Causality, computing, and complexity

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Abbott, Russ
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I discuss two categories of causal relationships: primitive causal interactions of the sort characterized by Phil Dowe and the more general manipulable causal relationships as defined by James Woodward. All primitive causal interactions are manipulable causal relationships, but there are manipulable causal relationships that are not primitive causal interactions. I’ll call the latter constructed causal relationships, and I’ll argue that constructed causal relationships serve as a foundation for both computing and complex systems. Perhaps even more interesting are autonomous causal relationships. These are constructed causal relationships in which the causal mechanism resides primarily in the effect. A typical example is a software execution engine. Software execution engines are on the effect side of a cause-effect relationship in which software is the cause and the behavior of the execution engine is the effect. The mechanism responsible for that causal relationship resides in the execution engine.