CauPhy workshop

Causation in Physics - Temporality, Modality and Reduction

UMB, Ås 3-5 September 2012

The workshop will be at the museum, placed in the most beautiful part of UMB campus.
The workshop will be at the museum, placed in the most beautiful part of UMB campus. Photo:


Here you will find information about the workshop program, abstracts, accommodation and travel.

We are also organising a PhD course over the same topic, where the workshop is a mandatory part of the course. See here for more information about the PhD course.

Registration is open and free of charge. There are no available slots in the program for submitting abstract. Contact to sign up for the workshop.


Mauricio Suárez, Complutense University Madrid and LSE, London
Iñaki San Pedro, Complutense University Madrid
Carl Hoefer, ICREA & Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
Mauro Dorato, University of Rome 3
Ragnar Fjelland, SVT, University of Bergen
Stephen Mumford, University of Nottingham
Henrik Zinkernagel, University of Granada
Allen Stairs, University of Maryland
Sigurd Tønnessen, University of Tromsø
Johan Arnt Myrstad, University of Nordland, Bodø
Dagfinn Døhl Dybvig, University of Nordland, Bodø
Thor Sandmel, University of Oslo
Anita Leirfall, University of Bergen
Fredrik Andersen, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB), Ås
Elias Núñez, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB), Ås
Rani Lill Anjum, Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB), Ås

The aim of the project Causation in Science is to develop a metaphysically plausible notion of causation that is also scientifically robust. It is hard to see how this can be achieved without considering some of the wider issues related to a realist notion of causation in modern physics. The following themes will be discussed at the workshop:

Causal realism
The concept of causation is controversial in physics. On the one hand, there is a view expressed by Bertrand Russell, and currently revived by Huw Price and others, that causation should have no place within an informed objective description of the world. On the other hand, many of the key notions employed by modern physics are characterised in dispositional terms, such as spin, charge, mass and radioactive decay. Causal dispositionalism suggests that this gives us at least some causation within physics.

Quantum entanglement has been suggested by some as demonstrating that there can be simultaneous causation at a distance. Such causal non-locality, if it really is the case, would count against the spatial contiguity that Hume thought conceptually central to causation. Relativity theory, however, seems to imply that there cannot be simultaneity of cause and effect. If they are spatially distinct events, there is no sense in which they are simultaneous, and any causal influence between them must take time to travel. The description of simultaneity in physics thus seems to have philosophical implications for how to best understand causation with respect to locality.

Time and space
In modern physical theories there are various theories of space/time theories, some of which seem irreconcilable (for instance, standard Quantum Mechanics utilises absolute space/time while Quantum Field Theory utilises relative space/time). There are also diverging theories on the ontological nature of space/time ranging from illusion to physical object. What conclusions we should draw concerning simultaneity and causation will depend on how we understand the notions of space and time.

Another central issue is the kind of modality that is found in physics. Deterministic, indeterministic and probabilistic laws are usually linked to modal notions of necessity, randomness/pure contingency and probability. The modality of a tendency is more than pure contingency, yet short of necessity, and it does not carry any commitment to determinism or indeterminism. There might, however, be some irreducibly probabilistic tendencies. In virtue of what a law is supposed to be deterministic, indeterministic or probabilistic is thus something we need to make explicit. Another issue is how these modalities relate to predictability.

Reductionism, holism and emergence
Physics is often presented as the key, fundamental science to which all other sciences are supposed to reduce, be modelled, or at least relate. An open question is still whether there could be a role for holism and emergence within physics itself. If so, this would at least leave open the possibility for real emergence within other sciences.


Published 16. June 2014 - 14:25 - Updated 23. May 2017 - 19:37