So I wanted to ask about the kind of causality when someone says something of the sort: "Communism made these people destroy their own society" or "I have a brilliant idea now I will become rich!"

Now this notion of causality does not make sense in physics because how can something in Plato's heaven influence physical reality. What is this kind of casuality known as?

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    Possibly "top-down" causality, as opposed to "bottom-up" causality. For example, evolution would be top-down causality.
    – nwr
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 5:25
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    Communism and brilliant ideas, as used in these passages, do not reside in Plato's heaven. They are planted in people's heads and have the same causal relation to actions as one's idea of wiping sweat off their forehead has to the sweat getting wiped. It is not a different notion of causality that is needed here, but a different notion of ideas, e.g. as in Peirce's pragmatic maxim"Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object."
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 8:28
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    As best I know physics does have a notion of causality. It is an entirely made-up concept. Which is probably why we have so much trouble getting the world to fit with it, and our other made-up ideas. "If your map doesn't match the terrain, trust the terrain."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 11:22
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    @ScottRowe I wouldn't dismiss causality. Entropy is certainly not a made-up concept. There's a driving force increasing entropy over time. It's why you can't unscramble an egg. Time inevitably ticks forward, and according to Einstein time and space sort of trade places in a black hole. At the event horizon of a black hole, time and the spatial direction toward the center exchange places. The direction inside the black hole from the event horizon to the the singularity in the center is the direction in time. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 8:49
  • Yes, entropy is the end result, where causality is the presumed... cause of things. We can see stuff degrade and change, but haven't seen the "perhaps hand", yet :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 12:54

2 Answers 2


The answer to this question is straightforward. Any metaphysical view of causation that imputes causal powers from the abstract domain of human thought to the physical world is known as mental causation (SEP). This is in contradistinction to the physical causation of atoms striking atoms. To wit:

How could mental properties be causally relevant to bodily behavior? How could something mental be a cause qua mental? After looking at the traditional Problem of Interaction, we survey several versions of the property-based problem along with potential solutions.

Note, that mental causation presumes interactionism as a stance regarding the problem of mind-body duality. That means a subjective idealist such as Berkeley and a eliminative materialist like Dennett would have very different views than someone who believes in Cartesianism.

So, while it's technically correct that the Platonic theory of Forms might be a bad domain of discourse to locate the theses of the Communist Manifesto, it does raise the question of how can concepts or ideas influence physical action? It's not really possible to say unless you preface an interpretation with a stance on mind-body duality. Let's offer a few oversimplified characterizations of some positions:

  • Eliminative materialism - There is no mental causation, because there is no thing called 'mental'. It's an artifice of language, an illusion like the mind.
  • Subjective idealism - Since the mind is the ultimate origin of everything, mental causation is an illusion, because there are no material things. (Note the common theme of these two monist positions that reject one half of the mind-body duality.)
  • Cartesian Duality - Descartes's form of interactionism, the great obsession of contemporary thinkers still, deals with mental causation by positing the pineal gland is an interface between mental and physical substances, and God somehow regulates it. Few contemporary, secular philosophers would appeal to this argument.
  • Epiphenominalism - While there are, broadly speaking, mental and physical events, again, mental causation is rejected. Mental events occur in parallel in some form of harmony with physical events. Historically, appeals to God were made to explain this, but these days there are other defenses. For instance, cognitive science seems to suggest that brains decide, conscious people don't (Nature.com).

So, this question is a good start into the argument over monism or dualism in the characterization of mind-body duality. There's no consensus or canon, and while Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind) in his riposte against Descartes may have set the tone for contemporary analytical philosophers (Continental, process, and non-Western philosophers have very different frameworks), this issue is still a very lively debate that bears upon the nature of consciousness itself.

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    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 9:16

An optimal mental formulation of physical causality is how we stay alive; welcome to my TED talk.

According to Blaise Pascal, we sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. Nevertheless, we manage admiringly well to prevail in a universe shaped by uncertainty. We wake up every morning nearly the same person we were the day before, with clear separations between our cells and organs, and between us and the world. We are capable of stating x might lead to y, just as we are capable of stating "my novel idea will make me rich." This is remarkable for something such as us, who came to exist out of the chaotic nature of evolution. How did humans develop the ability to carve a sense of certainty out of a future defined by uncertainty?

(1) [...] the brain continuously updates a hierarchical generative model based on prior experience to predict future events and infer on the causal structure of the world. Prediction errors, indexing the discrepancy between the expected and actual outcome, serve to update prior belief, which, in turn, guides the direction of subsequent decision-making (Friston 2005; Clark 2013). This belief updating process rests on multiple prediction errors at different hierarchical levels, for example, probabilistic associations of sensory events and how they change over time (Behrens et al. 2007).

Given statements are subjective linguistic representations presupposing physical causality, how are we even conscious of these statements?

(2) Conscious presence [...] is interoceptive prediction error and is informed by predictive models of agency, general models of hierarchical predictive coding and dopaminergic signaling in cortex, the role of the anterior insular cortex (AIC) in interoception and emotion...

Given we are consciously aware of these subjective linguistic representations presupposing physical causality, how does our brain generate novel ones and then become aware of them? (i.e. a million dollar idea).

(3) [...] the left supramarginal gyrus is crucially involved in the construction of novel representations, potentially by integrating memory content in new ways and supporting executively demanding mental simulations. This study deepens our understanding of how creative thought builds on and goes beyond memory.

(4) [...] novelty is detected by the hippocampus and through its connections to the ventral tegmental area, the detection of novelty can elicit dopamine release in the hippocampus, facilitating LTP at the activated synapses (Lisman and Grace, 2005; Shohamy and Adcock, 2010). This idea can be viewed as a neurobiological formulation of the novelty/encoding hypothesis.

Given we become consciously aware of subjective linguistic representations presupposing physical causality via our brain (as a physics engine) where novelty is generated by some stochastic neural process built on prior experience, what mechanism can we use to determine what novelty increases utility? Can we even construct a universal definition for utility? (i.e. your idea containing a determinable worth).

Your idea must first premise an exchange between money and either a product or service. Then the exchange must reduce prediction error, i.e. information-theoretic free-energy, for the consumer; the reduction of more free-energy than the free-energy resulting from the consumer's accumulation of payment, and/or a notion similar to this notion.

(I postulate a utility function on novelty is one not simply intuitively computed, because you can generate ideas for art just as much as ideas for iPhones, there's a lot more to be dissected here).

This formulation describes innovation (i.e. the choice to buy cheese instead of milk your own cows or buying a car to drive instead of walking or buying a phone to call instead of mailing letters). It describes a social-function for utility applied to novelty. It describes a society's natural tendency whatever the economic system to specialize labor and as a consequence specialize education.

(I mostly made this answer for personal future reference; it's a dilemma I've been pondering for quite some time, i.e. free-energy definition of utility & novel utility-maximizing applications & ethical applications (i.e. companies only reducing free-energy versus ones profiting off the purposeful presentation of variables that increase prediction error, which they only present the means to reduce (i.e. social media companies)).

I try to alway give an evidence-based reductive approach for understanding abstract philosophical questions. If you like this, give me a follow.

(1) https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/30/8/4677/5810463

(2) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00395/full

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4595480/.

(4) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2020.00152/full

  • My current research issue is the evolution of the neural mechanisms for novelty. Given question formation is a form of novelty to maximize model evidence and humans are the only primate capable of question formation, then other primates must not yet possess a function that reads the hidden variables that modified the logic tying perception to action. It could be suggested some animals portraying seeming complex behavior don't possess a memory in the same manner we do, one allowing active retrieval and reflection. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 8:24
  • There'd be no point for two chimps to converse about their child almost being eaten yesterday, because perhaps memory is not retrievable without the evolution of novelty-generating mechanisms. The memory of the child almost being eaten is intuitive to function. I'd imagine if you could ask them why they now protect their child more, they wouldn't even be able to tell you. Perhaps humans possess the means to classify experiential variables modifying logic before they are implemented, and perhaps this classification is necessary for novelty generation. Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 8:33
  • My suggestions -- it is not necessary to try to propose an answer to the hard problem of consciousness while answering that yes, thoughts are causal. thoughts could be causal while also reducing to neurology, OR causal while reducing to functions (which may or may not reduce to neurology), OR are emergent from neurology and are independently causal, OR are interactively dualistically causal, OR are generatively causal of matter (Idealism), OR are not causal, but are tied to matter by a parallelism process that ends up looking just like causation. Summary: thoughts are effectively causal.
    – Dcleve
    Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 19:23
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    @Dcleve Computation is a necessary but insufficient condition of thought implies that it is one of multiple causes. Physical computation (SEP) takes many forms. And an abacus isn't a computer and does not compute. It's just a storage medium, like pencil and paper. While a watch and calculator automate computation, an abacus does no such thing.
    – J D
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 13:12
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    @kendall.tubbs I'll have some thoughts to share, per your request soon and will get it to you in chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/info/142456/the-house-of-reason
    – J D
    Commented Jan 30, 2023 at 13:14

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