It is top-down causation that is fundamental

Abstract: The errors of top-down/teleological causality make one think that only the bottom-up/ontological has fundamental value. It is however the first which is entirely creative of our mental scenes, including by lending to reality per se its models, without having direct access to it. Bottom-up causality is fundamentally constitutive of our reality, which hovers over it and cannot return to it. It is therefore the top-down causality that is fundamental in what we “really” experience.

My arthritis caused by…

“My arthritis started three days after my last Covid shot”. This lady does not budge. This damn experimental vaccine tested too quickly on people is indeed responsible for her illness. Direct and obvious causality. Direct? Where is the precise chain of physiological events that connects the two? The most “re-informed” conspiracy theorists, even those with degrees, would be hard pressed to describe it. So-called top-down causality, resulting from our representations of the world, is made up of speculations.

To validate this causality born of our beliefs and influences, it must be coordinated upwards. Has an increase in polyarthritis accompanied the vaccination? Or is this lady’s case just a coincidence, since the vaccine does not prevent people from getting their usual illnesses? Only a trained epidemiologist can answer. Not the re-informing groups already prepared to slay the vaccine. Bottom-up causality is the way the biological world organizes itself spontaneously. Causality independent of our desires, our fears, the aversion to Big Pharma. Objective.

Bottom-up causation is serious business

With this little story and other equally common ones, you understand that scientists consider bottom-up causality as the only one to take into account, the really fundamental one. The top-down is whimsical, versatile, almost impossible to model or categorize. Our minds are raging machine guns that rarely touch the truth. And yet, even the least educated of them transforms things, changes the evolution of matter to improve their destiny. Or prevents it from changing for the better. The most obtuse of antivax can survive the epidemic and continue to regurgitate their fake news, spreading the terror of vaccines around them.

Natural selection is not very nimble in eradicating the authors of fake news. It is less reactive than intention, than the instantaneous effect of a false representation. It is in fact in an overflow of creativity that the intention becomes conspiratorial. It can no longer connect to the ontology of the world, but still manages to change its destiny. Isn’t it ultimately this top-down and fluctuating causality that is most potent, and not the endless bottom-up one?

A bath of particles

Bottom-up causality constitutes the substrate of reality, through interactions between entities with similar properties. It generates complexity, but if it were the only force involved, the emergent properties of this complexity would remain invisible. Nothing and no one could notice them since there would be nothing else to take care of them than micromechanisms blind to these new properties.

In isolation, bottom-up causation would have produced a universe of microparticles or strings or some other fundamental plane to be discovered. The universe would be a bath of particles without anything “living” or “conscious” in the sense that we understand it. Nothing to make sense of.

Meaning and natural selection

It is top-down causation that creates meaning. How is it formed? Making it emerge already requires identifying an independent relational system, with its own rules. The identifiable elements are the stabilities encountered by the micromechanisms, metastable balances between probabilities of the system which form a higher level of complexity. Complementary substrate thickness.

This level of complexity responds well to its own rules: self-inclusion and exclusion of elements, specific unit of time, context. It is not really independent of the previous level but in relative (in)dependence. Essential nuance. Its constitution can vary without its properties changing. The temporality of its constitution is very different from its own. It can, at its level of existence, establish interactions that facilitate its persistence. It is in this mechanism that both top-down causation and natural selection arise—a major example of the mixing of causalities.

From process to cogs

Top-down causation is dependent on the bottom-up as feedback is dependent on control: it operates on an existing organization. Without a target, feedback cannot establish meaning. With it, on the other hand, the system gains an extra level of reality. Feedback is the creative spark that takes ontological micromechanisms off their beaten track. They become cogs, that is to say the foundation of a more complex and better organized entity, also more fragile because it rests on a stack of metastable balances.

It is difficult to find top-down causation in scientific models. All stand upright with only bottom-up/ontological causation. Even without causality at all. An explanatory model is a sequence that carries the initial conditions to the result. Adding a principle of causality adds nothing to this perfectly functioning black box. Some scientists thus see causality as a residue of religious and philosophical beliefs, very useful before the era of models but obsolete since. Ironically, it is as difficult to demonstrate top-down causation as miracles and other divine interventions, all efforts that are purposively directed. An intention is supposed to produce the result. The constitution seems to bend to a will.

We have not completed our divinization

But the will, science does not know what it is, does not know how to explain it, it does not fit into any model unless it is the will of a physical law, of a fundamental principle inscribed in the nature of the world. Disadvantage: Most of what a human observes and experiences on a daily basis does not fit into this very narrow scope. Eliminativists offer a simple solution: since it doesn’t fit, then it’s an illusion, an epiphenomenon with no causality of its own. Problem cleared? But what is it that deludes itself? Microparticles? Math equations? By theorizing flat, by reducing itself to its own representation, the mind forgets a lot of itself.

It removes the essential. It forgets its own intrinsic magic, which is to escape from the microprocesses that constitute it, model them and take control of them. Intention is at the heart of human reality. It is it which deifies us in small steps over an immutable physics and evolutionary reflexes. No creation without intention. This parcel of divinity, we have exacerbated it in theistic symbols. Certainly there is no proof of deity, but our creative consciousness constitutes direct, undeniable proof. Indeed, perhaps there is no causality other than intentional since we lend our intentions to the world by declaring it to be governed by physical laws. There is no causality without the force to put it into action. To call these forces “natural” makes them gnostic rather than agnostic, for it takes a human mind to call them that. The natural is not reality per se.

Beware of eliminativist conversion!

We started by imagining our Creator, in the image of ourselves. Then we discovered our Generator, a gigantic machine that has not finished being modelled. We have the impression of having made matter independent. It’s a decoy. This discovery does not, however, make the Creator disappear, always present as an assembly of our minds, the source of the models.

Creation is indeed that of top-down causality, acting on the goalless substratum resulting from bottom-up causality. Spirit, even doubting its own existence, continues to dominate matter. But I still keep a cautious distance from the eliminativists. Who knows if one of them will suddenly explode into swarms of microparticles, denying the causality that holds them together?

A causality that does not descend so much…

The goal of top-down causation is to achieve an intention. Very generally it is about maintaining the overlying level of organization, about its survival. The quality of the result is the success of the meeting between top-down and bottom-up causalities. It is indeed a question, for the intention, not of espousing ontology but of encountering it, to make it take a more desirable path. Coordination errors can have two directions: 1) The intention is not based on a realistic model. 2) The ontological theory is false.

In fact, the handicap of top-down causality is that it does not descend deep enough into the fundamental to ensure the integral realization of its intention. The models are approximate, and rarely transdisciplinary. The intention stops at the level which remains well known. For example, in the controversy over gender and sex, debaters stop at genetic sex. But where does the genetic symbolism of sex come from? From what more fundamental principles does it emerge?

The colonization of ontology by the mind

In the end, it is by taking possession of the ontology that the intention achieves its ends. Top-down, creative causality lays milestones in the foundations of reality in itself, and brings up an bottom-up causality that works in reverse. One must remember this essential thing: Our mind is indeed created physically by an bottom-up causality, arising from reality per se; but it establishes a simulation of this causality with the help of intentional models, always pseudo-ontological.

It is indeed mental, top-down causality, which initiates knowledge, which creates the world that we experience, after having itself been constituted by ontological causality in itself. The true ontological departure, in reality per se, is inaccessible. We only return to a pseudo-ontological departure, that of our models, after having constituted intentions.

The real departure from the universe we experience, including the perceived physical world and the theories about it, is mental. The first direction of representation is downward; while the first direction of constitution is upward, but we have no direct access to the latter. It is a representation of the constitution that takes the place of an ontology in practice.

Our will is a shift

If you are familiar with Surimposium, a theory of reality based on the complex dimension, here is a further thought: the representation of the constitution is accurate when it is the level of complexity immediately above the constitution that “represents”. Here the representation is reduced to an approximation of the constitution, stable identity properties despite the variations of the constitution. Nevertheless it is the only form of representation exactly conforming to reality per se, without intermediary. It is in fact the layering of these direct representations that forms the complex reality.

As soon as a representation moves away, in the complex dimension, from the constitution that it designates, it is distorted. Another context appeared. Direct access is gone. This is also how the intention diverges from its constitutive reality, takes altitude. It can force its constitution to maintain itself (survival) or take another desirable path. Intentions shifted from reality per se, and integrating additional criteria, shape our desire to act on the world.

Science instruments the will

At the levels of mental representation, the divergence is sometimes so adventurous that the will is powerless. For example, believing in the God of Thunder and making a sacrifice to him hardly influences atmospheric phenomena. Science consists in reassembling, model after model, each representation at its level described in the reality per se. Science remains an instrument for making the will effective. It doesn’t say what to do. The will is itself the instrument of our desires. Not always reconcilable. The organization of these desires and their integration with those of our congeners is the most difficult task, where science is powerless to advise us.

It is our top-down, teleological creativity that holds the upper hand.



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