Physical vs biological causation

The cause of an effect has three important characteristics:

1. It immediately precedes the effect
2. The cause is solely responsible for the effect (sufficient to produce the effect)
3. The cause necessarily produces the effect

Some people just say that causes are BOTH NECESSARY AND SUFFICIENT, but no, that leaves out immediacy, and immediacy is critical to causation. Rather, the lack of immediacy is proof positive that something is NOT THE CAUSE.

Physical phenomena are sometimes nearly causal. For example, a cue ball strikes the eight ball. The statement, “the cue ball causes the motion of the eight ball.” Close – there is clearly something closely resembling immediacy in the observed effect. There is necessity because of the law of conservation of momentum. But the example slightly fails the sufficiency criterion: the resistance of both the pool table and the air slightly perturb the motion of the eight ball.

In biology, there is almost never immediacy – biological effects take a long time because biological systems are programmed to deal with apparent causes. A person starts smoking heavily and it will likely be 20 years before anything obvious will go wrong. “Smoking causes cancer” – don’t make me laugh.

In biology, there is almost never sufficiency: the rule is that multiple effectors together produce effects, and this must be the case. Biological regulation is impossible without multiple effectors working at multiple points.

In the connections between apparent causes and apparent effects in biology there is almost never necessity: all of the laws of nature, while still pertaining, are routinely skirted within the body by the investment of copious quantities of energy. For example, entropy. In accord with physical law, we increase the entropy of our environment our entire lives while we maintain enough order inside our bodies to stay alive. We can do what no machine can yet do – repair ourselves on the fly and keep going. Additionally, the body does every trick to get around all other thermodynamic limitations, including things that scientists do, and then some things scientists have not even thought of. The body’s opposing sets of processes must be understood KINETICALLY. Otherwise they are misunderstood.


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