Relationship Between Causality and Uncertainty

Dr. Borchardt:

I clearly understand that the relationship between causation and uncertainty cannot be overstated. What I am having difficulty with is the notion that causation is objective and uncertainty is subjective. It may just be a problem of their terminology. It makes sense to me when I read it, but I can't seem to repeat it with any kind of clarity. Could you elaborate on this important connection, beyond that which you describe in TSW?


Frederic Frees


Thanks for your perceptive question. This may help to clarify the situation:

CAUSALITY (All effects have an infinite number of material causes.)
UNCERTAINTY (It is impossible to know everything about anything, but it is possible to know more about anything.)

Additionally, we have the following opposing assumptions to consider:

INFINITY (The universe is infinite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions.)
Finity (The universe is finite, both in the microcosmic and macrocosmic directions.)

Classical mechanics, classical mechanism, and classical determinism assumed finity, that there were a finite number of causes for any effect. Their mathematical equations, though often complex, necessarily were of finite length. With a finite number of causes, Laplace’s Demon could postdict the past and predict the future with perfect accuracy and precision. The variations found in all real observations and experiments could, in principle, be reduced to zero by including a few more variables. Causality could be considered to be “objective” and uncertainty, in theory, did not exist. Nevertheless, in the real world, being infinite, there always were variables that could not be discovered. With the development of statistics and probability theory, these could be treated as a “singular cause,” supporting the practical need for finite equations. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle stated that one could not know both the position and the velocity of a particle at the same time. This is because, to know one of these, an experimenter would have to interact with the particle, inevitably changing its position and/or velocity. In the attempt to gain perfect prediction, Laplace’s Demon would have to do likewise, continually messing with the particle, but never getting enough information to predict the particle’s next velocity and/or position. That was the death of Laplace’s Demon—the probability theory developed by quantum mechanics wasn’t good enough to predict the future with perfect accuracy and precision.

The easiest way to handle all this was to assume INFINITY, but physicists (other than David Bohm), being especially conservative, continued to assume finity. Great debates occurred about whether or not the Uncertainty Principle meant that there was an objective uncertainty about the world. Some even claimed that it was causality that was subjective and uncertainty that was objective. The Copenhagen Interpretation claims that uncertainty is objective, a sort of singular cause in tune with the one mentioned above. Bohm’s “infinite universal causality,” as I have termed it, assumed that no effect ever had a finite number of causes. In an infinitely subdividable universe, this is the way it has to be. Causality, though infinite, has to be objective, because the causes have been operating for an eternity before us “subjects” appeared on the scene. The subjectivity becomes obvious when we are forced to chop the ends off of these infinitely long causal equations. It is what we mean when we say that “science is limited.” It is incorporated in the humility expressed by the assumption of UNCERTAINTY. The opposing assumption, certainty, falsely claims that the “singular cause” of probability has no more causes within it. This inevitably fails when yet another material cause is discovered, decreasing the plus or minus of the measurement, but never decreasing it to zero. From time to time yet another theory, such as Chaos Theory, discovers causes within phenomena normally considered completely random.

When we say that uncertainty is subjective, we do not mean that the calculation of uncertainty or probability is not objective. We simply mean that those numbers express what we do not know. We can remove some of this ignorance, but we never can remove all of it, and that is what makes uncertainty “subjective.” True indeterminists generally assume finity and have a tendency to assume that certainty is possible as well. For them, certainty is objective, not subjective. They would be the first to deny that assumptions are necessary. Their world is finite, with everything fitting into neat little finite boxes. They seem to feel great comfort in the certainty of whatever dogma they have been taught.


Bohm, David, 1957, Causality and chance in modern physics: New York, Harper and Brothers, 170 p.

Borchardt, Glenn, 2007, The Scientific Worldview: Beyond Newton and Einstein: Lincoln, NE, iUniverse, 411 p.

No comments: