction, or change to the opposite effect. A reversible process is a cyclical process, and all cyclical processes are reversible. The world is becoming active because it produces reversible processes; reversible processes organize the world. The world is the totality of interrelated cyclic processes occurring with all kinds of agents (objects, substances, and things).

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That the world is, is apparent, but what the world is, is neither evident, nor easy to comprehend. The theoretical analysis of the universe has still been the hardest problem for metaphysics the object of which is to determine the nature of things and relations and to discover the ultimate principle ordering all things and changes into one world.

The situation is much complicated by the contradictory interpretations of metaphysics, or the first philosophy, dialectics, natural theology, transcendental philosophy, such as "the science of realities laying behind appearances" (Plato); "the science of being as such" (Aristotle); "the study of change; of events or processes" (Whitehead); what "concerns with the whole of reality" (Peirce).

In accordance with the ontological standpoint, there are also different meanings of reality: "the totality of phenomena connected according to necessary rules" (Kant); "the perfectly ordered whole" (Hegel); "the sum total of all its being and events now" (James); "the complete totality of things"; "a coherent or integrated system of systems such as the physical, the biological, the chemical and the social" (Bunge); "the all-embracing universe including mind as well as matter"; "the totality of objects and events"; "the system of natural existencies, forces, changes, and events", or "the entire material universe and its phenomena".

Generally, the world, the subject matter of metaphysics, is considered either as the maximal self-existent thing (object), or the maximal self-existent situation, or the maximal self-existent process.

2. A State Metaphysics as General Theory of the World

According to the chosen priority, either object in general, or change in general, usually two types of metaphysics have been distinguished: Object Ontology and Process Ontology.

But at the golden middle of these two extreme positions - being (object, thing, stuff, substance) and becoming (event, process, change) views of the world - there is the intermediate, the state ontology, standing so far heedless. Although the central category of the state ontology, the state universal, has the potential both to integrate and to elucidate the object and process universals. So that, on the topmost level of reality, the fundamental types of universals of reality should be represented not as the dichotomy of objects and processes, but as the trinity of things, states and processes:

ENTITY (Object) ® STATE (Property) ® CHANGE (Relation).

On the microscopic (substantial) level, these basic categories of thought, language and objective reality consist of individuals, simple properties and elementary relations between properties (see Fig.1).

Figure 1

Unlike the object ontology and process ontology, the basic statements about existence and change can be formulated as follows.

  1. All that exists falls under things, states or changes.
  2. State is the totality of all individual properties (qualities, quantities).
  3. All particular states of the same natural kind constitute the state space, or the state-universal.
  4. Two state-universals make up the event-universal - a change from one state to another; two event-universals compose the process-universal.
  5. Both the event-kind and process-kind are varieties of the change-universal, or the cause-universal;
  6. The change-universals of different kinds of things being causally ordered constitute generic causation - 'the universal law of general order'.
  7. 'The universal law of general order' consists in the ultimate principle of reality that change C causes change E if and only if the change E causes the change C.
  8. The history of the world is composed of causal histories of agents, objects, or systems.
  9. The union of the state spaces of all kinds of objects forms the state space of the world - the maximal network of interrelated causes.
  10. The world being the totality of the networks of changes is ordered by the universal causality.

3. The Nature and Order of Causes.

We suppose that among main objectives of the unified ontology are the following.

  1. to study the nature (composition and structure) of the causation process spaces;
  2. to discover the underlying mechanism by which changes of any kinds (physical, mental) are guided;
  3. to substantiate that the networks of interrelated causes make the substructure of the world's cardinal worlds - nature, mind, society, and technology.

Instead of doing research into the causes of natural and mental phenomena and their relationships, contemporary science is deeply engaged in search of quantitative laws of changes reflecting constant regularities in actual occurrences.

Perhaps this remark does not fully apply to history, medical science, law (having the ancient traditions of Athenian law courts, the old practice of medicine, the Greek interpretation of causes of wars), as well as to the modern biology (esp., genetics), economics, and the earth sciences. But, in general, the vocabulary of the modern science and philosophy excludes the word ‘cause’ from their lexicons as a scientific notion, if not to regard some works based on the obsolete linear conception of cause and effect as ‘the revival of causality’.(1)

Despite the constructive account of the basic kinds of causes (of any change) given by Aristotle, it is hard to discover another great idea that has been so complicated and perplexed. Although, debates, controversies and conflicting interpretations of the principle of causality and the causal processes are quite explicable. The causal relation, as a relation in general, except the formal properties such as symmetry, transitivity, reflexivity, has to be classified with respect to several objective criteria:

  • the kinds of causal correlatives,
  • the number of the things being related,
  • the nature of the things being connected,
  • the internality and externality of causation,
  • the character of agency, or operation (processing) between correlatives,
  • the order of causes.

Regarding the most actual issue, what are the causal relata, or constituent elements, there is a rich variety of opinion.(2) The causes are qualified as states, situations, conditions and circumstances; properties, particular events, processes, and particular changes; facts and propositions, or material objects (agents, substances). Mostly prevalent belief (3-8) in the present understanding of causality is that particular events, processes or changes occurring with concrete things enter into causal relations inalienable of spatio-temporal relations. And that two related singular events make singular causation if they fall under a covering law that is acknowledged to be identical with lawfully correlated generic events mistakenly thought causally powerless.

Besides, there appears to be a narrow understanding of the idea of change. The extant metaphysical theories of events and causality under different covers try to avoid the most fundamental sort of change, the substantial change when a substance, substratum, or matter, changes totally as a whole:

"when the change from contrary to contrary is in quantity, it is ‘growth and diminution’; when it is in place, it is ‘motion’; when it is in property, i.e. in quality, it is ‘alteration’; but when nothing persists of which the resultant is a property (or an ‘accident’ in any sense of the term), it is ‘coming-to-be’, and the converse change is ‘passing-away’" (Aristotle, On Generation and Corruption).

Combining the conjecture about an event as a time-dependent entity with the concept of change just as the change of property, the result may be the widely accepted view of an event "as a concrete object (or n-tuple of objects) exemplifying a property (or n-adic relation) at a time" (9), or the same reformulated to include state: "an event (or state) is a structure consisting of a substance (an n-tuple of substances - Xn), a property (an n-adic relational attribute - Pn ) and a time (t)".(10-11)

Based on such erroneous idea of an object-like individual event, there have been proposed some modifications, like a theory of complex events where the schematic event-referring expressions [(Xn,t), Pn ] was substituted by the schema [< e1 , e2 >, R, t] representing the statement: "an event e1 is being in relation R to an event e2 at time t". (2, p.154) Another modification is a theory of situations where a situation consists of the individuals, their properties, relation and space-time locations: < A, R, L >. Here a collection of individuals is denoted by A, a collection of all relations signified as R, and a collection of all space-time locations symbolized as L.(12, 13) The situations, being viewed as the main fragment of the reality, encompass states of affairs and events. In another case, the situations cover, as nested dual oppositions, states and occurrences (actions) comprising process (activities) and events (performances) which in turn encompass both developments (accomplishments) and punctual occurrences (achievements);(14) in the round brackets - the instances of a human action.

Particular things, individual properties, singular states, peculiar processes and specific changes within the spatio-temporal framework are not the universe of discourse of ontology. It is rather the subject matter of factual sciences. Ontology dealing with the topmost objective categories, or universals, widens its scope far beyond the spatio-temporal limits. There is an infinite amount of events as natural specific species, but there is always a finite number of kinds of things, states, processes, changes, and relations as natural genera. The mission of scientific ontology is to study the finite generic variety of reality, but not its infinite specific varieties. An actual existence is felt to be individual and singular; and the world appears to exist through sensing individual things, properties, states, actions, events, and processes, but there are generic changes, events, states which are true of all individual cases, occurrences, and changes.

So the state-, event-, and change-universal are respectively the characteristics, the natures, or the essences of a class of states, occurrences, or particular changes.

The totality of cases, examples, illustrations, instances, occurrences, states of affairs, acts must be classed, grouped, ordered, categorized, or abstracted beyond the boundary conditions (space) and initial conditions (time), or other particular circumstances and constraints. One never discovers the fundamental laws of reality analyzing only specific facts. It may be done, first of all, in terms of a kind of events and processes, or kinds of universal event and process, i.e., in terms of the generic causation instead of the specific one.

An ontological category is not simply a general concept, universal notion or an abstract idea having an uncertain status: either nominal existence, or mental, and real actuality. It is, first of all, the form of objective knowledge, a general feature that represents a real aspect of the world.

Ontological constructs are factual, real-valued categories, although they are perceived by human mind as if were abstracted from concrete circumstances or situations. The factual ontological constructs are the most general, theoretical system covering both physical and mental objects, states and processes. Consequently only ontological theory may be the general theory of change per se with its basic types: substantial, quantitative, qualitative motions. It is not surprising that the most fundamental scientific theories are at the same time metaphysical theories.

Thus as the state-universal is the underlying entity of situations, conditions and circumstances - states modified by surroundings, environments etc., so the change-universal is the essence extracted from unessential details of various changes in form, appearance, properties, position, action, and character: variations, transitions, revolutions, transformations, mutations, alterations, motions, generations. As well as the event-universal is the nature of cases, facts, results, outcomes, occurrences, incidents, chances and episodes, so the process-universal forms the substance of varied histories, developments, evolutions, progressions, courses, successions, chains, trains, or sequences (see Fig.1).

By contrast, the time-dependent and case-inclined metaphysical theories of objects, properties, events and processes define the principle of causality in terms of temporal priority of a singular cause with respect to a singular effect. It appears the time-dependent, or case-minded positions, is mostly answerable for the obfuscation of reality. For example, the widely accepted 'covering-law model of explanation of empirical phenomena'(9) proceeds from such wrong thesis that just particular and concrete events are related causally, whereas the kinds of events are correlated only functionally or lawfully.

4. Classic (Linear) Causation ‘Cum’ Inverse (Retroactive) Causation = Absolute (Correlative) Causation.

The issues whether events, in order to be predicted or explained, must have recurrent features, and fall under causal relation of event-kinds, or whether generic events or changes enter into causal relations are now hotly debatable. But that causality by its nature must be reversible, or mutually convertible, or that it has to change the order of agency ("causal ordering"(4)) to the opposite effect, in order to be causation, has still stood to be an unknown truth of reality.

Although, it has been underlined by Aristotle (On Generation and Corruption) that "generic events should be assigned to generic causes", that "some things cause each other reciprocally", that the coming-to-be of anything, if it is absolutely necessary, must be cyclical - i.e., must return upon itself, and that "the nexus must be reciprocal".

Besides, reciprocity is the highest category in Kant’s Transcendental Logic and Hegel’s Objective Logic. For Kant reciprocity is the causality of a substance, reciprocally determining, and determined by other substances. The law of reciprocity is among the supreme Principles of the Pure Understanding: «All substances ... exist in a state of complete reciprocity of action» (The Critique of Pure Reason).

For Hegel reciprocity as the third to the relations of substantiality and causality is absolute causality which is conditioned and conditioning: «Reciprocity is, therefore, only causality itself: cause not only has an effect, but in the effect it stands, as cause, in relation to itself» (The Science of Logic).

The ultimate fact that as there is a converse change (e.g., generation/destruction), so there is a reversed causation comprising together with a direct causation full (complete, real, genuine) causal relation, or intercausality, seems to be rediscovered again.

It should be also noted that the reversible causation accords to Aristotle's theory of four causes, in that the correlatives of intercausation involve those basic kinds of causes proposed in Metaphysica and Physica:

  • agentive, or material cause ("that out of which things come to be and which persists");

  • producible change, or efficient cause ("that by which the change is produced");

  • mental (thinking) reason , or formal ("that from which the change or the resting from change first begins");

  • mental (intentional) cause, or final ("that for the sake of which a thing is done").

Full causality, or generic causation, being the universal fact of the natural and mental phenomena may have as its relatives:

  • the change of the state of substances, bodies, or agents [having powers to produce both material and mental changes].

  • the change of the state of the mind [having mental powers to produce both mental and physical changes].

Thus the mechanism of intercausality in the physical domain has not a significant difference in its nature from the intercausation in the mental sphere: mental states have causal potency like physical states.

So the question what kind of relation is causation may be answered: to be really causal the relation must be able to show the order reversal, or the reversal of its ordering. While the interaction, reciprocal influence or action on each other, is characterized by simultaneous coexistence of its correlatives, the process of causing and its reverse (converse) order can be

  • successive, as action and retarded reaction,
  • cyclical, forming 'a vicious circle' or "a virtuous circle",
  • stable process.

In particular, the doctrine of psychological interactionism that physical changes of brain and its mental modifications are causally interrelated(15) may find its explanation in the principle of intercausation.

5. Causal Ontology and Scientific Metaphysics.

Today, any metaphysics to be a scientific and fundamental theory must be mathematical in its methods and has evidence and facts from factual sciences (physical science, history, economics, linguistics, etc.).

If one claims his doctrine as a theory, then its fundamental principles should be verified by scientific experiments or observations. We believe that the contemporary metaphysics ought to "speak" in terms of mathematical and factual sciences, just as these sciences use basic ontological categories. Explanation and predication of a scientific metaphysics have to demonstrate the same accuracy as of science. But to use scientific and mathematical terms loosely without strict semantic definitions may result in mystifying the ideas, rather than clarifying them.

It is presently very popular to base Causal Metaphysics on the idea of causal nexus: a network of causal processes and causal interactions.(16) Substituting deductive-nomological, or covering-law models by "causal nexus", the so-called process theory of causality uses for definition of causal processes and interactions the geometrical constructs like "a world line of an object", "intersection", "a path through space-time", "interval", and another terms of the special theory of relativity.(17-19) But because of the misunderstanding of the nature of change and the causation of changes, a causal process here is mistakenly defined as 'a world line of an object which possesses a conserved quantity",(19) whereas it is really always an intersection of distinct world lines.

There are really two different classes of processes: homogeneous (alike, similar, or identical in some respects) and heterogeneous (dissimilar, unlike). A homogeneous process is an ordered sequence or succession of states or events taking place with the same thing. A heterogeneous process is a relation between events occurring with distinct things. Therefore, the process of causality, or causal process is always the heterogeneous process only; and, what is mostly important, only a reversible causal process can be characterized by conserved (invariant) physical quantities and, consequently, may be described by the conservation laws of nature. So if any change, or a history of an object, is represented geometrically as a trajectory in a state space, then a process of causality should be represented as an intersection of two different trajectories each corresponding to a homogeneous process.


A system of heterogeneous, causal processes mutually and reciprocally changing each other constitutes a dynamic network of interrelated causes (a reciprocal causal nexus of distinct processes). In the order of existence, the universal causal nexus operates as physical networks of forces, mental networks of thoughts, biological networks of changes, economic systems of factors, and historic networks of causes. Just these different types of causal mechanisms determine different structures of entities or ontological kinds of things. It seems that the structure of the world state space equals the totality of networks of causes of different ontological (natural) kinds.

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(1) M.Bunge, The Revival of Causality, in: G. Flostad (Ed.), Contemporary Philosophy - A New Survey, vol.2, Philosophy of Science (The Hague/Boston/London, 1982) 133-155.

(2) R. Casati, A. Varzi, eds. Events (The International Research Library of Philosophy), (Dartmouth Publ. Co, Aldershot, England, 1996).

(3) H.A. Simon, On the Definition of the Causal Relation, J. Philosophy 49 (1952) 517-528.

(4) H.A. Simon, Causal Ordering and Indentifiability, in W. Hood and T. Koopmans (Eds.), Studies in Econometric Methods, (Wiley, New York, 1953) 49-74.

(5) M.Bunge, Causality: The Place of the Causal Principle in Modern Science (Cambridge, Mass., 1959).

(6) D. Davidson, Causal Relations, Journal of Philosophy 64 (1967) 691-703.

(7) Z. Vendler, Causal Relations, Journal of Philosophy 64 (1967) 704-713.

(8) J.L.Mackie, The Cement of Universe: A Study of Causation (Oxford, 1975)

(9) J. Kim, Causation, Nomic Subsumption, and the Concept of Event. The Journal of Philosophy (1973)217-236.

(10) J. Kim, Events as Property Exemplifications, in M. Brand and D. Walton (Eds.), Action Theory (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1976) 159-177.

(11) J. Kim, Events: Their Metaphysics and Semantics, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51(1991)641 -646.

(12) J. Barwise and J. Perry, Situations and Attitudes (The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1983).

(13) J. Barwise and J. Etchemendy, Model-Theoretic Semantics, in Foundations of Cognitive Science, Ed., M.Posner (The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., London, 1989).

(14) A.P.D. Mourelatos, Events, Process and States, Linguistics and Philosophy 2 (1978) 415-434.

(15) R.R. Popper, J.C. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain. An Argument for Interactionism (Routledge, London, New York, 1995).

(16) W.C. Salmon, Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1984).

(17) W.C. Salmon, Causality without Counterfactuals, Philosophy of Science 61 (1994) 297-312.

(18) P. Dowe, Wesley Salmon's Process Theory of Causality and the Conserved Quantity Theory, Philosophy of Science 59 (1995) 195-216.

(19) P. Dowe, Causality and Conserved Quantities: A Reply to Salmon, Philosophy of Science 62 (1995) 321-333.

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