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tito
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I've recently been asked whether this is a violation of the law of causality.

Does anyone know anything about the cause of natural mutation?

David makes a good point. Just because an event is random or randomly distributed does not mean it was not the result of causal processes. There are all sorts of things that can cause mutations, and the vast majority of such mechanisms are fairly well-known.

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That is the line of thought I already had - are there any theories or documented causes?
The cosmic ray theory is real. I understand it has been shown that astronauts have such mutations, and they can be induced in the laboratory. Also to pick something random, Mouse α-Globin gene mutation can be induced by Ethylnitrosourea.
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That is the line of thought I already had - are there any theories or documented causes?

Also some areas of chromosomes are more likely to mutate than others, in a predictable manner. And by knowing the mechanisms that organisms have in place to help PREVENT mutations we can see what happens when they go awry.

To give a very specific example, why is it dangerous to handle a gel electrophoresis? Because the dye that helps the DNA show up in UV light is an intercalating agent, meaning it is chemically similar to particular nucleotides and can actually replace them in the DNA. Thus, any compound chemically similar to one of the nucleotides in DNA can cause mutations or other failures to replicate with fidelity.

The list goes on. If you need something really particular I can always pull out Ye Olde Genetics Textbook.

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  • 4 weeks later...
Also some areas of chromosomes are more likely to mutate than others, in a predictable manner. And by knowing the mechanisms that organisms have in place to help PREVENT mutations we can see what happens when they go awry.

To give a very specific example, why is it dangerous to handle a gel electrophoresis? Because the dye that helps the DNA show up in UV light is an intercalating agent, meaning it is chemically similar to particular nucleotides and can actually replace them in the DNA. Thus, any compound chemically similar to one of the nucleotides in DNA can cause mutations or other failures to replicate with fidelity.

The list goes on. If you need something really particular I can always pull out Ye Olde Genetics Textbook.

Madkat, you're partially right. Ethidium Bromide is an intercallating agent, but what it does is cause double stranded DNA brakes, and the EtBr then fits into the DNA helix, straightens it out, then, under UV light you can see the DNA on a gel because EtBr absorbs light at the same frequencey as DNA (260nm).

There are "hotspots" for mutations for a variety of reasons, and it relates to things such as the way DNA is organized in the nucleus, or the surrounding DNA sequence. DNA sequence is highly repetitive, and for a number of reasons, when a cell divides more errors can be made.

I could go on, if one is really that interested. It's a complex process a result of a multitude of proteins and mechanisms responsible for DNA replication and cell division.

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You can see the calibre of the intellect you're up against when they believe that randomness violates causality. That might only be the case if an omniscient being were yet incapable of explaining all the data - but omniscience is impossible.

Edited by brian0918
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However, actual randomness would violate causality. So it is correct that if there were randomness, there would be a violation of the law of causality.

In other words, the concept randomness applies to epistemology and not to metaphysics, to our method of acquiring knowledge not to the entities themselves. Many processes are random, and many manufacturing processes take advantage of that. Statistic Process Control (SPC) is one such field. Small variations in some variables may create large changes in the result. The only meaning to random is that we can't predict the outcome because there are too many variables.

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In other words, the concept randomness applies to epistemology and not to metaphysics, to our method of acquiring knowledge not to the entities themselves.
I don't think that's a fact about the concept itself. The concept is a high-level abstraction, and nothing in the concept of randomness says that it means "things that we don't know about". It's just that given the nature of reality, the existents that the concept refers to can only be "things that we don't know about". If "random" actually meant "we don't understand", then it should be nonsensical to say "The point at which this breaks isn't actually random, we just need to understand the interaction between elasticity and temperature better".
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And the tautology, causeless action would violate causality. :)

Or perhaps just a more sophisticated understanding of what randomness is. I mean, think of quantum physics.

Then again, perhaps randomness and indeterminacy are not the same thing. Randomness implies something is without a nature, indeterminacy just means that certain details about a thing's identity are bound by statistical law.

The way to do this is simply to say that events at the scale of quantum physics are influenced by things outside of our current universe phase, IE the universe phase that existed before the big bang, which was itself just a phase transition from that universe phase to a more stable one.

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Randomness implies something is without a nature, indeterminacy just means that certain details about a thing's identity are bound by statistical law.

Isn't it the other way around?

The way to do this is simply to say that events at the scale of quantum physics are influenced by things outside of our current universe phase, IE the universe phase that existed before the big bang, which was itself just a phase transition from that universe phase to a more stable one.

I was going to say put down that bottle and try to post again, but then I realized this is the kind of language one finds in respected (post-)modern physics textbooks. I still think it's arbitrary, though.

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Isn't it the other way around?

I was going to say put down that bottle and try to post again, but then I realized this is the kind of language one finds in respected (post-)modern physics textbooks. I still think it's arbitrary, though.

Arbitrary would indicate that there is no way to prove or disprove what I say. What I am doing, however, and what everyone who studies quantum physics and the philosophy behind it, is accepting the numbers uncritically and developing a theory around them critically. I may not be very eloquent but this is my attempt to explain what I mean.

There is proof of the Big Bang, through Stephen Hawking's argument that entropy always increases. The gravitational field is expanding at an accelerating rate, I dare say exponential. It had to be really compact a very long time ago. Now that doesn't mean the universe was created by the Big Bang. Rather, the Big Bang indicates a phase transition, and the universe beyond which is a mystery.

What I am saying is that the indeterminacy could be in fact due to hidden variables if and only if there are things outside the gravitational field which are affecting it, as Bell's Inequality is fact within the context of our knowledge of the gravitational field. In fact you can't really get around the results of Bell's Inequality, you just have to work your theory around it.

While I have no comprehensive theory, I do have a concept that there is a gravitational field, a more appropriate term since space and time are concepts and are eternal and immutable, but a gravitational field sets context and allows for things which we don't understand to be outside of it without being outside of space and time, since being outside of space and time is a contradiction.

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In general life, outside physics, I've always held the idea of chance as an epistemological phenonemon rather than a metaphysical one. Random means affected by variables we haven't measured or cannot measure. I hold that as applicable at the macro-level, from the atom on up. So, that would include biology - and for me that includes a proper appreciation of what the basis of risk is in economic and financial matters (eg I, like Buffet, reject the idea of risk primarily being volatility, and base it on the breadth and quality of one's data plus the framework for interpretation thereof).

However, the last time I mentioned that in the chat room specifically in relation to physics (about a month ago I think), a physicist was less than impressed with me. I did point out that I wasn't a physicist, but also that I still held to that until further notice even when I have to make a decision about physics. I said I subscribed to the general hidden-variables idea until decent evidence suggesting otherwise was presented. The physicist was not amused at this. I don't recall who it was, but I have no reason to believe that the physicist in question was some sort of nutcase or a post-modernist or whatnot because (as I recall) the physicist was familiar with Objectivism and liked it.

That being said, I don't think the subatomic question of mechanics applies much outside the subatomic realm. By the time one scales up to the macro level, the mechanics have such a strong diversification effect that the random variations from the subatomic level are seriously swamped by random variations at higher levels. So, for all practical purposes (such as the question of biology as this thread originates in), one might as well go straight to the hidden-variables theory for explanation of how the macro world works irrespective of how the subatomic world actually works.

All that one can say is that the diversification effect is so strong and so precise (eg atomic clocks) that even without reference to philosophy and causality, indeterminism must be held as extremely suspect on the basis of physical evidence alone. I said that to the physicist, too, and I think I detected the subtle sound of an eyebrow being raised.

Incidentally, not long ago (and out of pure curiosity) I asked my boss (a marine biologist) whether the chief cause of mutation was UV versus other sources such as the effects of carbon-14 and other radioactives such as potassium-40 (ie as created by cosmic rays etc). She told me that she was taught that it was UV, at least in relation to plants. For animals, however, I still haven't shaken my university-days image of some hapless critter relieving itself on a radioactive rock and kinda liking the warmth...

JJM

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However, actual randomness would violate causality. So it is correct that if there were randomness, there would be a violation of the law of causality.

So which units are actually represented by the concept "randomness" - those observed data that do not match up exactly with our predictions, or those imagined data which would never match up with any prediction? Or is the former a concept, while the latter not a concept since it has no referents - yet the same word is use to represent both...?

My point was that these people were saying "randomness violates causality", as if referring to some actual, observed randomness in reality. That is what I was responding to - not to some imagined "randomness" that by definition must violate causality. If their argument was simply, "I can imagine something that violates causality, call it 'true randomness' - and now I will point to that and say: causality is violated!", then my mistake, but I hope for their sake that they meant something a little more meaningful.

Edited by brian0918
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So which units are actually represented by the concept "randomness" - those observed data that do not match up exactly with our predictions, or those imagined data which would never match up with any prediction? Or is the former a concept, while the latter not a concept since it has no referents - yet the same word is use to represent both...?

My point was that these people were saying "randomness violates causality", as if referring to some actual, observed randomness in reality. That is what I was responding to - not to some imagined "randomness" that by definition must violate causality. If their argument was simply, "I can imagine something that violates causality, call it 'true randomness' - and now I will point to that and say: causality is violated!", then my mistake, but I hope for their sake that they meant something a little more meaningful.

That comes out sounding like a straw man. You can have indeterminacy and causality. It just means that the way we DEFINE causality must take into account context, just like we must all concepts.

Indeterminacy means fundamentally that we can never predict the exact outcome, but it is to say nothing about the fact that, regardless of the outcome, its state is caused by past events, and its state causes future events.

Furthermore, if everything which composes man is in existence, and everything in existence is deterministic, then man would have to be deterministic. Since this is not the case, why do we assume that quantum physics is invalid?

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That comes out sounding like a straw man. You can have indeterminacy and causality. It just means that the way we DEFINE causality must take into account context, just like we must all concepts.

Indeterminacy means fundamentally that we can never predict the exact outcome, but it is to say nothing about the fact that, regardless of the outcome, its state is caused by past events, and its state causes future events.

Furthermore, if everything which composes man is in existence, and everything in existence is deterministic, then man would have to be deterministic. Since this is not the case, why do we assume that quantum physics is invalid?

You seem to equivocate on what you mean by "determinacy". You first define indeterminacy - and hence determinacy - in terms of our ability to predict outcomes. You then imply that we would lack free will if all events adhered to causality, even though we have no way of predicting such complex situations. Either define determinacy in terms of causality, or define it in terms of our ability to predict - ie determine - the future. Either way does not negate free will. Only when you equivocate, and try to mean two different things by "(in)determinacy" can you give the appearance of refuting free will.

Edited by brian0918
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You seem to equivocate on what you mean by "determinacy". You first define indeterminacy - and hence determinacy - in terms of our ability to predict outcomes. You then imply that we would lack free will if all events adhered to causality, even though we have no way of predicting such complex situations. Either define determinacy in terms of causality, or define it in terms of our ability to predict - ie determine - the future. Either way does not negate free will. Only when you equivocate, and try to mean two different things by "(in)determinacy" can you give the appearance of refuting free will.

I'm not trying to refute free will. That's a straw man. In fact so is your accusation that I was trying to 'define indeterminacy' in my post. You are adding premises into my argument that I did not use. I apologize that I DIDN'T in fact define it well.

Furthermore, there is a difference between having free will and thinking you have free will. A person who can't predict what anyone, even themselves, are going to do is still bound to do it if causality implies determinacy. If you mean to imply a difference between metaphysical free will and epistemic free will then go ahead, make that contradiction.

Causality refers solely to things acting on their nature. Whether there are two outcomes for one event or one outcome for two events is irrelevant to the issue of causality except insofar as something might, by their nature, be dual output and something else might, by their nature, be dual imput.

Determinism, on the other hand, means that for any given set of past events there is exactly one set of future events corresponding.

Volition does not mean an absence of causality, it means the absence of compulsion, inner or outer. It does not mean a person can do anything they want, but rather it means they can do anything that is possible for them.

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