Anticipation and Causality (part 1)

There is a relationship between physicalism and anticipation, according to Burgers (1975). Physicalist descriptions usually follow the causality principle. Causality is a certain discourse according to which “objective facts” from the past affect an objective present state of affairs. “It is in this way that the ‘past’—that is, those aspects of past phenomena which are amenable to measurement—has come to appear as the ‘cause’ of the present. It is a concise statement summarizing the accumulated experience obtained by observing the behavior of nonliving bodies and systems, collected since the beginning of modern science.” (p. 194) To be fair, science does not claim to be able to predict all facts from the past and future: it claims less ambitiously that in order to predict certain physical states of material objects, we can look at some anterior similar properties of the system.

Causality is not the only mode of transmission between two realities. Moreover, humans apply metaphors of causality on a daily basis to their subjective experience: “She left him because he did not love her” is a sentence that seems to express a causal relation. Yet if we compare it to a sentence like: “The ball fell because she did not catch it”, we exemplify that causality itself is always far more complex than intended. The very idea of causality might have evolutionarily emerged from the mind’s desire to reduce complexity. In other words, there is a desire for clarity and actuality that causes causal explanations as operational narratives. If we focus on the material patterns that explain processes, we forget the original intention to understand, clarify and anticipate, which nevertheless was the motivation for a causal discourse.

Burgers adds: “There is no justification for enforcing this concept of causality on the entire Universe as the only possible form of relationship.” He notes that our experience of life is that of a temporal continuity between what happened and what did not happen yet. The search for causes is possible because we anticipate that a solution is possible, and such anticipation is possible because we reasonably trust the fact that we will still be here in the near future. “In our thoughts, in our feelings and actions there is not only a reminiscence of past events, but also a notion that we shall exist—that is, that we shall be open to experience and shall act—in the next instant and probably in the next after that, and so on. Even when one is aware of acute danger for one’s life, this is an expectation concerning the future.” (p 195)

Let’s consider the desire to eliminate uncertainty and reduce complexity. That desire itself is probably complex, enmeshed in a series of micro-desires—as in Leibniz’s micro-perceptions. Burgers notes that the fact that feelings and desires are usually left apart in physical and biological explanations is unsatisfactory. Living beings make “extrapolations”, not only about the future but also about the present and the past. This might be because the ultimate “motivation” of a living being is to generate “extensions of potentialities for action.” The problem with such an explanation is that is seems to presuppose innumerable forms of local will at work, cognitive if unconscious intentionalities constantly negotiating with each other. But if such a thing as will exists in the universe, how can it be quantitatively divided into subjective wills, your will, my will, the cat’s will, without being negated? The fact that ego can happen to be the negation of will is a paradox often debated in the history of psychoanalysis. If will emerges from individual beings, we would have to explain how localized matter can generate will, and in the end, we would probably need to presuppose a form of universal will if we don’t want to claim something problematic like: “This particular assemblage of atoms started to have a will as a part of their system.” Here we could look at Spinoza’s pantheism for further exploration.

I don’t believe we need to put too much emphasis on will. Burgers cannot imagine that determinism and what he calls “freedom”—which he equates with choice—can be one and the same aspect of the same process. But if we accept the hypothesis according to which “extensions of potentialities” is the state by default of the universe, that the primum mobile or first cause of all material causalities and realities is a creative and desiring Real, a Creal, an infinite and continuously dynamic soup of potentialities, then there cannot be such thing as zero potentialities for action apart as an idea. Even a dead body contains numerous potentialities for actualization, decomposition and recomposition, although these actions might not be perceived by the consciousness that once occupied the body. An actuality for a given reality is a potentiality for a not yet given reality.

The feeling of anticipation is the feeling of the Creal: potentialities that call for actualizations. Subjective wills are local manifestations of a universal will which is not really a will, rather an aspiration generated in all microcosms by their participation to the Creal hypercosm—and its double, the One. The dynamic and asymptotic horizon of a realm of potentialities is Unity, because Oneness is the primal condition for actualization. The dynamic and asymptotic horizon of a realm of actualities is Multiplicity, because Disparateness is the primal condition for potentiality.


This was a loose reading of the first 2 pages of the following article:

Burgers, J. M. (1975). Causality and Anticipation. Science, vol. 189, No. 4198, pp. 194-198.

To be continued…

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