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Causal efficacy and the normative notion of sustainability science

Author(s): Lin-Shu Wang

Journal: Sustainability : Science, Practice and Policy
ISSN 1548-7733

Volume: 7;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 30;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: theories | cause-effect relationships | interdisciplinary research

Sustainability science requires both a descriptive understanding and a normative approach. Modern science, however, began as purely descriptive knowledge, the core of which is that matter is dynamically inert and without purpose. The British philosopher David Hume concluded that the only type of causation in the material world is “efficient causation,” which supported this purposeless view of a deterministic world “governed” by the causal laws of dynamics. But Hume did not argue against the existence of efficacious causation, only the error of humans projecting the mind’s efficacy to objects. Though dynamically inert, a material object away from equilibrium can be thermodynamically reactive, suggesting the possibility of the object being efficaciously managed for a purpose. Furthermore, quantum physics has replaced classical physics as the fundamental theory of the material world. Its basic equation, the Schrödinger wave-equation, is deterministic but causally inert—it cannot govern, leaving the determinism door unlocked. This causal gap, according to the von Neumann-Stapp quantum measurement/activation theory, necessitates the pragmatic existence in an irreversible universe of the causal efficacy of mental effort and information management. The resulting “bigger” empirical science has room for “descriptive determinism” and “normative action,” both of which are utterly essential in formulating sustainability science as an integral discipline.

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