Causality – Why anything exists?

Causality – Why anything exists?


As we go through our daily lives, we experience many moments of struggles, many moments of happinesses, many times passed as routine chores. Once in a while, we stop to think and ask what is all this around me ? Why is there something ? Where was I before I was born?

Different people with different ideologies give different answers to these questions. Atheists say you didn’t exist before your birth and that they don’t know why anything exists though. Religions give different views depending on their books. So, what answer do I accept?

Most of the time, some pressing work comes into the scene which distracts us from this line of thinking and takes our attention to some other task. We forget about this question and get on with our lives.

Deep down in our thinking, there are certain assumptions which we may not be aware of which work silently and give rise to our thoughts. We see that things change, become other things by joining or breaking. We attribute causality to these changes. Causality is taken for granted unknowingly. Whenever we see something, we “know” it’s in that form due to something else. If there is a cat in our room, we know it came from outside through  the window. This is something which comes naturally to us. We feel this should be the case.

As some people had more time available to think, they started tracing the source of each such cause. What caused the window to be open ? Someone must have opened it. How did the window come to be? Because of the tree from which it’s cut… and so on. By question in this way, we come to the final question why anything exists or what caused this existence.

Now, some say God created this. Then question comes as to who created God? Answer comes as God always existed. Some others say this existence always is there. Some people get satisfied with these answers. But those who believe in causality cannot accept such an answer. How can it always be there or how can God not have an origin?

But maybe such people should be careful about applying causality everywhere. What guarantee is there that causality should always work? It’s just an empirical observation which always succeeds in our environment. We may not be able to apply it to all times.

But the problem with accepting that causality may not apply here leads to situations which defy common sense. Then anyone can say anything about the origin of everything and not be questioned about it. People can say a single God created this. Others can say a trinity created this and so on. It’s okay till this point but then they continue to say the single God wants all of us to do this, or the trinity wants us to do that. And these commandments conflict with our common sense.

But what exactly is common sense? Do we all have the same common sense? I think no. For a person raised religiously, God created this universe is part of his common sense. For a person raised otherwise, it’s not. So, how to deal with the before situation where they want us to behave along their particular doctrines? Well, we can say let’s take majority opinion along the lines of democracy but that’s just submitting to the majority common sense which may not be the correct view theoretically. Or some say let’s take the opinion of the intellectuals but we just doubted the application of causality at the origin of everything. Most of the times, people at this point say it’s beyond our understanding or we don’t know the answers yet and get on with their daily lives.

But for those who cannot do that they try to find an answer through causality to break the doctrines they find are against their common sense. So, we resort to causality again as it empirically works!

It looks like we are freed through these rational thoughts but are also bound by them!


Reductionism in our daily life

We are always under the idea that everything that happens around us has a deeper underlying reason. We try to reduce problems we face everyday into their deeper basic aspects. We try to think of all the complex phenomena that happen around us in terms of basic principles which guide them.

Our education system is based on this idea. In any scientific discipline, a theory is studied by giving it’s basic postulates. Consider Bohr’s model of the atom. We all can try to recollect its postulates about orbits, quantum numbers etc. Now Hydrogen spectral lines can be deduced to be due to electronic transitions from one orbit to another. Similarly ionization energies and others can be calculated using this model.

Let us now consider an entirely different field of say Psychology. Consider the model for memory. I remember reading that there is a short term memory and a long term memory involved in this model. Short term memory deals with things which we can retain for sometime say 30 mins or so. Long term memory is for remembering for ages, recollecting childhood events etc. This model has some postulates about there being cues to retrieve the associated information from the brain etc. In case of short term memory, information is stored in 7 or so buckets, which number recently is further reduced. Now these postulates are used to explain all kinds of phenomena associated with memory retrieval and storage.

In a similar way we can consider other models and how they derive results.

The common theme across all these is that a set of phenomena can be reduced to be derived from certain assumptions. Those assumptions can be taken to be true as axioms as in the case of the Bohr model or can be tested using experiments as in the memory model where the tests reduce these models into further basic models. Going this way we get reduced to a primitive model which we assume to be true axiomatically.

So we are minimizing the information which we need to store to deduce results. And in this process we believe that the minimized information is the reality underlying the observed phenomena. This can be considered as an act of Reductionism.

All is well and good till this point.

But if we think carefully about the reality of the world, a phenomena observed is equally as real as it’s underlying model. In some cases the underlying model may not be real, as in the case of imaginary time. This is one aspect of reducing to models.

In this way, reducing to a model is more of a mathematical convenience than a reflection of reality.

Now, this reductionism is very deeply ingrained in our thinkings. We always try to reduce to basic facts. We don’t even know we are doing this many times. We think this is the correct way to look at things. But the above point can put into perspective the validity of such assumptions.

I didn’t realize I was doing and probably still doing this everyday till I came across Susskind’s book The Cosmic Landscape. There in the initial chapters he talks about reductionism and that’s when I realized that I am doing the same all the time.

As I think about this another thought comes to my mind. We have different branches of sciences, all starting with a set of hypotheses. We believe that they can be reduced to further basic sciences. For e.g. that biology can be reduced to chemistry which can be to physics etc. Some such unifications also are done as in Electricity and Magnetism to get Electro-Magnetism.

Waves inside waves inside waves ad infinitum

May be the reality around is reducible in parts. At each level it collapses into a set of fundamental principles, but the process may not be continuous. (Here I am vague in explaining because I don’t know how to explain clearly 🙂 .) This discontinuity may result in the theorized reduction of biology to chemistry and others not realizable. We don’t know, but this is a possibility. So we should be a little careful about what we can do.

My intention in writing this article is to tell how deeply ingrained this belief of reductionism is in our thoughts. We humans don’t have a choice but to try to understand phenomena in terms of simpler principles, so we should keep trying taking along with us a pinch of salt 😀 .


Induction, Generalization Limits

Induction is something we all are taught in schools in Maths. Prove that if something is true for the number n, then it’s true for n+1 and hence from the base case that it’s true for all numbers.

What are the implications of this?

  • If n is a number, so is n+1, which means numbers keep increasing without any bounds. There is no such thing as the largest number, as we can always add 1 to it to get the next larger number.

  • We see causality in the world around us. If something is there, it’s caused by some other thing. This also leads to infinite causal chains. If there is something, it must have been caused by something else, which in turn must have been caused by some other thing, and the sequence keeps continuing till inifnity in the past.

  • The laws of physics that we have on Earth are generalized to apply to all planets, and even to galaxies. This is more of a generalization, but the essence is the same, whatever applies to a particular case, if another situation looks similar, should apply to it as well.

Infinite application


In the real world around us, we see induction to be valid in lots of cases, hence we strongly believe it to be true.

What if this induction is not valid after some number N?

Why wouldn’t it be valid? Isn’t it based on sound logical arguments?

The logical steps in induction are:

  • To take any number n – what if we cannot chose any number n that we want? One way to think of this is to ask a question – if what we are thinking applies to the real world? I can think of anything but that may not correspond to reality – e.g. I can think of an astronaut crossing the event horizon of a black hole and come back safely – but it doesn’t correspond to reality as we theorize it. So if I chose any number n, and it doesn’t correspond to reality in some sense, how valid is my choice?

  • To extend the property to n+1 – well, same argument here – n+1 may not exist, or it may exist but it doesn’t satisfy the property under consideration

  • Hence to generalize to all numbers – if the above two don’t apply, this cannot hold.

The reason why I am thinking in this sense is because of all the confusion we see by applying induction to things we know. We don’t know what caused the universe – but maybe the causal chain is not infinitely applicable! We don’t understand dark matter – may be General Relativity is not universally applicable!

Then what choice do we have than to apply induction and generalization? I don’t know – the only thing I want to think of is to take these with a pinch of salt 🙂

I may not have clearly articulated but this is the best I can say at the moment and I guess my point hopefully came through good enough.

Happy Life

I recently started reading articles on medium which are generally a little bit lengthy and thought-provoking. It is written by people from all over the world about their life experiences, insights, motivations etc. You can search for articles using tags and as I was going through self-improvement I found a very interesting article here. It’s quite a lengthy one with estimated read time of ~30 mins, which is one nice feature which helps decide when to read which article, so I thought I would write a short article on the same. It covers changes in life-style modifications from various angles. Some of the interesting things I found are:

  •  Read a book per week – I find this rather impractical for me. I generally like to read non-fiction which mostly comprise of science books, and they take a long time to complete. So, what I do is I switch between books so that I am not stuck with one for a long time. I think the benefits of reading books is to gain insights through a different and more experienced angle. We are stuck with our own world view. Reading gives us new ways of looking at things and this in turn can help understand others, not to mention the amount of general knowledge we can get.
  • Write a journal 5 mins a day – I found this suggestion at several places in slightly different forms like writing down the day’s accomplishments, writing down the positive things that happened. This is suggested to improve our self-satisfaction and probably can make us better persons. I tried doing this but somehow lost track of it.
  • Stop eating refined sugar – This one is something most people are not aware of. We take sugar for granted. But recent studies are suggesting to do away with refined and added sugar. We will be surprised to see in how many items added sugar is present. A very nice video on the same is here. Although the video came out in 2009, I saw this only recently.
  • Do some kind act daily – This can really be a small thing like keeping the door open for the person behind you, which is something most Indians don’t do or any such small act. This definitely will make us feel better.
  • Relax daily – The above article mentioned about doing it for 1 hour, but given our busy lifestyles, that would be asking for too much :). So, we should at least try to spend sometime  everyday without bothering about what we are achieving then. Maybe that will help us get closer to ourselves and see what we truly want in life.
  • Define meanings of wealth and happiness – This step will definitely bring focus to our attention how we should plan our lives. But this is something which takes time as what makes us happy today may not make us happy a year later!
  • Track a habit you are trying to improve – This doesn’t need any explanation. Anything which we keep doing, we get better with time. There is a Telugu Vemana poem

           Anagananaga Raaga Matisayillu chunundu

  Tinaga tinaga Vemu Tiyyanundu

Saadhanamuna Panulu Samakuuru Dharalona

Viswadabhi Rama Vinura Vema

                    which says that a Raaga becomes better as you keep singing, even neem leaves taste sweeter as you keep consuming them… with time you can achieve your goals!

                        Hence, this is something we all can try.

  • Be grateful – More and more studies are pointing out how being grateful about what we have in our lives make us really happy.


So, these are the things I thought are important for me which I have written here, so that I can come back to them once in a while to remind myself of these positive changes.